Organic chemistry & NMR spectroscopy

Atta-ur-Rahman was born in Delhi, India. Family ties brought him to Karachi, Pakistan, at the age of 10. He studied organic chemistry at Karachi University and graduated in 1964. Obtaining a highly competitive Commonwealth Scholarship allowed him to pursue doctoral studies at Cambridge University, United Kingdom.

Atta-ur-Rahman has had an exceptional career, most of which took place at Karachi University. He performed research on molecular structure and synthesis that has led to the production of numerous compounds of biological interest like the cancer-fighting alkaloids obtained from the rosy periwinkle. During his career he wrote several highly praised books also used for teaching.

Rahman was elected as Fellow of Royal Society (London, 2006). Furthermore, he received the UNESCO Science Prize (1999), which is given to people for an outstanding contribution to scientific and technological research. In his case, the research in the various areas related to natural product chemistry.

Besides performing world class research, he founded the world's most comprehensive encyclopaedia on natural product chemistry entitled "Studies in Natural Products Chemistry" including 70 volumes under his editorship over the last 35 years.

He was also politically active and held the position of Federal Minister for Science and Technology and later Chairman of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission (until 2008) in which he changed the country’s approach towards science, technology, engineering and medicine. During this time, he further initiated a major programme of academic collaboration and linkages with Chinese universities and other institutions. In recognition of his contributions in the higher education sector in Pakistan, Atta-ur-Rahman was conferred several highly prestigious awards around the word including Pakistan, China, South Africa, and Austria.

He is seen as a key figure for reviving the higher education and research practices in Pakistan.

Written by: Theresa Burkard.