OFF TOPIC: My encounter with Abdus Salam


In the summer of 1987 I was requested to give a talk on electromagnetic properties of composite media at the Summer School on Physics of Porous Media, International Center for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy. I was working for an oil company. When I asked for permission to give the talk, the company said yes, but do not accept any money from them. So my time and expenses were fully paid by my employer. Since by company policy international travel was by business class, it was no small expense.

At Trieste I was offered a check (already made up) by the conference office. I declined it and that seemed to create some procedural difficulty for that office. Anyway, they found a way to take back the check.

A mutual friend had asked me to drop in on Abdus Salam (Head of ICTP) and give his regards. One day during a break I walked over to the Institute. Salam was in his office, and you could just walk in. He was easy to talk to and we had a nice chat.

But suddenly, with no context whatsoever, he said this about my employer: “These oil companies – they are very stingy, aren’t they?”

So I explained to him that I was there at my company’s expense. On that he was deeply impressed. He asked me for the name and address of the head of our company.

When I came back I found that he had personally written a nice letter, thanking the company for sparing me for the Trieste school.

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