Friday, 11 December 2015

Making Pakistan proud: Student duo shines at CERN

The students pose with Hafeez Hoorani, the DG of National Centre for Physics. Hoorani is also Cern’s focal person for Pakistan. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: With Pakistan becoming the first associate member of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research among Asian countries this year, young scientists from the country have already started to make their mark.

A graduate of the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) stood first at the summer internship programme at the research facility popularly known as Cern, among 45 young graduates from across the globe.

Similarly, a graduate of the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) has made his mark with his exceptional theoretical and experimental skills at Cern.


Nust graduate Azqa Nadeem was selected by a team for the CERN openlab summer student programme from a pool of about 1,600 applicants. In total, 40 students were selected.

Azqa was supposed to evaluate physical tokens for so-called multifactor authentication that is the process of logging into a computer system by using more than a password. “Azqa has done a great job and succeeded in selecting one out of two methods and providing good arguments [as to] why the second method is insecure and should be rejected,” said Dr Stefan L├╝ders, Cern computer security officer in an email to Hafeez Hoorani, director general of the National Centre for Physics.

Hoorani is Cern’s focal person for Pakistan.

Azqa got a proof-of-concept pilot system up and running and CERN is aiming at deploying the final version during the next months. Her presentation was voted as the best presentation out of all summer student projects. “I am more than proud of this,” Luders stated in his email.

Azqa told The Express Tribune that it was indeed a matter of pride for her to work with some of the world’s smartest people at Cern on problems that had yet to surface.


QAU graduate Muhammad Ansar Iqbal has an MSc in physics, and completed his Mphil under the supervision of Hoorani in experimental high energy physics.

He worked on compact muon solenoid (CMS) which is a general-purpose detector at the Large Hadron Collider.

Iqbal said he was surprised to hear that one of the detectors of the collider was assembled in Pakistan.

“I was with the team to check the efficiency studies of those detectors through cosmic muon,” he said.

This year, there were eight summer students in the resistive plate chambers (RPC) at the facility.

An email from his supervisor, Anton Dimitrov, to Hoorani stated that “Iqbal was one of the really exceptional students who showed technical, theoretical and experimental skills which were well above the average level.”

He also wrote that he would be glad if they could continue working with him remotely.

“He was very fast and efficient in problem solving. He performed brilliantly his task to compare RE4 Construction with Operation data,” Dimitrov wrote in the email.

Iqbal said there needs to be a multidisciplinary approach to learning especially when it came to sister subjects such as physics, computer science and engineering.

“This will help our prospects in the field of research,” he added.

Hoorani said that it was indeed a matter of pride for the whole country.

Research ties

Cooperation between Pakistan and Cern dates back to signing of an agreement in 1994. Later, Pakistan wished to be its associate member back in 2013, after which CERN sent its task force to gauge the country’s science and technology base and industrial capabilities in early 2014, and in December it was decided to approve the membership. A formal announcement was made in July this year.

Published in The Express Tribune.

13 start-up incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces in Pakistan

Attitudes towards entrepreneurship have changed drastically in Pakistan in the past few years, partly fueled by the success of start-ups in the region as well as broadening access to the internet.

Just a couple of years ago, budding entrepreneurs in Pakistan would have found it difficult to gain access to mentors, business training, and investors due to the lack of interest in encouraging disruptive start-ups. Now, however, the landscape has changed and start-up founders have a choice when determining which incubator to reach out to.

In no particular order, here are some incubators and accelerators making an impact in Pakistan.

1) Plan9
Based in Lahore, Plan9 initially started in mid-2012 as part of an initiative of the local provincial government. Since then it has incubated over 60 start-ups. Plan9 requires all companies to undergo a rigorous three-month program in which it provides them with free office space, consultancy, and mentoring. It does not take any equity.

2) The Nest i/o
Launched early 2015, The Nest i/o is a technology incubator associated with the Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA). It has received funding from Google, Samsung, and the US State Department.

Located in the coastal city of Karachi, the incubator is currently mentoring its second batch of start-ups. It also provides free office space and mentorship, while not taking any equity.

3) LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship
The LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship is a tech incubator associated with the Lahore University of Management Sciences – arguably Pakistan’s most successful private sector university. Also located in Lahore, the incubator has a four-month programme where it provides free office space and counselling.

It does take a small equity percentage for each start-up accepted into the program, ostensibly to compensate for the monthly stipend it disburses to each venture.

4) i2i
Located in the scenic capital city of Islamabad, i2i is an accelerator for early and mid-stage companies looking to make a social impact. The program is spread over four months but does not require the start-ups to be present in-house, with the option of working remotely.

It features a total of six in-person sessions spread across various cities in Pakistan. The accelerator takes equity from each start-up accepted into the program, in the range of 1.5 to 3 per cent.

5). PlanX
PlanX is an accelerator based in Lahore that was designed to complement its sister incubator, Plan9. The program is slightly longer, at six months, but also provides free office space and consulting without taking equity.

6) Microsoft Innovation Centre
The Microsoft Innovation Centre has programs in both Lahore and Karachi and is primarily concerned with harnessing technical skills. It offers accepted start-ups a range of free Microsoft enterprise software products, whilst also connecting them with mentors and coaches.

7) Technology Incubation Centre
The Technology Incubation Centre is an initiative of the National University of Science and Technology, located in Islamabad. By virtue of its association with the university, most of the start-ups housed in the incubator have a focus on hardware, engineering, and big data.

It also offers companies free office space and mentorship, taking a small equity percentage in exchange.

8) DotZero
DotZero is more of a co-working space rather than a full-fledged tech incubator. It does not offer a structured program but maintains a highly-curated work environment designed to encourage synergy and cooperation between the start-ups housed there.

Its founding members recently launched an angel investment fund to encourage the growth of the investment landscape in Pakistan.

9) Basecamp
Basecamp operates in a similar vein to DotZero, running an invite-only co-working facility located in the frontier city of Peshawar. There are a number of events, including Start-up Weekend Peshawar and TEDx Peshawar, and it hopes to foster entrepreneurship through community-led efforts.

10) Founder Institute
Founder Institute, the Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur training and start-up launch program, runs a local chapter in Karachi and Islamabad.

The program is structured over three and a half months, with companies meeting once a week. Each start-up must contribute 3.5 per cent equity to an “options pool” and pay a one-time fee of US$250 to be accepted.

11) Nspire
Nspire is a newcomer. It’s a private tech incubator started by Netsol, a successful Pakistani IT services company. Applications for its first batch of start-ups are currently open.

12) Tech Incubator
Tech Incubator, based in Lahore, claims to be the first privately-managed incubator in Pakistan. It functions on a rolling basis, accepting start-ups all year round.

The incubator takes a hefty amount of equity, though. Start-ups have to part with 10 per cent just to use its co-working facilities, and a lot more if they wish to obtain mentoring, consulting, and potential investment.

13) WeCreate Pakistan
WeCreate Pakistan is an entrepreneurial community centre exclusively for women looking to start or expand an existing business. The program is spread over 15 weeks and is supported by the US Department of State.

This article originally published on Tech In Asia here.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Hunza Valley: A whole new spectrum of colours

Royal Garden, Hunza.
Pakistan is one of the few countries with such a dynamic landscape; rivers, deserts, lakes, waterfalls, springs, glaciers we seem to have it all in great abundance.

The much renowned Hunza valley is often referred to as heaven on earth, enveloped in the grand Himalayas and the Karakoram mountain ranges, this place has been a great tourist attraction for many years.

For me it all happened when I was 22 years old and left the home without telling anyone and reached Gilgit. I did not know where to go from Gilgit; stranded, I heard a bus boy calling the passengers for Hunza. I had heard of Hunza, so I hopped the bus and I could only paint pictures in my mind of what was coming next.

Autumn in Hunza valley.
The view at night.

Blossom in Hunza.
It was April, the sun was shining and when we reached Nilt from Gilgit, I found myself surrounded by a whole new spectrum of colours; I was truly mesmerised.

The meadows, plants laden with white, pink, and orange flowers could be found all over. I kept thinking to myself, why did I not land here earlier?

There were so many flowers alongside the road from Hussainabad to Aliabad, it seemed to be the literal meaning of primrose path. Spring was my first love, and you can forget everything but not your first love.

Ganish village in Hunza.
Sunset in Golden Peak , Gilgindar and Chotokan Peak.

Cherry blossom in garden.
Hunza is located at a distance of 100 kilometers from Gilgit. In early 1890s, the British embarked upon a mission to annex Hunza and Nagar, which is also known as the Hunza-Nagar Campaign.

British soldiers led by Colonel Durand occupied Nilt Fort in 1890. After that, they proceeded to the Baltit Fort, but faced heavy resistance.

The British gained complete control of Hunza and Nagar with little effort. Thereafter, the Mir of Hunza, Safdar Ali Khan along with his family, fled to Kashgar in China, and his brother Mir Muhammad Nazim Khan was made the new ruler of Hunza by the British.

Baltit fort.
Hunza peak and Lady Finger
Hunza enchanted me so much that I spent several years traveling to Gilgit-Baltistan soon after I was introduced to this place.

You can live a pretty comfortable life while being in your home in a large metropolis, but as soon as you travel to the northern areas, you find that the real peace of mind lies within these beautiful mountains.

There was a time when people used to visit Hunza for rehabilitation. They still do, but now the tourism factor has increased much more than before. From winters to spring, the nature seems to be in a transition period. This place remains remarkable with every changing season.

Autumn in Hunza valley.

View of Rakaposhi.
Whenever I am reminded of my Hunza expeditions, I have the urge to retreat to those places once again. After all, what charm is living in a society where lynching, blasts, and killing are the daily routine and the protesting voices are diminishing? How can there be peace of mind in such a place, where smiles are made-up with an intent to pull one's leg as soon as there’s a chance.

In mountains, one feels seclude; secluded from depressions, secluded from everything but the hospitable people of northern areas, the loving and caring people that they are.

Spring has just arrived. Transition period is over. Transition period, whether its of weather or of circumstances, is full of turbulence and uncertainties.

But this period is the one which nurtures and enhances the upcoming weather, time, and the circumstances. And it also nurtures one’s creativities.


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Pakistani social worker becomes hero in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone

UNITED NATIONS: A Pakistani social worker volunteering for the United Nations campaign to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus has become something of a folk hero for his devoted services to the people of a disease-afflicted village of Sierra Leone, a West African country, according to reports received at UN Headquarters in New York.

Khalid Javed Choudhry works mainly in Kunta Dumba, a small village near the border with neighbouring Guinea, which is battling Ebola, and where a number of families have lost their loved ones.

In fact, according to reports, on the day that Khalid and a team from the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) visited, two families were quarantined.

They had come to inspect two latrines that had just been constructed for the quarantined families to avoid further spreading of the virus to other villagers and domestic animals.

One of Khalid’s tasks as a Field Crisis Manager in the district is to supervise the construction of such quick impact projects that help local communities fight Ebola.

The projects include toilets for quarantined homes, fuel for an electricity generator that helps pump treated water into a reservoir for use in the township and at the Ebola Treatment Centres, funds for a group of Ebola survivors to help raise awareness of the virus and for a local radio station to produce programmes in local languages.

To the villagers Khalid’s visits reassure of the UN’s concern for their plight. They in turn acknowledge his efforts by chanting “Mr. Khalid! Mr. Khalid!” whenever they set eyes on him. He smilingly waves back to the people with whom he has developed an uncommon affinity.

“Khalid is a good man, we love him,” says Mohamed Kamara, a project officer with the non-governmental organisation, United for the Protection of Human Rights, which is UNMEER’s implementing partner in the district.

“He is a catalyst. He pushes us to do our jobs. He has adapted himself to the culture of our people. He feels our pain, and we like his style.”

Khalid Javed Choudhry left his wife, a son and a daughter in Pakistan to volunteer for an Ebola fight in the far flung areas of Sierra Leone.

“I was involved in efforts to eradicate polio in Pakistan, and I understand how difficult behaviour change can be. So, when I heard about Ebola, I knew behaviour change was going to be key and I wanted to come and help,” he said.

Arriving Sierra Leone in mid-January, Khalid had to live with little or no electricity, without easy access to medicines and having to eat strange foods. But he soon adjusted and now feels at home.

He notes, “I was mentally prepared for this situation. I did not expect to come to a place where social services are working smoothly.”

Despite the discomforts, Khalid has connected emotionally with the villagers.

“I look at them, particularly the families that have lost loved ones due to Ebola, and I say to myself, at least I have not lost anyone.”

He said helping to end Ebola is his mission and also his passion.

UNMEER Field Operations Manager, Martin Leach, said that “Khalid has just the right personal approach when working with UNMEER’s partners in fighting Ebola: he is considerate, patient yet determined.”

While Khalid is looking forward to re-joining his family in Pakistan, he conveys a sense of urgency even desperation whenever he talks about the Ebola fight. “I am hoping these people can return to a normal life very soon.”

By the end of March, Kambia was still an Ebola hotspot.

“Behaviour change is the key to breaking the transmission chain, and from what I can see, the situation is slowly improving,” Khalid said.

-Express Tribune

Monday, 9 March 2015

"India loves Pakistan" app aims to bridge gap between neighbouring countries

India and Pakistan may have a lot of rivalry in terms of sports, Line of Control (LoC) violations, and the recent incident of the Indian coast guard admitting to have blown up a Pakistani fishing boat.

However, India and Pakistan have more in common than one would imagine at the end of the day. Our cultures, food, dressing, language and way of life is similar if not the same.

To create more awareness of the similarities, an app called ‘India loves Pakistan’ has been launched to bring the two countries on the same platform, reported.

What does the app do?

It presents users with several photographs of landmarks in both countries. The user will have to identify which country the landmarks belong to, and will eventually be provided with the correct answer.


Who is the brains behind this positive venture?

Amrit Sharma. He was inspired by a TED talk he one attended in 2013, after which he decided to work on the app that year during the Indo-Pak independence day celebrations.

He has an amazing take on the similarities between both countries:

“We believe that there is so much that connects India and Pakistan. Our passion for cricket, love for Bollywood movies, smell of garmagaram chai in the morning, the first delicious bite of a jalebi, and so on. The people, streets, monuments, and markets of India and Pakistan look quite similar too, and it’s often difficult to tell them apart,” says Amrit.

“I have a dream that one day people will be judged by the content of their character and not the colour of their passport,” Amrit said.

Another purpose of the app is to bring awareness and educate people about national monuments in India and Pakistan, and on tourist attractions.

Express Tribune 20 February, 2015