“I wanted to give back to the community. I know the struggle for a good education. My father passed away when I was barely a year-old. I was able to complete my studies only through scholarships. It didn’t help that I grew up in Rajouri, a backward area where there weren’t many options,” said Ahmed, assistant professor of chemistry at the Government Degree College Mendhar (Poonch district) and a first-generation learner in his family.
Ahmed was a post-doc fellow at IIT-Delhi in 2017 when the opportunity to teach students in his hometown presented itself. “I didn’t think twice. This is what I wanted to do — go back home and encourage students to take up science in higher education,” Ahmed told TOI on Friday.
His efforts have yielded results. Three years ago, there were few students who chose to specialise in chemistry. “Today, we have large batches of students studying chemistry and 50% of them are girls,” said Ahmed, who often doubles up as a career coach for his students.
When not teaching, Ahmed’s research work takes up most of his time. Currently, he is focused on developing polymers which are biodegradable. “Polymers that we use at present are mainly synthetic and cause pollution. For example, in food packaging we use conventional polymers. I am developing green materials which are biodegradable. Their properties have been changed at nano-particle levels,” he said.
But to conduct his research work in well-equipped labs, Ahmed has to travel to Delhi and to his alma mater, Jamia Millia Islamia, squeezing in these visits between official holidays. “Cost of setting up a state-of-the-art lab can run into crores, we don’t have the funds for it here,” he said, adding that since he completed his PhD in Jamia and research in IIT-Delhi, he is allowed access to labs in both institutes where he also leads collaborative research efforts.
With over 30 published papers in reputed international journals on polymer chemistry and 18 reference books to his name, Ahmed has become an established name in the scientific fraternity. He is also a member of the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. And yet, his inclusion in the list of top scientists in the world took Ahmed by complete surprise.
“A friend of mine from Delhi called up and informed me. I thought he was joking because I’m quite young, in fact, my career has just begun. I didn’t believe it until I saw the list myself,” said Ahmed.
Dileep Kumar Raina, principal of GDC, Mendhar, said Ahmed’s dedication to teaching had inspired many students to perform better. “The recognition of his work in the Stanford list is well-deserved. It’s an honour for all of us,” he told TOI.
Ahmed now has plans to start an NGO with his wife Dr Anu Choudhary, a professor at a degree college in Samba, to boost education in the region.