Atta-ur-Rahman, a Pakistani organic chemist, is widely recognized for his contributions to the development of science and technology in Pakistan. Currently serving as Professor Emeritus at the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences at the University of Karachi and as Chairman of PM Task Force on Science and Technology, he has held several distinguished positions in his career. He has twice served as the President of Pakistan Academy of Sciences (2003-2006, and 2011-2014) and was the Federal Minister of Science and Technology (2000-2002), Federal Minister of Education (2002), and Chairman Higher Education Commission with status of Federal Minister (2002-2008).
Atta-ur-Rahman was born on 22 September 1942 in Delhi, British India (today's Republic of India) into an Urdu-speaking academic family. His grandfather, Sir Abdur Rahman, was a vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi (1934–38) who briefly served as a judge at the Madras High Court. In 1946, Abdur Rahman was appointed as vice-chancellor of the Punjab University in Lahore, eventually relocating his family there, a year before the Partition of India took place. Abdur Rahman eventually became a Senior Justice at the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1949. His father, Jamil-ur-Rahman, was a lawyer who established a cotton ginning textile industry in Okara, Punjab, Pakistan. After settling in Karachi in 1952, Atta-ur-Rahman passed the competitive O-Level and A-Level from the Karachi Grammar School and joined Karachi University.
At Karachi University, Atta-ur-Rahman pursued his bachelor's degree in chemistry and graduated with honors in 1963. He then obtained a Master of Science (MSc) in organic chemistry in 1964, securing first class and 1st position. He lectured at Karachi University for a year before receiving a Commonwealth Scholarship for doctoral studies in the United Kingdom.
Atta-ur-Rahman joined King's College at the University of Cambridge for his doctoral studies and resumed research in natural products under John Harley-Mason. In 1968, Rahman received a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in organic chemistry, with the subjects of his doctoral thesis being natural products and organic materials. He was elected as a fellow of King's College, University of Cambridge, in 1969 and continued his research at Cambridge University until 1973. During this period, he is credited with correcting the earlier work of the Nobel Laureate Sir Robert Robinson on the chemistry of harmaline. Later in 2007, he was appointed as an honorary life fellow of King's College Cambridge.
After completing his research at Cambridge, Atta-ur-Rahman returned to Pakistan and contributed to the development of the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences at the University of Karachi. He played a pivotal role in transforming the landscape of higher education, science, and technology in Pakistan. His efforts resulted in several institutions being named after him, such as the Atta-ur-Rahman Institute for Natural Product Discovery (AuRIns) in Malaysia, the Academician Professor Atta-ur-Rahman One Belt and One Road TCM Research Center in China, the Atta-ur-Rahman School of Applied Biosciences at the National University of Sciences & Technology (Islamabad, Pakistan), and the Atta-ur-Rahman Laboratories, International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences at the University of Karachi (Karachi, Pakistan).
Atta-ur-Rahman has had a significant impact on the development of science and technology in Pakistan. During his tenure as Federal Minister of Science and Technology (2000-2002), he introduced a number of reforms in the country's science and technology sector. He established four new universities of science and technology in different parts of the country, as well as the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology. He also introduced policies to promote research and development in the country, and encouraged collaboration between Pakistani scientists and those from other countries.
As Chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) with the status of Federal Minister (2002-2008), Atta-ur-Rahman introduced further reforms in Pakistan's higher education sector. He significantly increased the budget for higher education, and established new universities and research centers across the country. He also introduced policies to improve the quality of education in Pakistan, and encouraged the use of technology in teaching and research.
Atta-ur-Rahman's contributions to the development of science and technology in Pakistan have been widely recognized. He has received numerous awards and honors, both nationally and internationally. In 2005, he was awarded the UNESCO Science Prize in recognition of his contributions to the development of science in Pakistan. In 2006, he was awarded the International UNESCO Science Prize. He has also been awarded the highest civil awards of Pakistan and several other countries, including the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, and the Sitara-e-Imtiaz.
Atta-ur-Rahman's life and achievements serve as an inspiration to scientists and researchers all over the world. His dedication to the field of chemistry and his contributions to the development of science and technology in Pakistan have earned him global recognition and respect. His legacy lives on through the many institutions and initiatives that bear his name, and through the countless students and researchers he has mentored and inspired over the course of his career.