By Meha Mathur
Mohammad Dilshad Manzar is a typical young man from the small town of Samastipur in Bihar but with big dreams. He led a life of deprivation due to his father's ailment, but today Manzar is studying the sleeping patterns of patients for his PhD at Jamia Millia Islamia.
He is not alone in his quest to study natural and life sciences at one of India's oldest universities.
Many youngsters like him are coming from all parts of the country to chase their dreams at the 90-year-old university which is fast acquiring a reputation as a hub of academic opportunity and diversity for disadvantaged students, particularly from minority sections.
"While we teach practically all subjects, we lay equal importance, if not more, on research in the sciences. Besides basic sciences, we have application-oriented research as also specialised research in subjects like nanosciences and nanotechnology," Jamia Millia Islamia vice chancellor Najeeb Jung told IANS.
"We have earned funding and recognition for some of our cutting-edge research programmes," he added.
Students like Manzar and aspiring scientists of his generation are trying to unravel the mysteries that intrigue us all: What was the big bang, what's the future of our solar system, how did humans evolve, what is the genesis of various diseases, what causes sleep, and so on.
Many of the students are guided by M. Sami, director of the centre whose work has been cited by the Nobel Committee as one of the most significant contributions to the field of dark energy.
"The Centre for Theoretical Physics is committed to doing very high quality research and its members publish their results in the form of papers in acclaimed International Journals, with a very high impact factor," Sami said.
Amna Ali is one of his students. Born in Bihar's Bhagalpur district, Ali had interest in physics right from her school days.
"Encouraged by parents, I studied physics from Aligarh Muslim University where I came to know about the pioneering work that Professor M. Sami is doing and I decided to pursue my PhD under him," Ali says.
She is today working on 'Inflation, dark energy, possible alternatives' at Jamia's Centre for Theoretical Physics. And after a chance to participate in the Summer School of Sub-Nuclear Physics in Italy, Ali is now contemplating a post-doctorate.
"I am interested in dark energy. Whatever luminous matter is seen is only 25 percent of the universe. We don't get to see the missing 70 percent... This may be responsible for the expansion of universe and might explain why galaxies are pulling apart," she says.
Then there's Sajid Yousuf Bhatt who's working on 'A structural data mining framework for social network analysis'. A pass-out of Kashmir University, Bhatt is pondering on the behavioural aspects of social networks based on computer science tools.
The relevance of his work, which Bhatt alternatively calls "opinion mining" and "sentimental analysis", is important with paramount security and privacy concerns, enormous losses due to hacking and revolutions being facilitated on social networking sites.
Though aware that he can "mine" a gold field at Google, Yahoo or Facebook following his PhD, Bhatt would still love to go back to his home state and teach,
The university, a hub of pioneering and often cross-disciplinary research in natural and life sciences, is also witnessing collaborations with institutions within and outside India in this quest.
Some of the students at other centres are grappling with the burning environmental topics of the day -- emission levels in different fuels and organic pesticides.