Spotlight on Pakistan’s First Female String Theorist, Dr. Tasneem Zehra Husain

String theory is a high-level, nuanced theoretical framework that attempts to unify the four forces of the universe. While the idea of study in this area is daunting for many, string theory served as a driving force behind the study of physics for Dr. Tasneem Zehra Husain.

The daughter of educationists, Dr. Husain grew up in Pakistan, and her passion for science began in childhood. “As far back as I can remember, I was always curious about how things work. I really liked the logic of math and the way it flows” she shared with MIT Tech Review Pakistan in an interview last year. A self proclaimed lover of puzzles, she was “inevitably” driven to the natural brain teasers of the field of physics. An avid reader, the physicist attributes the abundance of books and her parents’ encouragement as the engine that fueled her intellectual and academic success. Her drive, curiosity, and intelligence led to passing her A-levels at the age of 15, nearly three years ahead of some of her schoolmates.

Dr. Husain attended Kinnaird College in Lahore for her undergraduate education, and ultimately received her PhD in Theoretical Physics from Stockholm University in 2003, at the age of 26. She became the first female Pakistani String Theorist, but through her outreach as an educator she has strong hopes that she won’t be the last. Dr. Husain has conducted post-doctoral research at Harvard University, represented Pakistan at the Meeting of Nobel Laureates, and has led teams to the World Year of Physics. As a post-doc, Dr. Husain became involved with the project development team working to establish a new School of Science and Engineering at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). After a stint at Harvard, Dr. Husain spent some time in Pakistan as a founding faculty member at LUMS, before returning to the Boston area, where she now lives.

String theory is an erudite theory that requires years of study to fully grasp, but Dr. Husain has attempted to bridge this gap in common knowledge through her latest book, Only the Longest Threads. In particular, her book looks at major scientific breakthroughs, like Newton’s Laws of Gravity and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, through the lens of young scientists grappling to understand these eureka moments. By writing from an accessible and relatable viewpoint, Dr. Husain helps draw out complex scientific theories in ways that are exciting and easy to understand, helping pave a way for nascent students and scientists to understand her field of study.

Dr. Tasneem Zehra Husain serves as a brilliant Pakistani figurehead and role model in the STEM field, while helping to pave the way for many students and scientists.