Prof. Fazle Hussain: An Outstanding Profile in Science, Education and Research

Jahed Ahmed

  [email protected]


“It’s not size but vitality that really matters,” said Professor Shankar Bhatt of the Microbiology department at Mysore University while gazing at me affectionately. I was a newly admitted student in the Master’s degree program in the Microbiology department and trying to shift to the Biotechnology department at that time since I had also applied there and qualified for admission. Prof. Bhatt was especially kind to me from the beginning and often he would advise me on issues pertaining to higher education. “Have you ever seen the trunk of a tree floating with the current of river?” he asked me. “Yes,” I answered. “Now,” he continued, “compare this with the swimming of a tiny fish in the same river stream against the current and you get whole picture.” “The big sized tree trunk cannot go against the current but the tiny fish can, because it is gifted with the vitality of life,” the professor stopped, giving me time to reflect on. That conversation happened nearly ten years ago. I left India in 1998 and was not in touch with Bhatt since then. But lately I have been reminded of Prof. Shankar Bhatt and his wonderful remarks while going through the life story of another professor—the internationally reputed Bangladeshi-American scientist--Prof. Fazle Hussain.


It is the “search for order" in what seems a "disorderly" phenomenon (turbulence) which made Prof. Fazle Hussain the world’s leading expert in the field of fluid-dynamics. Katz, a professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, says, "Anyone in the area of fluid dynamics knows who Fazle Hussain is.”*1

 

Let us have a closer look.
 

Fazle Hussain the Brilliant Scientist: Currently a Cullen Distinguished Professor and the Director of Institute of Fluid Dynamics and Turbulence in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Houston, Texas, USA; Hussain came to the US as a Fulbright scholar and did both his MS (’66) and Ph.D.(’69) from Stanford University where he was given the Eckhart Prize for the outstanding Ph.D. dissertation. After moving to the University of Houston, he founded the college’s Aerodynamics and Turbulence Laboratory in 1973. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World. He served and is serving in the editorial boards of several prestigious journals in his field and many significant scientific panels nationally and internationally. While in the field of Fluid Dynamics and Turbulence, only two other scientists have ever won as many as two of the four awards that are given for “career achievements or most original contributions”;*2 to his credit, Fazle Hussain has won all the four which are as follows:*3               

  • 1984 Freeman Scholar Award of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

  • 1998 Fluid Dynamics Prize of the American Physical Society.

  • 2000 Fluids Engineering Award of ASME.

  • The Fluid Dynamics Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (2002).


Picture-1: Prof. Fazle Hussain
(Picture source: http://www.egr.uh.edu/news/0202/?e=hussain)

   For his colleagues, the above awards, however, do not establish any new credentials but only reinforce an “indisputable fact”, as commented by Raymond W. Flumerfelt,*4 Dean of University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering. “Dr. Hussain is the world’s leading expert in turbulence studies and fluid dynamics,” he said.

 

   What is the implementation of Fazle Hussain’s research? A lot- would be the honest answer in common words.  Hussain did not have doubts that behind the “seemingly random motion of turbulence, there is an organization” which if explored, could be exploited to our advantage. It has been proven over time that Hussain was right about his hypothesis. Using the strategy of controlling turbulence flow developed by Hussain, it is possible to design jet and aircraft engines/turbines which are not only fuel efficient and better, but also able to reduce “aircraft friction drag up to 20 percent,” thus reducing “expenditures on aircraft fuel by $ 3 billion per year.”*5 In this kind of development, Hussain’s associate was his Ph.D. student Wade Schoppa. Hussain’s other collaborative project (with Michael Goldshtik, Ph.D.) involves the development of a ‘bladeless helicopter powered by “manufactured tornado” and is capable of vertical ascent and landing.’ *6

 

NAE

                     Picture-2: NAE members Benton Baugh, Dan Luss, Fazle Hussain, and James Symons

                          (Picture source: http://www.egr.uh.edu/news/0501/?e=naenight )

 

 Picture-3: Fazle Hussain being felicitated at UH ceremony by colleague Paul Chu, a world famous physicist in low-temperature superconductivity

 

 

Fazle Hussain  is fascinated by the mystery of turbulence

(Picture Source: Campus News, University of Houston, TX)

  

Despite their remarkable impact, Hussain’s research findings go much beyond just jet engines in their implications. “Holographic Particle Velocimetry,” “a three-dimensional flow measurement technology” developed by Fazle Hussain, “has applications, among other fields, in the medical sciences, particularly the study of blood flow in the development of the artificial heart.” *7

 

Fazle Hussain the Educationalist: Despite having reached the pinnacle of success and fame in his field, Prof. Fazle Hussain is a very humble and reluctant-in-self-publicity person in his personal life. Although he’s a regular visitor to mukto-mona.com website, of which I am a co-moderator; when I expressed my desire to write an article about him, Hussain initially insisted that focus, instead, should be given on young scientists of Bangladeshi origin. I gave him my version of explanation: since he is of Bangladeshi origin—a country where scope and encouragement for scientific research is severely limited—I believe his story would be a great source of inspiration for many aspiring and budding scientists at home and abroad. He meekly softened his objection and agreed to let me write about his life. It is particularly unfortunate that we did not see many Bangladeshi newspapers/magazines writing about a top scholar like him including about a dozen of Bangla weeklies published in USA alone. US based Bangladeshi newspapers often seem to be more interested in publishing news about the community leaders' internal conflicts and/or gossips, sensational news about a folk singer like Mamtaz’s live performance on the stage than doing a real job about a real person. Of a handful of Bangladeshi newspapers that wrote about Prof. Hussain, a significant one is the Dhaka based Executive Times (ET), which in its December 2003 issue published an “exclusive interview” with him. Following are excerpts from the interview (I’ve underlined and put certain words in bold for emphasis- J.A.):

 

ET: In Bangladesh, every now and then a new private educational institute springs out. Many have pointed out that the teaching standards in some of these institutions are “not up to the mark.” In your view, what are the main ingredients of a good academic institution?

 

FH: Institutions of higher education—call them universities, institutes or by any other name—have three distinct functions: 1) creation of new knowledge or research, 2) transmission of known knowledge or teaching, and 3) professional and public service. An institution must excel in all these. Each faculty member must also participate in all three, although the extent may vary from person to person; say some focusing more on research, others more on teaching, but never totally to one only. As in all spheres, excellence is determined by peer recognition. There has to be some confidential evaluation by the informed. Of course, success in the marketplace will speak for itself. Good institutions will establish and maintain high reputation, indicated by the fact that their graduates will get hired at good salaries and that students compete to be enrolled in these. Weak ones will lose out in both and will eventually become extinct. No question.

 

ET: How do you think institutions in Bangladesh can achieve these ingredients?

 

FH: In a democratic society like Bangladesh, the situation is no different, as long as fairness is maintained in admission and student evaluation through rigorous examinations. Leadership (such as Vice-Chancellor) of very high academic standards and integrity, competent and dedicated faculty, subject to some oversight by able Boards of Regents should suffice. There’s of course downside of over-regulation which can stifle creativity. Of course, government universities will be subject to some control by UGC.      

                           

ET: How can we bridge the gap between theoretical works done at educational institutions with their practical implementations, in the context of Bangladesh?

 

FH: This is an age old issue. The role of a university is to impart fundamental knowledge so that the graduates can adapt to the variety of specific requirements in any particular application or practical situation—be it in Bangladesh or anywhere else. Training in narrow areas is fine for trade certificates, “diplomas”, but Bachelors and higher degrees should necessarily involve fundamental education in broad fields like humanities, sciences, medicine, law, business, agriculture, engineering, architecture, education, etc., backed by strong liberal arts education, so that the society consists of intelligent, thinking, cultured, and sophisticated citizenry.    

 

ET: Teachers in Bangladesh are seen to be involved in the mainstream politics even in the campus. What’s your take on this?

 

FH: Teachers are also part of the society and have an obligation to participate in the matters affecting their nation. Hence they must also participate in politics and have informed opinions in all critical matters of importance to Bangladesh and the whole world. But they should totally separate their political views from academic matters. Otherwise, they will harm their own effectiveness by raising possible doubts about their objectiveness and truthfulness of what they’re teaching. I don’t see any room for mainstream politics on campuses, particularly in underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh, where the chances of these creating distractions are indeed high, causing damage to the effectiveness of the teachers, who, however, may also unduly influence the highly impressionable but-not-necessarily well informed students. Parenthetically, when I was a student leader at BUET during 1959-63, I also fought hard for student rights and protested hard against government’s unfairness, but I emphatically refused to participate in the activities of the political parties. I openly advocated that students must refuse to be pawns in the hands of national politicians. I wasn’t popular with the politicians and many students on this account. I was very sorry to learn that soon after my departure mainstream politics had entered BUET.

 

ET: There are some technical challenges unique to Bangladesh. Can you suggest a process that combines the expertise of the local engineers, and cutting edge research of the expatriate scientists; to come up with appropriate solution?  

 

FH: Bangladesh shares essentially all problems of developed countries, yet it has its unique problems, including floods, cyclones, environment and pollution, energy and power distribution, quality water supply, transport (river, land, and air), health and medicine, ICT and all aspects of engineering, education etc, etc. These pose formidable challenges for which no simple solution seems in sight. Bangladesh will have to invest considerable effort to tackle these problems and needs to recruit all its resources to this end. A lot can be achieved, however, through cooperation with expatriate experts who should be tapped in collaborative ventures, particularly in ‘think tanks.’ Although government institutions like BCSIR, BUET, etc. should do some of it, the bulk of the burden will have to be borne by NGOs, particularly non-profit.

I have often suggested to my Bangladeshi colleagues the formation of something like a think tank, “Bangladesh Institute of Advanced Studies.” It could be similar to National Institute of Advanced Studies of India, located in Bangalore. There are many Bangladeshis living abroad—highly capable in science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship—who have the know-how and desire to help Bangladesh, many (including myself) eager to provide free service. I am sure that they’re not looking for status or title. The typical problem is that they aren’t asked, may be because the experts in Bangladesh think that they know enough and need no “advice”, and may be also reluctant to be in a position of possibly being thought of any less. In a cooperative spirit, a lot can indeed be achieved. I know many from India and China who are closely involved in significant nation-building activities in those countries although they live abroad. I think the environment and culture there are conductive and encouraging for the expatriate experts to get closely involved in projects at home. When offering to help, I have often been asked for money only. Sometimes it feels like a cold response to those whose contributions can be invaluable, much more than what they can offer in cash.  

 

[I would like to draw attention of all educated Bangladeshis at home and abroad—especially the academicians and other experts in science, engineering, research and education—to the suggestion put forward by Prof. Hussain. I am especially soliciting comments from the expatriate experts of Bangladesh origin on how we could overcome the existing barriers and materialize formation of a ‘think tank’ such as one suggested by him (see his Hussain’s answer to last question above). The comments could be sent to me at [email protected] or directly to Prof. Hussain at [email protected]  I would publish all comments in a separate article. –J.A.]

 

Some inspiring stories of Hussain’s life: Fazle Hussain was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In his own words*8, “Born in the middle of nine children, supported by the meager income of my father who worked as a rice research assistant in the government agriculture laboratory, I grew up in poverty…….. I was taking care of our cows (source of milk for the family) and growing vegetables in the spacious yards around the house (watering them by lifting water from wells and carrying water  to the plots were very demanding); both were staples for the  family. These chores would take quite a few hours a day, often in the dark at night.” And there is more to the story. He had only “the cheapest school” available to him. His dream in high school days was to become a technician. He was not recruited into Pakistani Army for being “short.” A shy boy in his childhood, Hussain “had no skill in speaking, let alone in English.” At a farewell ceremony for the high school’s retiring headmaster, Hussain was chosen to give a speech but he failed to deliver a single word on the dais. The incident was very embarrassing for him as he recalls later, “with tears rolling down my cheeks, I came down from the dais, feeling totally humiliated and shattered by letting the students down. …I could not forgive myself. I vowed to overcome stage fright and never allow myself to be embarrassed like that.“*9 What really distinguishes Fazle Hussain from others is his firm resolve to change himself. He was not there to give up. Indeed, he has proved himself to be true to the words of his resolve. In his own account: ”the shy boy was shy no more. I became the Editor of the BUET’s Students’ Central Union in my 2nd Year(1961), General Secretary in the 3rd Year(1962) and Vice-President in the 4th Year(1963)(VC was the President).” At the same time, the boy who once was not able to speak a single word of English also served as a “varsity correspondent (for the years 1960-63) of the Pakistan Observer”, Mizanur Rahman Shelly (the former chief of the interim government in Bangladesh) “was the other correspondent.”   

 

    Just ten days prior to his Matriculation (now SSC) exam, Fazle lost all his notes and other study materials when seemingly a targeted burglary took place in his house. That, however, didn’t stop him from taking exam and coming out with flying colors. He was ranked first in Matric (Tech) and third in I.Sc. final  when he had to take exam from the bed due to severe sickness. And that gave him the message he needed so badly. “I gained some confidence that I had probably genuine merit. I actually never felt that I was more capable than others,” he later recalls the events that made him a self-starter. He did not have to look back thereafter. As a student leader at EPUET (East Pakistan University of Engineering & Technology, later named BUET), he set examples that could be model for students even today. He fought for students’ rights while putting personal interests at stake, confronted authority much higher and senior, yet he was passionately against party any politics on campus and espoused that “students should not be pawns of politicians.” During his student leadership, he successfully resisted mainstream politics “from entering the campus” of the EPUET.

 

Some thoughts of Fazle Hussain about Bangladesh and its people: Unlike many expatriate elite Bangladeshis (NRBs), Fazle Hussain’s conviction about the future of his native country and its people is like that of an optimist. When many of us (including myself) feel bleak about Bangladesh finding a way from its current high level of corruption, lack of education, political and intellectual dishonesty; Hussain sounds different on this issue.*10 ”How is it possible that out of hundreds of Bangladeshis I know, I know of absolutely no one who is corrupt, yet it is a thoroughly corrupt country? I do not think it is because I cannot detect dishonesty,” comments Hussain. “I know for sure and I am convinced after my recent visit that Bangladeshis are basically honest, sincere and hard-working (contrary to popular notion, they are not lazy); they can be led, motivated and energized.” “People throw their hands up in the air in total despair: “it’s impossible”. I emphatically disagree,” Hussain adds. And he has his own suggestions for a better and dignified Bangladesh. Only a few from the many suggestions—put forward elaborately by Fazle Hussain during 1st Dr. Alimullah Khan Memorial Lecture delivered at the Institution of Engineers in Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 20, 2004—are mentioned below. For the complete description of the lecture covering his childhood, student life and his thoughts about Bangladesh, its people, readers are encouraged to visit the following link and send their feedbacks: http://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/jahed/FH_dream_reality.htm

 

On corruption & nepotism: “I feel we can reverse corruption by significant remuneration. The prime minister should be the highest paid public servant (say, 10 lakh taka per month in today’s value), next ministers (say, 7 lakh takas), national professors (say, 3 lakh), agency heads and top scientists (say, 2 lakh), then professors, technocrats, bureaucrats, etc. The quality of public service (not to be confused with Civil Service) will improve if salaries are brought in line with the private sector. Most jobs should be on contract basis at a competitive salary. This is bound to create some insecurity, precisely what keeps people productive and competitive. That is not bad.”

 

On Privatization: “Time and again, not in the western countries only but also in China, India and Bangladesh, it has been proven that privatisation does work, although some initial government subsidy and nurturing may indeed be necessary and justified. It is the norm in the health service here. Even in the education field, privatisation from the elementary level all the way to the graduate level is healthy and should be encouraged as much as possible.”

 

Manufacturing, IT and value addition: “Building very expensive houses, for example, falls in this category as that doesn’t create any long-term and sizeable labour employment nor any goods. We must encourage activities which add significant value. Foremost should be production and manufacturing……………….In these days of globalization and electronic communication, one can serve any company anywhere in the world sitting right at home in a Bangladesh village. Electronic communication with technological education in a massive scale can not only make us economically prosperous but can also solve our traffic problem.”

 

Role of Press:

“I strongly believe that an aggressive and honest News Media, driven by SEARCH FOR TRUTH, can keep all vested interests in check, minimizing corruption, extortion, nepotism, promoting productivity, efficiency, and exposing incompetence.”

 

Technocrats and Professionals: “Top brains by nature shy away from the public domain and politics, but they are vital in nation building. I strongly urge that there should be more ministers under the Technocrat Quota, and this quota should be used strictly that way. All technical and scientific organizations and autonomous bodies should be truly autonomous with separate, independent governing bodies practicing self-governance; they should be headed by top professionals, who will hire qualified administrators and assistants on contract basis. Any time a new chairman of a body joins he must have complete authority to decide if he wants to retain the existing administrators and assistants. The truly capable ones have nothing to worry. They will always be in great demand both inside and elsewhere.”

 

Higher Education and Research: (In addition to his interview with the Executive Times, the excerpt of which has been already mentioned above, please also see the link to Dr. Alimullah Khan Memorial Lecture)

 

Concluding Remarks: Fazle Hussain—once a shy boy of “the cheapest schools” in Dhaka, Bangladesh—made it all the way to world’s top scientist in the field of fluid dynamics. The latest accolade he has received as a part of the recognition of his extraordinary work and talent is the membership in executive body of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), USA, where he along with other members will play role in making decisions at the national and international level about issues which are of relevance and interest to the mechanical engineering community. The three-year term will end with Hussain serving as the chair of the Mechanical Engineering Section at NAE, a rare honor and recognition for any researcher of engineering. While talking to Hussain, I discovered an interesting fact. In addition to his involvement in science and engineering, he also volunteers his time to teach yoga among the residents of his community in Houston, Texas.

 

   I hope it is not too much to hope that Prof. Fazle Hussain, a product of Bangladesh by the ultimate judgment, would serve as a role model for all expatriate Bangladeshis at home and abroad—budding scientists, educationalists and much beyond.

                                                                     _____

New York
12/30/06

 

[Special thanks to Mr. Quazi Azizul Haque of Dade Behring, Inc., Delaware, for encouraging me in writing this article and supplying some of the references. Thanks are also due to Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah and my friend, Mehul Kamdar, for helping me revise the draft.  -J.A.]

 

[Readers may also wish to check out latest Houston News Media coverage of Prof. Fazle Hussain] [Houston Public Radio | Houston Chronicle

 

 

   References:

 

  1. http://www.stp.uh.edu/vol61/135/1a.html

  2. http://www.egr.uh.edu/news/0202/?e=hussain

  3. http://www.egr.uh.edu/news/0606/?e=hussain   

  4. same as no.2

  5. Ibid

  6. Ibid

  7. Ibid

  8. http://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/jahed/FH_dream_reality.htm

  9. Ibid

  10. Ibid

 

About the author: Jahed Ahmed is the co-moderator of www.mukto-mona.com, an online network of humanists from South Asian and other countries. He holds a Master's degree in Biotechnology from the Mysore University, India.