Salman and Mohammad Naqvi, Goldwater Scholars
The Goldwater Scholarship is extremely competitive – almost as hard to win as a Rhodes Scholarship -- and it’s rare that brothers attending the same university both place in the competition. But Mohammad, a 22-year-old junior, and Salman, a 20- year-old sophomore, are uncommonly accomplished.
They were born and raised in Pakistan, where they attended an elite high school affiliated with Cambridge University, England. They both hold advanced-level high-school diplomas from Cambridge. Top students at their high school, the brothers could have attended virtually any university. But they chose to come to America and attend NJIT, a nationally-ranked research university that offers bright students chances to do research with prominent professors. The two were also impressed with NJIT’s small class sizes as well as the rigor of the Albert Dorman Honors College, where they are both scholars. In the fall, their younger brother, now a senior in high school, will also attend NJIT. He, too, plans to study engineering and to excel as a researcher.
In the below interview, Mohammad and Salman discuss their research, their close relationship, their backgrounds and how they’ve managed to achieve so much at NJIT.
How close are the two of you? Do you live together and study together?
Mohammad: We lived together at home with our family until I left Pakistan to study at NJIT. Afterwards, when Salman was admitted to NJIT, we rented an apartment in Kearny, N.J., just a few miles from campus, where we now live. We do help each other study. For higher-level courses, I need the background of lower level classes, so I ask Salman for help in refreshing the basic material. I help him review material for higher-level courses.
Salman: My brother has been by my side through 20 years of my life, with the exception of the one year he spent at NJIT while I was still in Pakistan as a high school senior. I trailed him to NJIT, having been greatly impressed by his accomplishments as a freshman here. I’ve been here two years and during that time we have lived together, studied together, held studious discussions, attempted projects together and even during this past semester we took one electrical engineering lab class together. We study together on weekends, take out meals together and watch TV during breaks.
Did your parents encourage you two to be close when you were growing up?
Mohammad: Yes, they always said that your brother is like your arms and you have to have a good relationship with him and respect each other. We have a very close family. My parents were really excited when Salman made Honorable Mention in the Goldwater Scholarship program. It would have been great if he would have won, but the more important thing is that he gave 100 percent, and I believe that his scholarship essay was better than mine and he could have won the scholarship. I was telling him all along that he will win, but when the scholarships were announced he was disappointed. He later picked himself up. And he has the chance to win the scholarship next year. I hope with the help of God he will win, as he is working on a novel high-tech research project.
Salman: My parents always created an atmosphere in our family in which I wish the same for my brothers that I’d wish for myself. It’s about considering my brothers as my friends and my family as my well-wishers in all we do. This thinking has resulted in a very close family, where nearly all our decisions are made through discussions that we all take part in. Our every achievement has made our parents proud and thankful to God. They have taught us to be humble in all our actions and they have practiced what they teach us, which is humility. My mother is a medical doctor but during our childhoods she stayed home to raise us. Our father is a mechanical engineer. My mother devoted many years to her three boys while my father worked full time.
Were you two then close while growing up?
Mohammad: Yes, very close. We played games such as cricket, soccer, table tennis, badminton and squash. We always shared jokes and talked about various scholastic and scientific topics. We always talked about how to plan for the near and distant future. We plan activities with friends. At the same time, when we were young I scolded my brother a lot, but he still respected me. I think he is a good boy.
Salman: Yes, really close. We have a younger brother who is 18 and a senior in high school. But I always got along quite well with Mohammad, whom I call ‘Bhai’, which means brother in Hindi -- it’s a term of respect. When we were growing up, we’d be teammates in nearly all the games we played. We have fought tons of times but you fight and criticize only someone whom you love and care about. And that is why he has always been a mentor for me. All three of us brothers are quite close. My younger brother asks us questions about our studies through email and phone. We talk to him every other day and help him with his studies. He’s decided to come to NJIT in the fall to study engineering, so next school year all three of us will be NJIT students. Our father is a mechanical engineering and I and Mohammad are both electrical engineering majors. My younger brother, who is in the top 5 percent of his class, will major in either electrical or mechanical.
Can each of you describe the research you are doing?
Mohammad: I use NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory, one of the best solar observatories in the world, to study the solar cycles of the sun. A telescope at the observatory takes images of the sun that are archived on Big Bear’s website and later downloaded to the solar center at NJIT. That’s where I do my research. The observatory records data on the sun’s energy output (magnetic fields, solar flares and sun spots), and I interpret that data and convert the pictures into graphic images. The images illustrate the variation of the solar cycle, which affects the earth’s atmosphere. My research attempts to show how solar cycles affect the earth and how it might cause global warming.
Salman: My research is directed by Dr. Andrew Gerrard, a physics professor with the Center for Solar Research at NJIT. We are studying the generation of atmospheric gravity waves (waves that have gravity as their restoring force) in cities and how the waves also contribute to global climate change. This is an issue of immense importance to atmospheric research, climate modelers and aviation-safety control. That is because these waves generated by cities are likely to play a vital role in metropolitan weather forecasting. The waves could also alter global atmospheric circulation and affect the generation of air turbulence, which is hazardous to aircrafts.
Why are you both so driven academically?
Mohammad: Education is a treasure that never dies out. You have to protect your property against thieves, but education protects you against the darkness of ignorance.
Salman: I thank God for allowing both of us to place in the Goldwater Scholarship Program. Mohammad first learned about the Goldwater from Dr. Reibstein in the Honors College. He went on to win the scholarship and set the path and example for me. As I read about the Goldwater, my interest and drive grew stronger and my interest in my research also grew. Our academic drive comes from our parents’ golden advice: “Study hard because knowledge is the only weapon you have got against ignorance, competition and all kinds of hardships.”
Do you both hope that your research will make the world a better place?
Mohammad: It would please me immensely if one day my research helps the scientific community learn more about solar research and global climate change. As my former research adviser, Professor Carsten Denker, used to say: “Our solar research is a small piece of the puzzle of global warming -- but it’s an essential piece.” I'm just a junior but NJIT has already given me so many opportunities. Having a paper published in a major scientific journal; having my research presented at an international conference; being able to use the Big Bear observatory and winning a Goldwater Scholarship – all of this is extremely amazing to me. One day, I hope to give back to NJIT by being a committed alumnus.
Salman: Yes, this is what my whole life is directed towards. One day perhaps my research will improve the weather forecasting and improve the quality of weather satellite data. That would improve global climate predictions and weather forecasts, which would help warn countries when dangerous storms are approaching. My research might also help better understand the causes of global warming. On the local level, I work to improve the NJIT community by volunteering to tutor at the Learning Center. I like to help other students. Also, when I’m a working engineer I plan to help younger students by mentoring them and showing them career options. I have three NJIT scholarships and I recently won a national scholarship, the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship. I’m grateful to NJIT for my scholarships, so when I’m working I’ll donate money to NJIT -- money that the university can award to students in form of scholarships. I hope the students who get those scholarships will one day, like my brother and I, do research that tries to makes our world a better place.
(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)