Atta-ur-Rahman is an organic chemist whose extensive work on molecular structure and synthesis has led to the production of numerous compounds of biological interest. Amongst the most important chemicals he has helped to synthesise are the cancer-fighting alkaloids obtained from the rosy periwinkle, Catharanthus roseus.
Alongside his work on synthesis, Atta-ur-Rahman has also conducted important analytical studies of organic compounds using circular dichroism — a technique that compares the absorption of light polarised in different directions. Long recognised as a leading figure in Pakistani science, he was appointed Federal Minister for Science and Technology in 2000 and has subsequently served as Chairman of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission. In these roles he has enabled a true transformation in the country’s approach towards science, technology, engineering and medicine.
The recipient of numerous honorary degrees from universities the world over, Atta-ur-Rahman was also the winner of the 1999 UNESCO Science Prize. In 2002, he was awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian honour, and has been similarly honoured by the government of Austria.