Scientist Taqui Khan leaves behind an unmatched legacy; academia mourns his passing away

It was sometime in 1978, I had joined Nizam College to pursue my B. Sc in ( Math, Physics & Chemistry). The initial ragging and welcome to the classes was completed. One day, I was talking to a group of seniors, when the Principal of the College, Prof M M Taqui Khan was passing by. There was sudden silence, everybody stood up in respect.

His reputation as a teacher and scientist with outstanding work in Chemistry, especially inorganic preceded him. He commanded respect unlike many who demanded by their actions. The tall, stockily built, Prof Khan wore dark glasses and was known to be a very refined personality.

That impression of Prof Taqui Khan remained etched in my memory. Within a few months, in 1979 he moved on to Osmania University and was later selected to lead the national Institute-Central Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavnagar in Gujarat in 1982. It was one of the 42 national laboratories under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

MS Education Academy

It was a prestigious posting then for a university professor to be elevated to lead a national lab. Incidentally, Dr Hussain Zaheer was the only other person from Hyderabad who held a director post in the CSIR (founder of RRL, Hyd.) by then. Dr Zaheer rose to become the Director General position in the 1960s.

Prof Mirza Mohammed Taqui Khan served as the Director of the CSMCRI during 1982-91. On April 5, at the ripe age of 93, Prof Khan, who was the Head of Chemistry Dept at the Osmania University and Principal of Nizam College (of which he was also an alumnus of the 1950 batch) passed away due to age-related problems in Yakutpura, Older part of Hyderabad.

Incidentally, his wife, Prof Badarunnisa, who passed away a decade ago was also a contemporary Chemist of repute and head of the department of Chemistry in the OU and Principal of the Women’s College. The scientist-couple have six daughters, all of whom are making significant contributions in their fields, including three in Chemistry.

“With his baritone, he not only taught us many facets and in-depth aspects of the specialization, but literally imprinted subject knowledge in our minds. He was such an effacing teacher that any concept introduced by him literally embedded into the minds of his students. A talent unparalleled indeed,” recalled Prof Kadaru Veera Reddy, one of the first PhD students.

Prof Taqui Khan was jovially called “The Flying Khan’, since he was flying all over India and abroad to lecture in universities/institutions and conduct viva-voce exams. He was a true democrat and courtesy personified in his leadership, whether in his dealings with students on research or personal level. Despite his being a towering and imposing academic giant, he always used to first offer us a seat and then discuss academic issues. He never wanted us to be meek and sober but upright. He trained us to be forthright and built the brand ‘Taqui Khan Group,” reminisced Prof Veera Reddy, who retired as the Vice-Chancellor of the Satavahana University.

Remarkable contributions

In 1984, I got an opportunity to meet and interview Prof Khan, who had come to Hyderabad from Bhavnagar, on some of the developments at the Institute for the PTI. A major contribution of social relevance that he was leading was desalination of salt water using reverse osmosis technology.

Amongst his most important contributions is the extraction of iodine from marine algae through a process of catalysis. It led to the commercial production of iodised salt. Dr Khan and his team achieved this during his stint in the CSMCRI.

Iodised salt which is widely available with leading companies like Tatas also producing it has been instrumental in dramatically reducing iodine deficiency in the country. Iodine deficiency causes Goitre and leads to mental retardation.

His contributions in this field made a huge impact in the lives of the people of the Northeastern states where iodine deficiency and Goitre were a major health problem during the 1970s & 1980s. The Hyderabad-based, National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) showed the severity of the problem in their nutritional surveys. Dr Khan and his team from Bhavnagar trained many in those states in the production of iodised salt.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology helped in converting salt water or polluted water into potable or drinking water. The Bhavnagar Institute was leading a national effort in safe drinking water in rural areas under Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. From 1982 to 1984 he was appointed a member of the central government’s Water Mission too.

Safe drinking water was a major challenge and lack of it was responsible for many water borne diseases during the 1980s. Reverse osmosis has since become a routine technology in the country with many appliances developed to provide drinking water at homes. Dr Khan holds a patent for the technology.

The technology got international attention and was exported to South Asian and African countries by the CSIR during the late 1980s. “The Shankaracharya of Dwaraka honoured me for setting up a RO plant at the holy shrine,” recalled Dr Taqui Khan in media interviews a few years ago.

In 2012, Dr Khan was conferred the Lifetime Achievement award at the 30th Annual Conference of Chemists, which was held at the Dept of Chemistry, Osmania University (of which he was Head) as part of the International Year of Chemistry. He had published nearly 300 papers in leading research publications in his illustrious career.

Early Life, Nizam College & OU

Prof Taqui Khan is rated amongst the top Indian scientists with international fame in the field of inorganic chemistry. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, London and all the Indian Science Academies. He guided 70 doctorates, was granted over 50 patents and published about 300 scientific papers in a highly distinguished career.

He was born on November 3, 1931 into a family of jagirdars and nawabs. His father, the well educated, Nawab Habeebullah Khan, ensured good education to all his children. Science, especially Chemistry fascinated, Prof. Taqui Khan from his young days. His Chemistry teacher Nagaswamy in Mufeed Ul Anam High school made a deep impression, especially in experimentation. This motivated him to build a rudimentary lab at home with his father’s help and conduct experiments, according to the Wordpress.

An alumnus of the famed Nizam College of the 1950 batch of B Sc, he obtained his M Sc from the OU in 1952. He was immediately selected as a lecturer in Chemistry in Nizam College. However, his thirst for higher learning and research took him to the US. He obtained a PhD in inorganic chemistry from the Clark University, Massachusetts.

Prof Khan had a long stint with the Osmania University, Chemistry Department (1967-91), in between he became the Principal of Nizam College ( 1977-79) and Director, CMSCRI Bhavnagar (1982-91). In Nizam College he launched the bio-inorganic chemistry course. He was instrumental in starting a PG Programme in Chemistry in the PG Centre, Warangal, which later led to the formation of the Kakatiya University.

Post retirement from government, he served as advisor to the University Grants Commission and the central government’s Department of Science and Technology. At the international level, Prof Khan was a Visiting Professor at America’s Texas A&M University and a distinguished Visitor to Imperial College, London, where he was invited by Prof Wilkinson, a Nobel Laureate.

Among his lasting contributions is the two volume book, Homogeneous Catalysis by Metal Complexes published by Academic Press in 1974. His phenomenal contributions also find place in the multi-volume, INSA publication on the development of science in India from the Vedic period to the present age.

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