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Singapore surprise: Karachi student propels her way to success

By Noman Ahmed

KARACHI: It’s a call that few children could have found believable. Fatima Hussain, 15, felt the same when she received a call from Zehra Ali, an assistant manager at the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), who asked her to pack her bags for an international competition in Singapore.

Fatima was surprised to hear she been selected to participate at the International Water Rocket competition 2011. The contest was organised in Tampines, on December 3, in conjunction with the 18th session of the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum.

Fatima ranked 15th among 60 participants from over 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, all aged between 12 and 16. The contest tasked students to launch two-litre soda bottle rockets twice from a 60-metre distance and land it within a specific area.

“Water rocket launching teaches students about the principles of aeronautics,” said Fatima. Water is shot backwards in these model rockets to propel them, as an alternative to the fuel in actual rockets.

Fatima had the experience of a local competition organised by Suparco during World Space Week 2010 under her belt. She was ranked third in the contest. “Based on her performance, Suparco selected her to represent Pakistan in an international competition,” said Ghulam Murtuza, Fatima’s Physics instructor.

Fatima had been informed of her selection a month before the competition and Suparco arranged training sessions for her. But there were still a few things lacking, which Fatima believed would have helped her compete better in Singapore. “For instance, I practiced on simple Japanese launchers while those in the competition were newfangled iPad-EEG based,” she said.

“I was scared at first and I had no idea what would happen since I didn’t have any experience with the new launchers,” she said. While Fatima is interested in dentistry, winning Suparco’s competition made her develop an interest in aeronautics. “I’m double-minded about what should I choose for a career,” she chuckled, adding that her parents encourage her to do what she identifies herself best with.

Dawood Public School principal Viqar Afza is proud of her student. “She was in grade 7 when I began to think that she has something extraordinary in her,” she said, recalling an article Fatima wrote about herself titled ‘Fatima Hussain: The science whiz in the block’. “I was wondering how a seventh-grader could write with such elaboration. I asked the teachers to verify if she wrote it by herself or copied it from somewhere,” she said. Fatima’s mother, an assistant professor at the Government College of Home Economics, also credits the school, which she says has served as a “confidence booster” for her daughters.