Professor P K Kaw, a globally-acclaimed plasma physicist who spearheaded India’s efforts to produce energy through thermonuclear fusion, died in Ahmedabad on Sunday. He was 69, and is survived by wife and three children. D Chenna Reddy, Dean (R&D) of Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gandhinagar, which was founded by Kaw, said he was suffering from cardiac disease.
“He underwent a bypass surgery a few years ago. But he was coming to work and attending all crucial meetings despite his deteriorating health. It is a huge and irreparable loss to the nation, and IPR in particular,” Reddy said.
Kaw, who was honoured with a Padma Shri in 1985, was the founder director of the IPR, the nodal agency that has been coordinating with other countries in building the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France by 2019. ITER is an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject.
Kaw was also behind the construction of the country’s first indigenously-designed machine for controlling thermonuclear fusion, Aditya tokamak. In his public discourses in India and elsewhere he would fervently appeal for accelerating research in the field of thermonuclear fusion, as he believed that it had immense potential to solve the energy problems of a developing world.
Kaw began his career as a post-doctoral fellow in Princeton University, USA, after finishing his PhD from IIT-Delhi. From 1971-75 he was in India as associate professor and professor at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad. Thereafter, he returned to Princeton and initiated work on magnetically-confined fusion plasmas.
In the early 1980s, Kaw and some of his former colleagues at PRL succeeded in persuading the Government of India to set up a major programme of plasma physics at PRL. He returned to India in 1982 to direct this programme. In 1986, this programme was separated from PRL and the Department of Science and Technology (DST)-funded IPR given a campus in Gandhinagar. In 1996, IPR was taken over by Department of Atomic Energy with a considerable upscaling of efforts on thermonuclear fusion.
After 2012, he continued to work with the institute as DST Year of Science Professor.