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Gravitational waves: They scorned Sanjeev Dhurandhar three decades ago, today he is the toast of modern science

He led the solo Indian group in the initial era of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) for a decade.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Updated: February 12, 2016 1:27 pm
gravitational waves, Albert Einstein, einstein, einstein garvitational waves theory, General Theory of Relativity, Caltech, MIT, LIGO, LIGO gravitational waves, IUCAA, IUCAA pune, Ligo project IUCAA, india news, science news, latest news Prof. Sanjeev Dhurandhar at IUCAA during the announcement of detection of gravitational waves. (Express Photo)

Three decades before international scientists announced they have detected the gravitational waves Albert Einstein had proposed, a young scientist was already talking about the idea. Sanjeev Dhurandhar’s ideas were then greeted with incredulity but, on Thursday, he was the toast of the scientific community who gathered at the Inter-University Centre of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune.

Prof Jayant Narlikar, former IUCAA director, recalled the 1980s. “Those were the days when everyone was talking about electromagnetic waves and here was this young man talking about theories and experiments related to gravitational waves,” he said, as he introduced the Pune-born Dhurandhar as one of the 1,000 key scientists involved in detecting gravitational waves 100 years after Einstein had proposed their existence.

Watch Video: Gravitational waves from black holes discovered

“In the 1980s, Dhurandhar was told by senior colleagues that he had no credibility when this remarkable individual had proposed a model with a theoretical backup to explore gravitational waves,” Prof Narlikar said.

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Ajit Kembhavi, another former IUCAA director, nodded in agreement. He said Dhurandhar never gave up and in the process trained several students and focused his research in this area. Today most of Dhurandhar’s students are with gravitational wave groups in various countries and have been involved in this exciting discovery, Kembhavi said.

“I still remember how in the 1980s people at Oxford and Cambridge used to scorn Dhurandhar and his group then,” said Prof Somak Raychaudhury, the current director of IUCAA. “But today 90 per cent of the researchers abroad working on gravitation waves have been his students and now heading their teams that has led to this pathbreaking discovery.”

Dhurandhar himself has put the incredulity he faced behind him.

“It was only natural not to believe,” said the Pune-born scientist. “We did not have enough technology 25 years ago to detect such waves. So I do not really blame people who did not believe us. All I can say is that I am overwhelmed. This is such good science — a new discipline of physics — I say.”

What they did

The group led by Dhurandhar at IUCAA had initiated work on developing techniques for detection of weak signals which would eventually lead to detection of gravitational waves. He led the solo Indian group in the initial era of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) for a decade.

The Indian Initiative in Gravitational-Wave Observations (IndIGO), set up in 2009, involves 61 scientists from nine institutions — CMI Chennai, ICTS-TIFR Bengaluru, IISER-Kolkata, IISER-Trivandrum, IIT Gandhinagar, IPR Gandhinagar, IUCAA Pune, RRCAT Indore and TIFR Mumbai. The discovery paper has 35 authors from these institutions.

India’s current “gravitational wave community” has engaged in research over three decades at several institutes. Prominently cited in the discovery paper is the theoretical work that combined black holes and gravitational waves, published by C V Vishveshwara in 1970.

At IUCAA, Narlikar, Anil Kakodkar and Vishveshwara were among those who thumped their desks and cheered as they watched a live broadcast of David Reitze, executive director of LIGO-US, making the historic announcement —

“Till now we have been deaf. Now the universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves.”

The congratulatory handshakes after that were unceasing.

“I never thought gravitational waves would be detected during my working period here” said Prof Raychaudhury. “We have validated physics. This is a new era, dawn of new physics.”

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  1. d
    Feb 12, 2016 at 3:48 am
    Pune university has the strange traditions out of which only one is disclosed by Prof Narlikar as he can afford to do now atleast the Prof. Dhuranadr has been recognised by International scientist fraternity.
    1. D
      Dileep V. Sathe
      Feb 12, 2016 at 10:09 am
      S-T Fabric: Is it sensible? The ecstasy among scientists on the discovery of gravitational waves is obvious. Although Albert Einstein, the Guru of all present physicists, predicted the gravitational waves 100 years ago some physicists are against the existence of such waves. For example, 15-year old conflict (and a bet also) between Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok, on the out-come of BICEP2 experiment. Let me pose a question, which can come from a common man after a por lecture. We can see the fabric, even the mive ball is not there – as shown usually in the picture. Then, can we see the fabric without ripples of gravitational waves. This question is very likely to be posed by a common-man because human-beings do not have sensory organs to sense time and space. That is why we have to rely on instruments or astronomical phenomena for counting time. We do not have an orgar for sensing space. It should be noted that we can find out the volume of a body – that is part of space occupied by the body BUT we cannot sense space. Therefore now physicists have to launch a search for the space-time fabric without gravity’s ripples. This is similar to looking for luminiferous aether, required by Huygen’s wave theory of light.
      1. K
        Kishore Kumar
        Feb 12, 2016 at 5:15 pm
        Brahmin circlejerking?
        1. N
          Feb 15, 2016 at 1:02 pm
          This is a completely misleading article. Indian newspapers are simply being misled by senior scientist. Sanjeev Dhuhar was not scorned but acutally he spent better part of his career in caltech while keeping is faculty position in Pune funded by poor ta payers of India. There were jokes that if you want to meet him you have to visit caltech. I do not buy the idea that his marvellous idea was stolen and all of these results are based on his ideas. If he really believe so he should point to some his publications or simply shut his mouth up. Generations of research students were misled to believe that working in gravity wave detection is somehow is related to science while the fact is research in gravity wave just as in many other brances of science is simply developing huge chunk of code which will be integrated in pipeline through which data sewage will flow. Many young graduate students snt years before being squeezed out of academia when new "talents" are around people reach 45 year of age and start to slow down because of age as well as family responsibility. This model has been working abroad for many years in space based missions but now is being replicated in India. The research in gravity wave and involvement of thousands of rsearchers from many insutions in recent years has reduced the Indian science into a data analysis center and the real science is being done abroad. What this article doesn't mention that there were individuals like Bala Iyer whotoo were involved in gravity wae research from early 80s. This also raises the question if poring in 1000 crore worth of tax payers money should go into ravity research. I am not singing the usual song e.g. if this should be invested in schools for kids and hospitals in villages no. but has there been any debate if this money should be invested in developing India's own gravity wavr detector without LIGO being involved ? No. Since we now have more clear idea about source potion can't this be used by Indian Scientists to develop and design a more cost-effective detector of their own? Who is scorning them now? Having known many friends who worked in research sector in many research insutes in India I can clearly see how this money will be spent. Half of it will be pocketed by academics the rest half will go in inviting academics from abroad who will then be pressurised to return the favour. A tiny fraction will actually be spent on rsearch. Most rich kids will never come to do any research they have theor fathers hard earn dowry to buy a ticket to USA but those who grew up in smaller towns and had to go through all the traps to reach the doors of research insutes after shunning many lucrative jobs will get the impression that they are working under a world leading scientists to prove Einstein wrong. Einstein was clark in a patent office when he proposed the theory our friends would have crossed the upper age limit to apply for a clerical job when he or she will be asked to leave the team.
          1. A
            Feb 12, 2016 at 3:36 am
            It is high time we start believing in ourselves instead of seeking validation from the outsiders of our intellect and genius. Congratulations, guys
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