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Astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar Turns 80: ‘Despite excellent work at many labs, a Nobel Prize in science eludes India since 1930’

Jayant Narlikar, professor emeritus at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) and one of the most famous residents of the city, turned 80 on Thursday.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
Updated: July 20, 2018 9:17:42 am
indian scientists, jayant narlikar, astrophysicist, indian scientists, nobel prize, cv raman, nobel prize in science, indian express Jayant Narlikar (third from left) with his family at the Yosemite National Park in California. (Photo courtesy: Narlikar family)

Jayant Narlikar, professor emeritus at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) and one of the most famous residents of the city, turned 80 on Thursday. Currently in the United States with his family, Narlikar, the founder-director of IUCAA, said there was still a lot of work that he wanted to do, if his body and mind cooperated.

In a telephonic interview with The Indian Express, Narlikar said he was deeply concerned about the fact that despite excellent work at many laboratories in the country, no scientist from India had won a Nobel Prize since 1930, when it was awarded to physicist C V Raman.

“This is a reason to worry as plenty of good work is taking place at some of the laboratories in India. There should be some effort to publicise it internationally,” Narlikar said. “We do not seem to be pushing our work at the international level as much as we should”.

Narlikar, who did pioneering research in astronomy and cosmology, including work on the origins of the universe, said India had plenty of opportunities to participate in cutting edge scientific research at the global level. “India is a partner in various international-level research projects, including LIGO (a project to detect and measure gravitational waves) and ITER (a project to build a fusion nuclear reactor). The country’s role in the Thirty Metre Telescope project is also significant. This is an ambitious project, in which a new class of extremely large telescopes will allow us to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with better sensitivity,” he said.

Narlikar said his field — astronomy and cosmology — was becoming more interesting in recent years, and he was happy to see many young students in the country take up this discipline. “… Several IISERs have come up and a lot is being done to attract young talent to basic sciences. If our youngsters work with dedication, there is a lot to do and achieve,” he said.

Narlikar celebrated his birthday with his two older daughters, Geeta and Girija, in San Francisco. His youngest daughter Leelavati, a scientist at the city-based National Chemical Laboratory, said the family in the city was waiting for him to return. “We celebrated earlier… while my dad has slowed down physically, he is mentally alert and continues to write stories to popularise science. I still remember my favourite stories as a child and now he writes new ones for his granddaughters,” said Leelavati.

Meanwhile, the scientific community in the city wished the distinguished scientist a long life and good health. IUCAA scientists posted tweets congratulating Narlikar on turning 80. “Welcoming Jayant to his ‘80s with a star-studded picture from the late 80’s,’’ tweeted IUCAA scientist Tarun Souradeep, with a picture of Narlikar from the late 1980s with radio astronomer Govind Swarup and others.

Somak Raychaudhary, director of IUCAA, also greeted Narlikar, describing him as the most famous of Indian astrophysicists. He recalled in his tweet how during a function a few years ago, when Raychaudhary handed a ceremonial coconut to him, Narlikar had quipped that his name also meant ‘he who holds a coconut’.

Arvind Paranjpye, director of Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai, put up a Facebook page for scientists to greet Narlikar. “He has inspired so many people in his lifetime but most may not remember his birthday. So, we put up the Facebook page,” said Paranjpye, who worked with Narlikar for more than 20 years. “I still remember when IUCAA was being built, he first set up an accommodation for the staff near the workplace, so that it could save travel time. Naturally, he demanded the best from everyone who worked with him,” said Paranjpye.


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