Theoretical physicist Ashoke Sen,a string theorist at Allahabads Harish Chandra Research Institute,has become a crorepati overnight. On Tuesday,Prof. Sen became one of the nine winners of the first Yuri Milner Fundamental Physics Prize at $ 3 million (Rs 16.7 crore) the most lucrative academic prize in the world.
The prize,which is nearly three times that of the Nobel purse which is frequently shared by two or three winners has been instituted by Yuri Milner,a Russian student of physics who dropped out of graduate school in 1989 and later made billions as an investor in companies like Facebook and Group on. It is aimed at recognizing contributions of younger researchers to fundamental physics. The nine winners of 2012 are expected to constitute the committee to decide on the awardees of next year.
Prof. Sen,who has just turned 56,confirmed that his $ 3 million prize had been credited to his account,but said it was still too early for him to decide what to do with it. The physicist whose work is seen by most as revolutionary but questioned by some,said he did not consider the award as an endorsement of his findings.
I am certainly very happy with this,but an award does not endorse any scientific theory… I see it (the award) more as a sort of entitlement… encouragement to younger people to take interest in fundamental science, the very modest professor told The Indian Express over the phone.
At the same time,I would like youngsters to take up science not for the glamour of an award,but for the joy and knowledge that it brings, he said.
Prof. Sen is a rare scientist who chose to return to India after post doctoral work at prestigious institutes abroad. He said he did not miss the rarefied peer group that often makes the pursuit of academics abroad enriching.
When I came back in 1995,I did feel a little isolated initially but that is no longer the case now. The Internet has made all possible information accessible,and in terms of a peer group I have quite a good academic circle among colleagues at the Harish Chandra Research Institute, he said.
As far as research funding is considered,fortunately theoretical physics hardly requires any,so I never felt any such need. The overall government and institutional support has been good enough for my work.
Prof. Sen is optimistic about research in India.
While one expects many more scientists and more research work,I must add that there are several small pockets in the country where great research is being done,and which can replicate the success of scientists in other countries. We do,however,need to set up many more institutes in order to attract more students to science and to hone their talent, he said.
Sen studied at Kolkatas Presidency College and did his Masters at IIT Kanpur before proceeding to the State University of New York,Stonybrook. In 1982,he went to do post doctoral work at Fermilab,Batavia,and at SLAC,Stanford. In 1988,he chose to return to India,where he joined Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai. He moved to Allahabad in 1995,and has been with Harish Chandra Research Institute ever since.
Prof. Sen received the Padma Shree in 2001 and the S S Bhatnagar Award in 1994. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1998,and to the Indian National Science Academy in 1995.