Introducing Prof. B. M. Anand and Prof. Yash Pal

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on April 10th, 2015 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

First Prof. B. M. Anand Memorial Lecture by Prof. Yash Pal

Panjab University Physics Department, Chandigarh, 10 April 2015

 

Introducing Prof. B. M. Anand and Prof. Yash Pal

 

Rajesh Kochhar

 

President International Astronomical Union Commission: History of Astronomy

Panjab University Mathematics Department, Chandigarh

[email protected]

 

 

Dear Friends

 

It is a matter of great honour and happiness for me to be able to make a few remarks on two eminent scientists associated with the Panjab University Physics Department. Between the two, Prof. B. M. Anand and Prof Yash Pal represent a continuum that covers the past eight decades of Panjab University: from the beginning of the Physics Honours School system to the world-wide recognition of the Physics Department as a research centre.

Panjab University website home page says that Panjab University is one of the oldest in India. A more precise statement can be made. Panjab University is the fourth oldest in the subcontinent, after the three in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. It has a distinction which is historically very significant. Panjab University is India’s first university to be named after a region rather than a city.

In the Presidency towns, community leadership was in the hands of people who owed their wealth and prominence to English education and association with the British. These universities and their students therefore were naturally inclined towards modern subjects. In contrast, leadership in the Punjab and adjoining areas like Kashmir vested in feudal elements, landed class, chieftains and kings. Accordingly, priorities for Punjab University were different. If the Presidency universities were look-towards-England universities, the Panjab University was a via-Bathinda university in the sense that one of its earliest tasks was bestowing formal education system recognition on proficiency in what at the time were known as oriental subjects: Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi.

In other words, to begin with, science was not among the University priorities. And yet, when a modern institution has been established, it has to rise to meet the aspirations of the people. Honours School system was introduced in many subjects: Arabic, Sanskrit, Botany and mathematics. We have been repeating this factoid in a parrot-like fashion. But, very little is known about its pre-history. What was the system before it? Why was it considered necessary to make a change-over? Who initiated the move and what arguments were offered? We do not know the answers, which must be lying buried in the pre-1947 archives. There is an urgent need to create a special fund which should be utilized to obtain copies from Pakistan, British Library, etc., of archival material and old publications, relevant for a rigorous study of advent and growth of modern education in the Punjab region.

The introduction of Honours School system in Physics in 1934 had an important corollary. Bal Mokand Anand was hired as a lecturer that year itself. He obtained his M. Sc. in 1928, following which he worked at Government College Lahore, as a University scholar; and in the Government  Irrigation Department as a research assistant. Remarkably, he focused on research publications from day one. His work appeared in a wide variety of places, ranging from Nature to a Punjab government memoir.

Anand came from a poor family. If the family had been well-off, Anand would have preferred to be a medical doctor. The offer of scholarship brought him to  basic science. There is a lesson here relevant for modern times also.

In his younger days, Anand was mentored by two eminent physicists of the day: J. B. Seth and P. K. Kichlu. Today, we have Prof. R. P. Bambah in the Auditorium. After his M.A., the eminent mathematician Sarvdaman Chowla mentored him in Lahore at intellectual, professional and social levels. Training and grooming young talent is the most important part of senior persons. Unfortunately, today, academics and scientists, have become so obsessed with improving  their own cv that they have no time for or inclination towards improving the cv of the youngsters under their charge.

I would like to make a suggestion to the Anand family. Anand Memorial Fund has been established and commemorative lecture series is a part of the Fund activities. I suggest that the sphere of the Fund activities be expanded to include occasional interactive sessions, workshops, etc., to pay attention to such important areas as mentoring, research paper and research proposal writing, scientific ethics, etc. This activity will be very useful for senior students and young researchers alike.

As far India is concerned, activities of Punjab University Lahore were disrupted by the Partition. East Punjab University was hastily established in October 1947. Its Physics and Chemistry departments had a refugee status in Delhi University till 1949 when Hoshiarpur became the temporary home. Interestingly, at the time, Punjab Government had very attractive offers from Patiala and Kapurthala which however were declined. I have recently been told via e-mail by a 90-year former Hoshiarpur-days student, now settled in USA, that the rather unattractive location of Hoshiarpur was chosen on the suggestion, to the Central Government, by Professor Diwan Chand Sharma. I have so far not been able to find any corroborative evidence for this assertion. Incidentally, in 1952, Prof. D. C. Sharma was elected a member of the first Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur constituency.

History assigned Prof. Anand the important task of reorganizing Physics teaching  and research  after the interruption caused by the Partition. Permit me to make personal point. I joined the Physics Department in 1962 after the 11th class, and left it with an M. Sc. in 1967, the year Prof Anand retired. The newly established Nuclear Emulsion lab was very popular with senior students. It was the only place in the whole building which was air conditioned.

As a student, I have a striking memory of Prof. Anand. He was unpredictable. The year was 1965, the war with Pakistan was over, and the date sheet for term examinations was announced. No student wanted the exams to be held. There had been interruption in studies due to general excitement and more tangibly blackouts. An application was addressed to the Head of the Department and signed by almost all the students. Prof. Anand met the students in the corridor outside his office and flared up: Yeh kya trade union bana rakha hai. (What is this trade union activity.) I responded by saying: Trade union nahin hai. Sub aapke paas aane se darte thay. Isliye socha ki likh ke de dete hain. (There is no trade unionism. Everyone was scared of coming to you. So, it was decided to give it in writing.) He immediately cooled down: Mujse mat daro. Pakistan se bhi nahin. Kisi se bhi nahin. Sirf  Bhagvan se daron ( Do not be afraid of me, even of Pakistan, or anybody. Be afraid of only God.)

One of the students of East Punjab University during its Delhi days was Prof. Yash Pal who obtained his M. Sc. in 1949 and thus never came to Hoshiarpur. Anand would have been proud of him.  In his Ph. D, paper written in 1953, Anand quoted Yash Pal’s work. Prof. Yash Pal has always been known as a distinguished scientist in the world community of scientists. Panjab University is proud of the fact that he has been guest faculty here. I am sure, a copy of his cyclostyled lecture notes on cosmic rays can still be found somewhere in the Physics Department library.

Over the years, his activities have acquired a societal dimension. Prof. Yash Pal has been instrumental in initiating societal use of space technology in India. His natural flair for science communication came up on the national level when Doordarshan provided him with the then popular medium. A paradoxical situation has since arisen. The society’s dependence on high technology is increasing rapidly. At the same time, its respect for science is decreasing even more rapidly. In the past we were worried about pseudo-science. If you flip through various TV channels, you will notice a new phenomenon, namely, the birth of pseudo-mythology. The greatest recognition of Prof. Yash Pal’s multifaceted work would be to make science education, science research and science communication a national movement.

The little brochure that you have in hand gives a summary of Prof. Yash Pal’s professional life. It however does not do justice to him. The most important aspect of Prof. Yash Pal’s life has been his benevolence which has been rising with age. Life has been kind to him. He has been spreading this kindness ever since.

I now invite Prof. Yash Pal to deliver the first B. M. Anand Memorial Lecture. Two young men, Yash Pal and Ram Prakash Bambah were together in civil defence work in Lahore. To continue the collaboration, I invite Prof R. P. Bambah to chair the session.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

The Germanwings flight 4U9525 crash: Unanswered and unanswerable questions

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on March 31st, 2015 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

 

While watching a typical Hindi film, a thinking person is often dismayed at the incredible things a hero can do. There are however times when you wish the real life had followed the film script. The rogue co-pilot has locked the pilot out of the cockpit. The pilot bangs the door, but gets no response. The plane is rapidly losing height. The pilot breaks open the door, knocks the co-pilot unconscious and takes charge. Just when the plane is about to hit the mountains, it soars into the sky. Alas, such things can happen only in movies.

 

There is an ancient Indian story about a demon called Bhasmasura (Ash-Demon) who is near immortal, but is reduced to ashes when he places his own hand on his head. The moral of the story is that a powerful system is not indestructible. It is powerful to the extent that outside forces cannot damage it. It is still vulnerable because it can be destroyed from within.

 

In recent years, successful technological efforts have been made towards making an airplane terrorist-proof. The assumption here is that the plane is safe in the hands of the crew. We know now that the assumption is wrong. There can be no doubt that in this particular case, if the co-pilot was not alone, he could not have deliberately crashed the plane. After 9/11, USA decided that at all times there would be two persons in the cockpit. Regrettably, 149 innocent children, women and men had to lose their life to make Europe see the merit in this regulation.

 

It is relatively an easy matter to put in place new technologies and new procedures to prevent recurrence of situations already encountered. But, the Alps plane crash brings into focus fundamental problems that are difficult even to formulate leave aside solve. They deal with issues of mental health and medical ethics.

 

The acuteness of the mental health problem of the Germanwings flight 4U9525 co-pilot became known only from what he did to the plane. It is extremely unlikely that the doctor who earlier examined him and advised him to go on medical leave could have known what would be going on in the patient’s mind  the next day or what he would end up doing. No matter how much medical science advances, mental health studies will always be inherently limited by the simple fact that we are scrutinizing our own species, using human brain to investigate human mind.

 

Then, there is the question of medical ethics. Consider the relatively simple case of physical ailment. A doctor finds that the pilot is visually impaired to the extent that he should not be in the airplane at all. He advises the patient accordingly and advises him to go off duty. Can or should the doctor do ant thing else such as informing the police or the employer? Most people would agree that the doctor should operate within their own domain. The employers should devise their own ways of keeping track of their staff’s hralth. The problems involving mental health are more nebulous. What constitutes mental ill health? Can a doctor define a threshold above which it can become dangerous? Can a doctor predict the effect of their intervention on the patient?

 

The airplane that was crashed as well as the commanding and the co-pilots all belonged to a country that justly prides itself in its technological prowess. There can be no doubt that a systematic rigorous enquiry would tell us what went wrong, and what lessons can be learnt from the tragedy. Yes, if the two-in-cockpit rule was in operation, the co-pilot could not have bolted the door from inside. But, this does not mean he or somebody somewhere else could not have thought of some other way. The human mind that can design and build a plane is also capable of devising ways of bringing it down.

 

Technologically advanced societies are capable of accomplishing great things. But, they also tend to get overwhelmed by technological solutions and belittle the human factor. A pilot is a human being. He cannot be merely treated as a piece of machinery that needs periodic certification, maintenance  and replacement

 

Statistically speaking, air flights are quite safe. But, if you wish to achieve 100 % protection against mechanical failure, terrorist threat, rogue pilots  ( to name the known factors), technological solutions must go hand-in-hand with sensitivity and humaneness.

Modern science in Bengal: Cultivation and early accomplishments

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on March 21st, 2015 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

Inaugural Address at National Seminar on ‘Scientists who Dared and made the Difference’, Asiatic Society, Kolkata, 3 March 2015

 

Bengal placed India on the world map of modern science. In the 1890s, J.C. Bose (1858–1937) and P.C. Ray (1861-1944) became India’s  (and the Non-West’s) first internationally recognized modern scientists. In the 1920s, Nobel prize-level  theoretical physics research were carried out by M.N. Saha (1893-1956) and by Satyen Bose (1894-1974). Finally, in 1930, C. V. Raman  (1888-1970) received the physics Nobel prize which was the first one to go out of  Europe and America.

Normally, an activity begins modestly, rises slowly and stabilizes at a high level. In contrast, India began at the top and had no place to go except down. The down-hill journey has been steady and without the benefit of a plateau even at intermediate heights.

For the full Slide Show,

see

http://www.slideshare.net/rajeshkochhar1