On Physics and Hinduism

At the entrance to the Centre for European Nuclear Research (CERN) stands a 2 metre tall statue of the Hindu deity, Nataraja (see above). To the unaware, it looks like something out of place: something that does not belong in one of the world’s largest scientific research institutions. But it is only one instance of the compatibility between physics and Hinduism. Continue reading

On Physicists and the law: how society has misplaced its views of science and its community

While I have often said that the community of physicists works for the common gaining of knowledge and to derive infinite mental pleasure out of that, I have also asserted that little is done towards blindly implementing it—that is what engineers are for: the Engineering – this is where the semi-skilled workers realize the work of better minds… [The] Oompah-Loompahs of science, as Sheldon Cooper puts it.

But, fun apart, my argument has always been struck, perhaps even beheaded many a time in the past. And today, I learned the height of it all—although I was quite late in finding out. Perhaps the greatest opponent to my belief is social paradigm. Non-scientists (who are the ones supposed to understand this in the first place) fail to catch on to the fact that a scientist has so much on their hands that to conform to complicated social ways becomes terribly troublesome. And, needless to mention, it is quite meaningless to hold them legally responsible for it.

Dr Adlène Hicheur

Today I read the editorial on a recent issue of Nature (Oct. 13, 2011) about the singular case of the French-Algerian physicist Dr Hicheur, which reminded me of the villain from Iron Man 2 (he is a physicist.) As it happens, the French think that Dr Hicheur, a high-energy physicist from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Laussane, was plotting terrorist attacks in France.

Whether his work was so alien to the (forgive me for saying this, but) incompetent authorities who captured him on this account, that it appeared to them like a diabolical plot to blow up France; or whether they just needed a reason to feel safe and so decided to catch somebody and call him a criminal, is beyond me. Continue reading

Astronomy lecture-workshop — Day 1

As one of my three-part series on the The Science Academies’ three-day lecture workshop on astronomy—which I am attending presently—here are the proceedings of the inaugural first day.

The Science Academies

Convenor R Srinivasan speaking at the start of the functionThe three day workshop focusing on undergraduate and graduate students of physics was convened by Dr R Srinivasan, a Fellow of The Science Academies—an association of the three leading science academies in India: the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore; the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi; and the National Academy of Sciences, Allahabad.

The Science Academies conducts regular Three-day Lecture Workshops all over the country, focusing on various disciplines; and this particular one was organised by the physics department of Yuvaraja’s College in Mysore, under the University of Mysore.

The speakers

Eminent physicists will be taking part in the event, with Professors G Srinivasan and Biman Nath of the Raman Research Institute delivering four lectures on the first day. They will be continuing onto the second day when Prof Uday Shankar, also from the Raman Research Institute, and Dr Sreekumar from the Indian Space Research Organisation [ISRO] will be joining them.

Prof Srinivasan is scheduled to deliver a four lecture series on the birth and death of stars and Prof Nath is to speak on contemporary understanding of the universe. Prof Uday Shankar will be speaking on Radio Astronomy and Dr Sreekumar on X-ray astronomy.

Prof Srinivasan is a contemporary of the likes of Fermi and Chandrashekhar which necessarily makes it a privilege to interact with him. Continue reading

Drawing parallels between a tailor and a physicist

I remember seeing, once before, the anatomy of a pair of trousers drawn with chalk on a piece of cloth soon to become part of somebody’s wardrobe. The alien-looking design was nothing like I had expected and it was only then that the tailor appeared to me to have put on the cloak of genius. This genius-tailor image is in my mind to this day. How, I asked myself, can the man actually transform the two dimensional piece of cloth into a perfect-fitting three dimensional piece of clothing, all while planning a three dimensional object on a two dimensional surface?

This appeared to me to be remarkably similar to a certain analogy we have in physics that we call the Flatlanders. The cliched explanation goes thus: Imagine a world in two dimension, populated by flatlanders, people whose knowledge and imagination are limited to the two dimensions of their world; that is to say, while they understand the dimensions corresponding to length and breadth, they have no concept—and it is safe to assume they can never quite picture the concept—of up or down.

Let us suppose that a being from the three dimensional world of ours entered their world. We now have three questions: what would they picture it as? They will certainly be bewildered for they cannot explain what they are seeing. Which brings us to our second question: what do they really see?

For the sake of simplification, let us consider a sphere. They would not see a sphere itself (because they cannot picture a third dimension) instead they would see an enlarging and condensing circle as the sphere passed through the flat surface of flatland. Continue reading