Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Prof. Jean Merie Lehn

Prof. Douglas Osheroff

Sri Michel Danino

Brahmakumari Sister Shivani

Dr. Partha Pratim Majumder

Prof. K. R. Sreenivasan

Dr. Ramachandra Guha

Prof. Stephan Fauve
Dr. Suvarnalata Rao
Prof. Srinvasa Varadhan

Brahmakumari Sister Shivani





Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta

President of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

The series of lectures organized during the Golden Jubilee year featured some very well-known and versatile personalities from different domains of life. Here are some glimpses of the lectures held.


Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta is the president of the Centre for Policy Research, an independent, non-partisan research institute and think tank in New Delhi. Educated at Princeton and Oxford, he has taught at Harvard and Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has done extensive public policy work and has published widely in the fields of political theory, intellectual history, constitutional law, politics and society in India and international politics. His most recent publications include, ‘The Burden of Democracy’ and an edited volume ‘India’s Public Institutions’. His forthcoming work includes a book on Constitutionalism in Modern India and a book on India’s Great Transformation. He is also co-editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics in India.

He gave two insightful talks on Meritocracy and its Discontents and the Future of Democracy in India.


Meritocracy and its Discontents
27th January 2010

‘Emerson once famously said that the only thing that one person can receive from another is provocation and not instruction’, these were the opening lines of the lecture on meritocracy. The purpose of the talk was to provoke the audience to think about the theme of meritocracy in democratic life, something that we often talk about but whose implications we do not frontally confront.

Contrary to the expectations of many the entire talk focused on the complexities associated with the system of meritocracy rather than the arguments for or against the meritocratic system. It was highly impressive to hear Dr. Mehta unravel the myths associated with the idea of meritocracy and put forth a clear and in depth analysis of the system which is the need of the hour.

What makes the idea of meritocracy so attractive are the principles of non-discrimination, equality and justice associated with it. We consider it as a system where jobs, opportunities and responsibilities are allocated on the basis of merit. A meritocratic society rewards those who show their talent and competence ensuring equality and justice. But these principles hold true only partially.

He quoted several examples drawing the attention of the audience towards the unintended consequences of the ideology of meritocracy that we don’t often realize. Like the Singaporean society that has become the meritocracy of exams rather than that of talent. This proves that the criteria to choose merit must be broader than the conventional notion of exams. The biggest challenge for a meritocratic society is to create a structure that ensures equal opportunities to the relevant pool of candidates to compete in and reservations is a way of doing so.

He ended his talk by stressing the fact that even though this concept gets legitimized and a lot of people move up the ladder there will still be no structural transformations and with increasing structural inequalities in a society how can enough support be garnered for meritocracy?

Future of Democracy in India
28th January 2010

We take a lot of pride in saying that India is a democratic country, an emerging power, but underneath this democracy lie several serious issues that need the undivided attention of the government. In fact what is alarming is not the number or the seriousness of these issues but the approach of the government towards them. Perhaps this is the reason that Arundhati Roy has called Democracy ‘Demon-crazy’ in her latest collection of essays: ‘Listening to Grasshoppers’. Therefore, the most debatable question today is, what is the Future of Indian Democracy - vibrant or bleak?

Dr. Mehta began his talk with a famous Sufi saying ‘Those who speak about the future are lying even when they speak the truth’. Rather than predicting the future of democracy he uncovered some of its interesting tendencies and its composition.

At present India is witnessing the best of times with extraordinary economic growth. Compared to 1900-1947 when the per capita GDP growth was -0.1 Indian economy today is booming at 7.2%. And due to this unprecedented growth it is for the very first time in modern Indian history that people are beginning to see the possibility of change. Though it doesn’t give the whole picture this growth has certainly changed the intellectual and mental horizons of the people. Dr. Mehta showed how the lifestyle and the aspirations of even the most impoverished people in India have undergone a drastic change.

He agreed that this democracy has several shortcomings, for instance, the issues of naxalism, poor higher education, corruption and poverty that paint a grim picture of Indian democracy. But one must think of it in a comparative perspective. Democracy has emerged stronger in the past 10 - 15 yrs. The government’s expenditure is increasing, welfare schemes like NREGAs of the order of 100,000 crores are being doled out. Bihar alone has given contracts for 17,000 kms of roads in the month of December, 2009 which is astonishing.

But, yes, state governments have failed to invest in their capacities and the biggest challenge that we face today is at which levels of government what decisions should be taken. Therefore, we must look towards multilevel governance and devolving powers to new institutes.



Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta shares his thoughts on the functioning of Indian democracy, problems associated with it and the state of higher education in India in a candid interview with Reema Mittal.


We take a lot of pride in saying that Indian democracy is one of the best models of democracy in the world but what we tend to overlook are the serious issues brewing underneath this democracy. What is alarming is not the number or the seriousness of these issues but the approach of the government towards them, and this makes one sit up and ponder over where our democracy is headed? Wouldn’t it be right to say that the future of Indian democracy is bleak?

When faced with such questions the most important thing one needs to keep in mind is the historical perspective. For instance anybody who knew India in the 1980s would disagree with the assessment that it is going down. I agree there are challenges but in the past 15 - 20 years democracy has become stronger. The next important thing is to be analytical and careful in breaking down individual problems to their root causes and sources. One of the most frustrating things in debates over democracy is that a lot gets loaded onto the term democracy. If we think of 6-7 serious problems India is facing today like poverty, corruption, naxalism, all of these are an indictment of democracy. Each of these problems has different root causes and needs to be discussed individually. We can get a democracy that makes wrong policy choices.

Let’s take up naxalism. Naxalites blame the government and the government blames them for hampering development activities in the states. So it is a vicious cycle. On the other hand, we have people like Dr. Binayak Sen and Sri Himanshu Kumar who are working for tribal people and can serve as a useful link between them and the government. But instead of working with these people the government is distancing itself from them. What do you think has gone wrong and what can be a possible solution to this problem?

Well, you are absolutely right that the naxal problem is not only just a military problem. Two different sets of issues are involved here. First, adivasis and STs have received a raw deal at the hands of the Indian democracy. Now the question is why. The answer turns out to be a lot more uncomfortable. One is the social distance – privileged people do not care about these people. The difficult question is either to think of them on a development trajectory like the rest of India or you have a development model that preserves their community. But the difficulty is that we have never been able to decide their future trajectory. We haven’t invested in their education, skills, languages, etc. so they cannot participate in the development process. They are the tragic victims of democracy and it is difficult to craft a policy for them.
The second element is that huge money is at stake in these areas because of mining, forests. Wherever money is involved the stakes are very high. Certain states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand have never invested in themselves. So whenever problems arise they allow them to fester and ultimately respond with brutality. Like Salwa Judum where the state outsourced its security, a step which is outrageous and in violation of national and international laws. West Bengal is a different story where political parties have acquired a stake in political violence. Bihar again is an ebb and flow of naxals. There was another form of violence in Bihar i.e. the Ranbir Sena but no one has heard of it in the last 5 - 6 years. Reason: earlier the state had an interest in keeping it alive. The question you asked about Binayak Sen, yes, I completely agree that the way the government has reacted against Binayak Sen and Himanshu is outrageous. Recently, there is the case of Nandini Sunder, an anthropologist from Delhi University, single handedly and bravely documenting the Bastar region. The state has become thuggish in Chattisgarh and there are no two ways about it.

Let’s take up the education scenario in India. India has the largest pool of young people and that should have turned it into a global education hub but that is not happening. As you said there aren’t any good public institutions left. So where are the loopholes?

Well, there are 3 - 4 important elements. First, any system that places its premium on centralization and homogeneity of institutions is bound to produce the lowest common denominator. Second, decisions are generally made by people who have no clue about the problem. In fact this is the root cause of most of the problems India is facing today. In the late 70s, merit promotion schemes were introduced in educational institutions which have now turned into automatic promotion schemes. Today, you find more Professors than Assistant Professors. It has resulted in some problems. First, it reduced incentive tools. Second, it reduced geographical mobility amongst academicians. Earlier all our great regional Universities had a national character but today Aligarh, Allahabad, Rajasthan most of these universities are inbred save Delhi University and 2 or 3 more exceptions. Third, when you raise, through promotion schemes, people who have achieved less to positions that demand more responsibility you get an insecure academic structure. 1st rate people appoint 1st rate and 2nd rate people appoint 3rd rate.

Do you think the setting up of more IITs and IIMs will help?

In my view rather than going for new universities the old ones need to be uplifted. Well, due to pressures of demand we need to expand the system but new IITs and IIMs wouldn’t be like the existing ones. What we need is a proper strategy and not a formula created by bureaucrats. Right now, the biggest problem is the acute deficit of faculty even in the existing ones. So we need to address that issue. The focus should be on high quality PhD programs that can produce good academicians who in turn are available for hiring. We need to create a critical number of PhD programs.

What do you have to say about HRD minister Kapil Sibal’s move of bringing foreign universities to India and going for collaborations?

Well, the best universities won’t come. Only the second and third tier institutions will come to India, but while we are creating new institutes we are losing the old ones. Moreover, you cannot have regulatory systems in place because if you liberalize for foreign institutes you will have to liberalize for domestic institutes as well and I don’t think the government is ready for it.



Prof. Jean Marie Lehn

French Chemist and a 1987 Nobel laureate


Prof. Jean Marie Lehn
(born 30th September 1939) is a French chemist. He received the Nobel Prize together with Prof. Donald Cram and Prof. Charles Pedersen in 1987 for his work in Chemistry, particularly his synthesis of the cryptands. Prof. Lehn was an early innovator in the field of supramolecular chemistry, i.e., the chemistry of host-guest molecular assemblies created by intermolecular interactions, and continues to innovate in this field. He has published in excess of 800 peer-reviewed articles in reputed journals of chemistry. His lecture on ‘A Journey through Chemistry’ was highly informative.




A Journey through Chemistry
10th February 2010

The most complex and researched topic of the 21st century that has intrigued scientists worldwide is the Human Genome. What is extremely fascinating about it is that it is the result of the interactions of only 4 simple chemical molecules. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that life itself is a big chemical reaction. Chemicals and their interactions form the basis of our existence. This makes chemistry one of the most researched subjects in science. But while there are many good scientists working in this field not many can arouse the interest of students in this complex subject. On 10th February 2010, IIT students had a rare opportunity to experience the fascinating world of chemistry projected by a world renowned chemist Prof. Jean Marie Lehn.

There was no trace of chemistry when the universe originated via the Big Bang. As the universe cooled down, atoms connected together to make molecules and that was the beginning of chemistry. Eventually molecules interacted to form complex entities which further interacted and finally life evolved. But the perplexing question is how does matter get converted from elementary particles to a thinking organism? How does this organism take the form of Einstein? What are the forces that operate to give rise to complex matter? Prof. Lehn provided answers to several such questions.

He defined chemistry as the science that tries to understand the structures of those entities that make molecular matter and then transform it into more complex assemblies. He quickly flipped through slides highlighting the milestones made by some of the greats like Lavoisier, Dimitri Mendeleev, Joseph Achille and Louis Pasteur. Delving deeper into the field of molecular chemistry he revealed two milestones in it – the synthesis of molecules of urea and Vitamin B12. He quoted several examples that posit that the human body is a result of molecular interactions and recognitions. Addressing a jam-packed audience, he swiftly shifted the focus from molecular to supramolecular chemistry, chemistry beyond molecules; the chemistry of systems based on the chemistry of interactions. Whether it is the action of enzymes on substrates or the functioning of cancer cells or the self-assembly of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, these mechanisms have their roots deep seated in the field of supramolecular chemistry. He ended the lecture with David Hilbert’s words, “We must know. We will know”.



Prof. Douglas Osheroff

American Physicist and a 1996 Nobel Laureate



Prof. Douglas Dean Osheroff (born 1st August 1945) is an American physicist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics with Prof. David Lee and Prof. Robert C. Richardson for their discovery of superfluidity in helium-3. He received a PhD from Cornell University in 1973. He then worked at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey for 15 years, continuing to research low-temperature phenomena in helium-3. In 1987 he moved to the Departments of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University, where he also served as department chair from 1993-96. His research is focused on phenomena that occur at extremely low temperatures. He currently serves on the board of advisors of Scientists and Engineers for America, an organization to promote science in American government.



How Advances in Science are made
12th February 2010

The talk started with a profound question, “By their very nature, those discoveries that most change the way we think about nature cannot be anticipated. How, then, are such discoveries made, and are there research strategies which can increase the probability of making such a discovery?" Like a seasoned storyteller, Prof. Osheroff then narrated the history of his attempt to answer this question which led to the discovery of superfluidity in He-3.

He told the audience how he, in the beginning of his graduate years, modified a Pomeranchuk cell which when coupled with He-4 - He-3 dilution refrigerators, gave good conditions for very low temperature experiments. During his fifth year, while working on a problem two other graduate students made him give up the laboratory’s only NMR magnet that he had monopolized for three months. He later realized that they had actually forced him to stop an experiment that was completely hopeless. Then, driven by curiosity he started taking observations for the cooling rate of He-3 in a temperature range which at that time was unexplored and soon observed a kink in the cooling rate. His was the first reported observation of phase transition to the superfluid phase in He-3.

He summed up the strategies that worked for him while pursuing his research:

• Utilize new technologies
• View nature from a new perspective or in a different realm
• Don’t give up when things are going badly
• Failure may be an invitation to try something new therefore keep walking.
• Spend a little time doing something different
• Curiosity driven research can be very rewarding!
• Avoid too many commitments
• The demands of good research do not adhere to a schedule
• Back off from what you are doing occasionally to gain a better perspective on the task at hand
• We become myopic when we focus too tightly on our work. It was only after he tried to look for the big picture that he discovered 1-Dimensional MRI.

Similar tales of the triumph of man in understanding nature in the field of experimental science were mentioned in the talk. They included that of Heike Kamerlingh Onnes who pioneered refrigeration techniques and explored how materials behaved when cooled to nearly absolute zero and that of Penzias and Wilson who while using the Horn Antenna at Bell labs stumbled on the microwave background radiation that permeates the universe. The strategies used in the abovementioned researches echoed Prof. Osheroff’s belief about how one can increase the probability of making path breaking discoveries.

Prof. Osheroff’s own words provide a most fitting conclusion:

"Advances in science are seldom made by individuals alone. They result from the progress of the scientific community, asking questions, developing new technologies to answer those questions, and sharing their results and their ideas with others. To have rapid progress, one must support scientific research broadly, and encourage scientists to interact with one another and to spend some of their time satisfying their own curiosities. This is How Advances in Science Are Made".




Sri Michel Danino

A noted Historian


Sri Michel Danino is a noted historian, a writer and an educator. From the age of fifteen Michel was drawn to India, to some of her great yogis, and soon to Sri Aurobindo and Mother and their view of evolution which gives a new meaning to our existence on this earth. In 1977, dissatisfied after four years of higher scientific studies, he left France for India, where he has since been living.


He studied India’s culture and ancient history in the light of both Sri Aurobindo’s pioneering work and archaeological research; and in 1996 Michel Danino authored The Invasion That Never Was, a brief study of the Aryan invasion theory. A second, extensively revised and enlarged edition was brought out in 2000. Over the last few years, he has given lectures at various official, academic and cultural forums on issues confronting Indian culture and civilization in today’s world; some of them have been published under the titles Sri Aurobindo and Indian Civilization (1999), The Indian Mind Then and Now (2000), Is Indian Culture Obsolete? (2000) and Kali Yuga or the Age of Confusion (2001).

Glimpses of Indus-Sarasvati Civilization; Harappan-Gangetic Continuity
19th February 2010

Most of us have heard of the ancient Indus valley civilization but very few of us are aware that it is now referred to as the Indus-Sarasvati civilization covering a vast geographical expanse. On 19th February, Sri Michel Danino delivered two insightful lectures revealing some of the most intriguing and astounding aspects of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization and its connection with the Gangetic civilization. Also, the question that has perplexed Indian historians for long as to whether there was any Aryan invasion was addressed.

Initially, this civilization was named after the river Indus as the first major settlements, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, were found along that river and its tributary, the Ravi. However, excavations on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border have revealed hundreds of Harappan sites along the dry bed of a huge river in the Ghaggar-Hakra valley. This lost river has been recognized as the Sarasvati which also finds mention in the Rig-Veda. Michel also showed a satellite image revealing the course of the Sarasvati. Besides Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, Lothal (Gujarat), Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Mehrgarh and Dholavira (Gujarat) are some of the other interesting and important Harappan sites. He showed several slides revealing the marvels of architecture, arts and crafts, trade, agriculture and technology of the Harappans. One marvels that this so-called ancient civilization has so much to teach to our modern civilization.

Michel also highlighted some facts which indicate the ‘Indianness’ of this civilization such as the absence of royal iconography, decentralization, etc.
The sudden disappearance of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization is still an enigma and remains a subject of debate. Some archeologists attribute it to the Aryan invasions while some think it could have been because of droughts or economic collapse. This has also raised a big question mark over the relationship of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization with the later Indian civilization.

In his second lecture titled ‘Continuity of Harappan-Gangetic civilization’, he expounded how Harappans sowed the seeds of India’s classical civilization thus falsifying the theory of the Aryan invasion. Most of us were surprised to learn that the Aryan invasion theory is no longer accepted due to lack of archeological evidence. The elements of Harappan life were passed on to the Gangetic civilization via the river Sarasvati. He presented several archeological findings that suggest a Harappan-Gangetic continuity, such as the Indus seal with a 3-faced god in a yogic posture, a broken seal depicting a trishul, some figurines in asanas, a linga found in Kalibangan, etc.

Early Landmarks of Science and Technology in India: Rediscovering Indian Scientific Temper
20th February 2010

It has generally been assumed that scientific temper was lacking in ancient India. Whatever scientific temper evolved later was borrowed from the west. But according to Sri Michel Danino, ‘Contrary to the beliefs of many, there wasn’t any dearth of exploration of scientific roots and evolution of scientific ideas in ancient India. Rather, there was a continuous dialogue among the scientists of that time. For instance, Aryabhata’s insightful concepts of astronomy were harshly criticized by another great scientist of the Siddhantic era, Brahmbhat’. He highlighted the achievements of many great savants like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara II, Mahavira and Nilakantha. Starting from Harappan times to the Kerala school of Mathematics several remarkable advances made by ancient and medieval India in fields of astronomy, mathematics and science were traced. In corroboration ample archeological evidence was presented.

Indeed, it was India’s knowledge in mathematics and astronomy which reached Europe through the Arabs that helped in their progress. Regrettably, most young Indians are unaware of this important aspect of their heritage. However, the most shocking revelation was that only 7% of the 12, 244 science manuscripts that have been found in the 400 repositories of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are available in print. Science historians do not know anything about the remaining 93%.

This lecture conveyed a very strong message that Indian scientific minds need to rediscover the lost scientific roots and find answers to the many unresolved riddles of our past. Most of us who attended this informative lecture would surely agree with Michel that ‘History of Science’ must be offered as a separate discipline in mainstream education in India as it is offered in the west.



Brahmakumari Sister Shivani

Rajyoga Meditation Teacher


Brahmakumari Sister Shivani is a Rajyoga Meditation Teacher who has been studying spiritual knowledge and practicing the ancient technique of Rajyoga Meditation, as taught by the Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, Mount Abu, for the past 12 years. She conducts motivational courses through seminars and television programs. Since 2007, she has been on-screen in India and abroad through the TV program "Awakening with Brahma Kumaris", aired daily on Aastha channel. She speaks on a wide spectrum of themes such as: Stress Free Lifestyle, Leadership Skills, Emotional Intelligence, Art of Right Thinking, Living Values, Exploring Inner Powers, Self Management, Harmony in Relationships and the Practical Technique of Rajyoga Meditation.


Enriching the Minds of Youth
10 - 11th March 2010


IIT Kanpur, one of the most prestigious institutes of India, every year witnesses the inflow of some of the most intelligent students of the country. On the surface the life of these students might appear perfect but the truth is that many of them are heavily burdened with fears, anxiety and peer pressures. Perhaps this holds true for most of the youth in the country who, from a very young age, experience stress, depression, competition and myriad other pressures resulting in a chaotic life.

The IIT Kanpur Student Gymkhana (GLDC) organized a talk by B. K. Shivani with the intention of changing/revolutionizing general perceptions regarding spirituality, religion and people’s way of life. Questions concerning the nature of spirituality, its practice in our daily lives, the difference between being religious and being spiritual and how spirituality can help us achieve our goals were among those addressed in her talk.

According to Sister Shivani a slight change in our thought process can change everything drastically. It is our thoughts that determine our actions and these actions form the basis of our personality. She asked the gathering, “How many of you are still thinking about your day time work”. Almost everybody raised their hands! Most of us live our lives with our thoughts either in the past or in the future but never in the moment. We often believe that we have no control over thoughts but that is not so. Everybody was asked to perform a simple exercise meant for controlling thoughts. Once we have realized the power of now our quality of life will improve tremendously.

The following day she interacted with the students and addressed their specific concerns – clarifying their ideas on issues like why does the life of young people seem more difficult today, how to get rid of stress, the belief systems we live by, what comprises happiness and why is our society bankrupt of moral values today.



Dr. Partha Pratim Majumder

Director, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani (near Kolkata) and Head of the Department of Human Genetics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata


Dr. Partha Pratim Majumder obtained his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. He did his post-doctoral research at the Center for Demographic & Population Genetics, University of Texas Medical Center, Houston. He has served on the faculty of the Department of Biostatistics and Human Genetics of the University of Pittsburgh. His major scientific interests and contributions have been in the field of human population genetics and genetics of complex human disorders. He is an elected Fellow of all the three science academies of India. He has served on the Board of Directors of the International Genetic Epidemiology Society (IGES) and was the founding Chair of the ELSI Committee of IGES. He is a member of the Human Genome Organisation. He is a recipient of many awards and medals, including the TWAS (The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World) Biology Prize (2009), G.D. Birla Award for Scientific Research (2002), Sri Om Prakash Bhasin Award in Biotechnology (2001), and the New Millennium Science Medal, Government of India (2000).

He delivered two lectures - Our Footprints on the Sands of Time (12th April) and Genes that make Vaccines tick (13th April).


Our Footprints on the Sands of Time
12th April 2010


With the advent of Human Evolutionary Genetics scientists have been trying to answer questions that have intrigued mankind for long. When did life begin on earth? Who are we? Where did we come from? Are we all related to each other? There are several historic and religious interpretations to these questions but whether these interpretations are scientifically accurate remains to be seen. Dr. Partha Pratim Majumder provided a scientific insight into these mysteries.

His first lecture titled “Our Footprints on the Sands of Time” was on 12th April, 2010. The first part of the lecture traced the evolution of life from 5 million years ago (mya) till 150, 000 years ago, while the second part covered the evolutionary changes in life that took place 150,000 years ago and are continuing till date.

Evolution began about 5-6 mya when a population of African apes split into two distinct species – one leading to the emergence of modern humans and the other to modern chimpanzees. The genus Homo is said to have evolved 2 mya in Africa (fossil remains dated to about 1.9 mya have been traced in Africa).

Modern humans who are less heavily built and more mobile appear to have emerged around 130,000 yrs ago and fall under the category of Homo sapiens sapiens. Dr. Majumder shared different models of human evolution and later provided genetic evidence in support of the Out-of-Africa model (the model that suggests that humans evolved in Africa and from Africa they spread across different continents). The two probable routes via which modern humans may have moved out of Africa were the northern exit route and the southern exit route. However, the genetic evidence supports migration through the northern exit route.

Dr. Majumder also showed slides which contained data regarding the ethnic composition of India. There are about 450 tribes, 4000 caste based communities and about 150 religious groups. India is a country with enormous genetic and cultural diversity and human geneticists and anthropologists have tried to establish the evolution of Indians using the information stored in the human genome. As per the genetic evidence, a major expansion of modern humans took place within India. How fascinating that a small DNA thread should contain links to human evolution, genetic diversity and ethnic complexities!

Based on the study and analysis of DNA and mtDNA Dr. Mazumder inferred that there was a relatively small number of founding females in India. Ethnic diffusion took place gradually due to cultural or demic diffusions. He spoke in detail about the two diffusion types and their implications. He ended his talk by quoting a few lines from Maya Angelou’s book “Wouldn’t Take Nothing from My Journey Now” which read that everyone should respect diversity as in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.


Prof. K. R. Sreenivasan

University Professor, New York University


Prof. K. R. Sreenivasan is one of the most well-known scientists in the area of turbulence, intermittency, convection and quantum turbulence. He has received numerous awards and prizes in recognition of his scientific work, mostly in fluid mechanics, nonlinear and statistical physics, and service to scientific community. He is presently University Professor at New York University and also Senior Vice Provost. He has held visiting positions at the Indian Institute of Science, Caltech, Rockefeller University, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and, as the Sir C.V. Raman Professor, at the Indian Academy of Sciences.



Cool Stuff at Cold Temperatures
17th August 2010

Superfluids flow without friction and possess other interesting properties. One of them is the formation of line vortices with diameters of the order of atomic dimensions. Their circulation is quantized. The vortices can form a random tangle whose flow properties resemble those of classical turbulence. The lecture explored some of these fascinating aspects without delving into technical specifications.

Prof. K.R. Sreenivasan gave an overview of ‘Quantum Turbulence’ starting with an interesting historical account of the discovery of superfluid Helium. Highlights of major discoveries were presented through a brief account of their originators. He developed the subject on a historical basis, connected recent developments to the classical theory of turbulence, and showed their resemblance to quantum turbulence---in terms of the energy spectrum, for example. There are, however, some fundamental differences. For example, the circulation in superfluids is quantized. The reconnection of these quantized vortices leads to several important differences from classical turbulence, such as in the nature of the tails of the probability density functions of velocity fluctuations. Prof. Sreenivasan’s lab has been able to visualize for the first time, quantized vortices and has been able to track their motion by creating the right particles which stick to the vortices. He discussed some of these recent experimental results and proposed a possible statistical mechanical view for understanding the observed coarse-grained phenomena. One of the greatest puzzles in this field is to identify the effective viscosity that is quite critical for dissipation at small scales.



Excerpts from an interview with Prof. K.R. Sreenivasan by the NERD team.

Your career interests include fluid dynamics, turbulence, complex fluids, cryogenic Helium and nonlinear dynamics. Please tell us in brief about your significant contributions to these fields.

I am primarily a fluid dynamicist. I often do things that are of some interest to physicists and mathematicians and influence their thinking. My interest in nonlinear dynamics and cryogenic helium came about through an interest in fluid dynamics. First, I worked on relaminarisation of turbulent flows, i.e., how to make a turbulent flow laminar. That was the main contribution in the first few years of my career, and it is of particular interest in aerodynamics and other applications. Turbulence increases drag, and has some adverse consequences, and that led me to the topic of turbulence control which is about how to control a turbulent flow and make it behave the way you want it to behave. And then I got interested in how substances can be mixed in a turbulent flow. It is like you take your coffee and put milk in it, and you want to mix the two together, by stirring it. Stirring enhances mixing. For instance, in combustion, fuel and air mix together and there you want a uniform mixture and that's possible on a reasonable time scale only if you have a turbulent flow. And here I drew attention to some attractive features of turbulence---especially at the interface between mixed and unmixed substances. I was then involved in nonlinear dynamics type problems such as the flow behind a blunt object having multiple oscillations which interact in a very complex but yet a very fundamental way. And all of this I was able to characterize up to some level of detail---and that is the nonlinear dynamics and fractal part.
The other important aspect, which I suppose is better known, is the intermittency. If you have a quantity that fluctuates modestly around the mean, the mean value will tell a lot about the quantity. A few further moments may be all you need to give an adequate statistical description. But sometimes things are more complex---for example, the monsoon rains in India. Things don't happen uniformly in space or time, and when they happen, they happen very irregularly, sometimes very strongly, sometimes very little. So you cannot characterize these by standard methods. The stock market behavior is similar. The stock market sort of goes up and down a little bit most of the time. Those are the events through which people make or loose lots of money. These intermittent events are very rare but still very important. How to characterize them is a fundamental issue. It happens in turbulence in this way. If you look at a finite volume of a flow, the turbulence is not doing dissipation over most of the space, but in some locations it really dissipates a large amount. So I studied the phenomenon for a few years and this is what is called a multi-scaling problem or a multi-fractal problem.
And then I got interested in cryogenic helium. The issue there is that if you want to measure forces on an aircraft or a submarine, normally what you do is you make a scale model, which you put in a wind or water tunnel, measure the forces and by similarity you project what it might be on the true object. Now, the parameter you most want to match between the model and the true object is the Reynolds number. And what is Reynolds number? It is [length x velocity/viscosity]. You can’t usually do this, because the models are small, the attainable flow velocities are small, and so on. If you don’t match the Reynolds number, you have to extrapolate whatever results you get, and extrapolation is a tricky business. There is always interest in trying to measure the forces on a model on which the Reynolds number is the same as that on the true object. The length can’t be of the true scale of the object, the velocity sometimes can’t be much larger than that of the true object, but there's no reason why viscosity can't be made so low for the model that the Reynolds number for a small scale model would be as high as that for the large object. Cryogenic helium has the lowest viscosity of any fluid we know.
So, I got interested in it. If you take Helium-4 at 4K, its viscosity is some 100 times smaller than that of air, so if you take an object 100 times smaller than the real object, you'll get the same Reynolds number if you maintain the speed. That is the idea.
Then I got interested in Helium itself. If you go below 2.17K you have a phase transition which is very interesting because you then have superfluidity. Superfluidity means that if you put the flow through a pipe, you don’t observe any resistance, unlike normal fluid which gives rise to resistance and requires some pumping power to maintain a flow. And there I was interested very much in the spontaneous formation of the so-called quantized vortices, which are very thin, 1 A diameter or a few A. They become tangled like spaghetti, or something like that, and that gives rise to a new type of turbulence. I am very much interested in that and have tried to make some progress in the study of the phenomenon.

What one question would you like to see answered about your research field in the near future?

In the near future I have many things to do relating to what I have already been doing and what I have done. There are one or two areas I'll definitely continue working in and one or two areas where I’ll definitely stop. And it also depends on what kinds of resources can be generated. I'll continue work on quantum turbulence and convection for a while, for sure. I've to finish one or two things on mixing and then I’ll write up something and move on. The way I see it, I have 10 - 15 years of active scientific life left. May be I don't have that much time. So, I want to do something that is difficult and interesting. I don't want to do just anything that comes my way. So I am working a little bit on a few possibilities; ultimately, it depends on how much money I may be able to raise and things like that. I had better not talk about it too prematurely.




Dr. Ramachandra Guha

A historian and a biographer


Dr. Ramachandra Guha (born 1958) is a famous Indian writer whose research interests have included environmental, social, political and cricket history. He is also a columnist for the newspapers The Telegraph, Khaleej Times and The Hindustan Times. He is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. Dr. Guha has taught at the Universities of Stanford and Yale, held the Arne' Naess Chair at the University of Oslo, and been the Indo-American Community Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His books cover a wide range of themes including a global history of environmentalism, the biography of an anthropologist-activist, a social history of Indian cricket, and a social history of Himalayan peasants. Dr. Guha's books and essays have been translated into more than twenty languages.


The Past and Future of the Environmental Movement in India
19th October 2010


Speaking to a large audience, Dr. Guha gave a broad perspective on Environmental Movements in India. He began the lecture with historical accounts of early environmental movements during the times of Mahatma Gandhi and in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore. He addressed the conflict between the "development agenda" and the "environmental agenda" in this age of open market economy. In this context, he touched upon how the environmentalists are losing ground and are increasingly being perceived as a stumbling block for economic progress. Finally, he called upon the environmentalists to adopt a more "middle ground" to have a larger impact.


Excerpts from an interview with Dr. Guha by Reema Mittal

63 years and India is doing great as a democracy but at the same time serious issues are confronting her today. Where do you rate Indian democracy in the world?

Well, I believe that any society, individual, community or nation should judge itself against its own values and norms. From that point of view India has done moderately well if we look at the Indian constitution, the visions of the founders of India, etc. In my book ‘Makers of Modern India’ I argue that we have 50% democracy. We have free press, freedom of movement, free and fair elections but our institutions are corrupt and function in a suboptimal manner. There are criminals in politics, there is increasing disparity between the rich and the poor, casteism and female foeticide are still practised. It is a hard and painful struggle to build an inclusive and democratic society and I would say we are stumbling towards it.

In the name of development, a lot of reforms have taken place but in some strange way they have served the purposes of the elite only and the interests of a large chunk of the population have been ignored. What is your take on it?

I do not agree that privatization and liberalization have caused any damage. Think of the difficulty of innovation and employment generation under the public sector behemoth and you will see that we needed to liberalize. The problems that exist today are not the result of development but of the failure of state governments. They failed in providing equal job opportunities, education and health facilities; in controlling the environment impact of economic activities. The State governments are corrupt and give licenses to favorite industrialists. Naxalism, also, is a product of the States’ failure and not of the market.

So in a way democracy has failed.

I would say it hasn’t failed but has functioned suboptimally. Laws are in place but not implemented. We are in Kanpur on the banks of the Ganga and in spite of the existence of laws preventing the pollution of the Ganga, there are chemical plants which are very much functional and continue polluting the Ganga. The market is meant to increase productivity and employment and the State has to ensure that increased productivity is fairly distributed and doesn’t damage the environment.

Displacement of tribals is a big issue today. On the one hand we have Rahul Gandhi standing up for their interests in Orissa just like Verrier Elwin who believed in minimal interference in the lives of tribals, whereas, on the other hand, there is a group in favor of Vedanta that feels that tribals need development else they will live in misery.

Well, privatization and liberalization has helped India in sectors like software where skilled workforce is required. See what has happened to Bangalore. But it has hurt India in sectors where raw materials have been extracted at a high rate. Most of the tribals live in areas that are rich in raw materials. Again the State is to be blamed for it because although there are laws like Schedule 5 that allow tribals to become stakeholders in all projects yetsince tribals are powerless minorities, unlike Dalits who are better organized, they tend to get exploited. Every citizen should have access to basic health and educational facilities and employment opportunities. Short sighted exploitation of materials is not good.
And, yes, Verrier Elwin later agreed to providing education to tribals. But, yes, we should not impose any curriculum on them. Education should take into consideration their culture and interests.




Prof. Stephan Fauve

Professor, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Laboratoire de physique statistique (LPS), France


Prof. Stephan Fauve is one of the most eminent scientists in the field of instabilities and nonlinear phenomena, turbulence, dynamo, etc. He is one of the key scientists of the dynamo experiment in Cadarache that generated a variety of self-generated magnetic field states, including the magnetic field reversals observed in the Earth's magnetic field. He is well known for his instability and chaos work in convection, granular material, and Faraday experiment. He has received several awards and prizes including the IBM prize (Physics, 1993), the Lewis Fry Richardson Medal of the European Geosciences Union (2009), the Silver medal of CNRC (2009), and the CEA prize, French Academy of Science (2009). He is also the President of the Board of the Statistical and Nonlinear Physics Division of the European Physical Society.


During his visit to IITK he gave two lectures titled Magnetic Field Reversals in Turbulent Dynamos (8th November) and Energy Flux in Turbulence (10th November).

Magnetic Field Reversals in Turbulent Dynamos
8th November 2010

Self-generation of large scale magnetic fields in astrophysical bodies (e.g. planets, stars, galaxies, and galactic clusters) is an important problem of classical physics. In spite of enormous theoretical, numerical, and observational efforts by geo, solar, and astrophysicists, and applied mathematicians, the problem is far from resolved. The French dynamo group, in which Fauve is one of the collaborators, has been able to demonstrate the dynamo mechanism in the Von-Kármán sodium (VKS) experiment. Here, a variety of magnetic field configurations have been observed when liquid sodium is stirred by two impellers (Monchaux et al. 2007, 2009). They observed constant (in time), time-periodic, quasiperiodic, and chaotic magnetic fields by varying the speeds of the impellers. Magnetic field reversals similar to those observed in geo and solar dynamos have also been observed in this experiment. In his talk, Prof. Fauve elaborated this experiment along with his group’s theoretical model to explain the phenomena.

Excerpts from an interview with Prof. Fauve by Nitica Sakharwade and Ish Dhand.

It was pleasant to learn that the areas that you're working on are things that we can see around us every day; like the magnetic field of the earth, the air resistance that a spinning cricket ball faces and the turbulence in waves. Please tell us about turbulence and how it manifests in the world around us.

We can cite many examples, starting from short term climate prediction in meteorology. It is a difficult matter to do long term prediction of how climate evolves. Also, turbulence plays a very important role in many engineering processes where you need to mix components very quickly to perform chemical reactions. In the car industry and the airplane industry, turbulence is being studied to improve efficiency. People doing sailing are trained to optimize their boat speed using understanding of turbulence.

The mechanism by which the magnetic field of the earth is produced is a question that has been pondered over for a very long time by the scientific community. Do you think we have, today, reached a breakthrough in understanding the same in the recent experiments carried out in your lab?

Well, not a real breakthrough, but what we’ve learnt from the experiments is that we don't really need to invoke very complicated mechanisms, such as coupling between the earth's liquid core and something else to generate these reversals in magnetic field. Even a simple laboratory experiment with far fewer parameters was rich enough to display spontaneous reversals of magnetic field which were very similar to the reversals in the earth's magnetic field. We have learnt that we don't need to imagine very complicated mechanics with competition between the earth’s liquid core, the earth's mantle and external forces. The system itself, with this volume of liquid metal, is enough to understand the concept.
Perhaps the earlier discoveries regarding the magnetic field were better breakthroughs. For example, the man who discovered that the earth's magnetic field reverses direction made the greatest breakthrough in this field.

How has technology, which is advancing so rapidly today, influenced experimental research and numerical simulations of systems on the computer?

On both sides, it helps a lot. First, you save a lot of time. For instance, 20 years back, which is not too long back, we had to design ourselves many devices which we can today simply buy. The development of this type of technology has helped because you can do the experiment without having to make elaborate preparation for it, and start thinking about the physics behind it. It's not only a question of time. You can make measurements today that were not possible 20 years ago or were possible with much less precision.
Computers, in some respect, are helping, of course; for instance, once an experiment is running, you can put it on a computer and let it run while you do something else. It's definitely more efficient, but, you may miss out some interesting results. It's always different when you observe the experimental results in real time rather than when you record it on a computer. When you're surprised by the result, for instance, you can immediately change parameters and look at what happens. Of course, the computer will not help in this kind of a situation.
The computer has also helped a lot in numerical simulations, but fortunately, or unfortunately, there still are regimes of turbulence that can be reached by a small experiment on the table, with a small volume of water, that are much larger than what we can calculate even on the best computers in the world today. Yes, we can use numerical recipes to avoid solving exact equations, but direct simulation of flows at Reynolds number 1 million will not only be difficult but impossible. So, computers are nice, but have a limited power.
Then, there are disadvantages of computers. 20 years ago, when you entered a laboratory, you could see people doing an experiment or carrying out calculations by hand or trying to think about a problem. Now when you go to a laboratory, most of the time you'll see people doing things not always connected with research like answering e-mail. It's not clear how this behavior will modify the quality of research. We'll have to see.

We have students from the undergraduate to the PhD level carrying out research here, so what would you suggest to those who want to do real research through experiments?

I suppose that in the beginning they should just follow the lectures and at the same time be curious and begin to think about the subject because the most difficult part in research, I think, is to select a problem. It is very important because research works well if you are able to consider this as a game. The choice should be yours. You should not let someone else, a professor or an advisor, choose a subject for you. I found it very difficult and in fact I spent much more time on visiting laboratories, looking at simple articles not in technical journals but in journals where physics is presented in a simple way, so it took a long time for me to find something really interesting and then when I found something very interesting I began to work on it but it was just like a game so it was very easy to work. I don't think there are clever people who have good ideas and not clever people who don't have good ideas but there are people who are motivated by their subject so they always think about it. Of course if you spend more time thinking about something finally you get more ideas. So, I suppose there is no age to do research, so a student as soon as he begins his studies, can follow the lectures of different subjects and look at their possibilities. He can choose one, gather information about the subject and go and talk to people in laboratories. For instance, when I was a PhD student the first thing we did was to organize our own informal weekly seminar. We never really talked about our own subject but discussed the interesting articles we had read and explained those to others. So the whole group made a lot of progress in a very short time and at some point prominent professors wanted to follow this seminar.



Dr. Suvarnalata Rao

Programming Head and Research Scientist, NCPA, Mumbai



Dr. Suvarnalata Rao is currently the programming head and a research scientist at the National Center for the Performing Arts, Mumbai. She works in the area of computational musicology and organology. Her main area of interest is the analysis of North Indian vocal music with an objective to study certain aspects of raag like intonation and melodic movement. In an earlier work she had made an attempt to provide an acoustical perspective to the esthetical concept relating to raaga and rasa. She has also worked in the area of organology involving issues relating to the making of Indian instruments. She is actively involved in several international collaborations involving music and musical instruments’ technology.


Dr. Rao delivered three lectures on 7th and 8th December 2010 on the confluence of Indian Music and Science.

• Fundamentals of Music and Musicology in India (7th December)
• Musical Instruments (8th December)
• Music and Technology (8th December)

She covered broad aspects of the subject with particular emphasis on Indian musicology and organalogy and on problems that may be of interest to students of material science, physics and mechanical engineering. She also spoke at length about her current work on developing an automated transcription system for Indian music.




Prof. S. R. Srinivasa Varadhan

Professor, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York



Prof. Srinivasa Varadhan is an Indian-American mathematician who received his undergraduate degree in 1959 from Presidency College, Madras, and his doctorate in 1963 from the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. He is known for his work with Prof. D. W. Stroock on diffusion processes, and for his work on large deviations with Prof. M. D. Donsker. Prof. Varadhan has received many prestigious awards and honors including the Padma Bhushan (2008), the Abel Prize (2007), the Steele Prize (1996) and the Birkhoff Prize (1994). He is currently a full professor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York.



Entropy: Why is it important in Probability?
10th January 2011

In his lecture Prof. Varadhan explored different contexts in probability theory where entropy plays a crucial role. He emphasized the importance of entropy in large deviation theories wherein the probability measures of extreme events decay exponentially with respect to the arbitrarily growing number of observations. He used coin tossing as an illustration for his theory.




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