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Alladi Ramakrishnan passes away

Special Correspondent

He was the founder of Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai

A file picture of Alladi Ramakrishnan

CHENNAI: Alladi Ramakrishnan, who made fundamental contributions to several fields of study since 1947 and founded the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (MATSCIENCE), died in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday night (Sunday morning 6 a.m. IST). He was 85.

Dr. Ramakrishnan was the Director of MATSCIENCE in Chennai for 22 years, during which he built up an ethos of innovative thinking and an ambience that was ever responsive to new ideas. Now a Deemed University, this institution was inspired by the visit of scientist Neils Bohr to Dr. Ramakrishnan’s family home — the “Ekamra Nivas” (house with a tree).

Dr. Ramakrishnan’s has been a life devoted to the restless world of science; a ceaseless probing of the intrigues of mathematics and high energy physics.

Dr. Ramakrishnan graduated in Physics from Madras University in 1943. He took his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester in 1951 and later taught theoretical physics at the University of Madras until 1962 and became a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

He has authored or co-authored over 150 influential scientific papers in leading journals on topics ranging over Stochastic Processes, Elementary Particle Physics, Matrix Algebra, and the Special Theory of Relativity, and was invited for guest lectures at leading scientific institutions in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Frequent interaction

Indian science, Dr. Ramakrishnan always held, would greatly benefit if there was frequent interaction within the scientific community here and eminent minds from abroad.

Dr. Ramakrishnan believed in creative and original work and has stated that he would rather go with an inchoate idea with a trace of originality than a reproduction or an improvement on existing work. This was one of the two important aspects about the U.S. that impressed him; the other was the emphasis on fundamental research in spite of a suffusion of technologies.

It was one of his great convictions that research and teaching should go together to the extent that he believed that nobody should teach unless he did research.

In an interview to The Hindu in July 1989, Dr. Ramakrishnan bemoaned the decline in the quality of research in India when benchmarked against the standards set by Sir C.V. Raman and Srinivasa Ramanujam. “I trace it to one main source — there is not enough liaison between teaching and research unlike in the U.S., where these two go together.”

“Brain drain”

Dr. Ramakrishnan felt that the “brain drain” could be countered only by creating an environment in India that scientists would want to return to. Prestige and peer acceptance are key drivers of scientific ambition. He once remarked that “We will not be able to contribute effectively unless our scientists are stricken with a Nobel fever, which is a noble fever.”

Dr. Ramakrishnan passionately believed that science and art could go hand-in-hand. He was one who could appreciate the mathematical structures in the Carnatic music as much as he could revel in the purity of the mathematical form.

A regular for years at the Music Academy in Chennai during the “Margazhi” festival season, Dr. Ramakrishnan could identify with the sheer mastery of Semmangudi and M.S. Subbulakshmi in attaining the proper balance between alapana, swara and kirtana.

He told The Hindu in 2006 that “Carnatic music not only had technical perfection but is also related to our culture particularly in man’s relation to God.”

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