Monday, June 3, 2019

Patriotism : Real and Fake

This year  was  the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, a major incident in the freedom struggle. There is no doubt that the massacre, and the outrage it provoked, triggered an outpouring of patriotism, and sacrifice which crystallized the nationalist movement and provided a focus for resistance against  British rule.

The basic facts of the massacre are known to every Indian school child. On 13th April 1919, there was a peaceful meeting scheduled in the walled open ground called Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. About 1500 people were gathered in the enclosure to protest against the infamous orders promulgated in Amritsar against public gatherings. This was the point at which Brigadier  General Reginald  Dyer, the military administrator of Amritsar, decided that these hapless subjects had to be taught that the orders of the administration could not be defied. He arrived on the scene with a company of Gorkha troops in an armoured car. Fortunately for the hapless citizenry, the armoured car could not enter the narrow entrance to the Bagh. Those who have seen Richard Attenborough's movie Gandhi, will recall the chilling scene of the troops running through the narrow alley seen below.

The troops took position on the narrow plinth inside the Bagh. They were given instructions to fire on the crowd, which tried to flee by climbing on the steep walls or taking refuge in the well below. The troops fired 1650 rounds, leaving 379 people dead, and  1100 injured, by some estimates. Other estimates are even higher. Photos of the dead and the testimony of the injured can be seen in the little museum near  the well, where hundreds jumped to save themselves, and many died.
The bullet holes can be seen in the walls.

The incident provoked outrage through the country. There were huge protests. Dignitaries returned British honours, among them Rabindranath Tagore. Dyer was supported by  conservatives in England, but opposed by liberals. An investigation committee of  the British Parliament  removed him from his appointment,  and prohibited him from further employment in India. The seething anger in the Indian populace united  the subcontinent and led to the Non-coperation movement of 1920. That was real patriotism indeed!

Visitors to Amritsar flock to Jalianwala Bagh, but also now have another patriotic destination. The Attari/Wagah border, 60 kms from Amritsar, where Indian and Pakistani troops each flaunt their own patriotism. The BSF puts up a good show, showcasing its own achievements, including its canine counterparts.  The Indian side blares patriotic songs, inviting the ladies present to dance (and some do). The Pakistani side counters with the Koran (or what sounds like it). The grass is greener on the Pakistani side (that's easy, the Indian side is concrete). People cross the border on foot, the elderly on wheel chairs, luggage on trolleys, exchanging porters at the gate. The rest of the crowd leaves for Amritsar, in a glow of patriotism, but is it real?

The  country is at the crossroads, redefining its notion of patriotism. Is it necessary that a sense of self can only be achieved by trampling on the sense of self of others? Some say the road has already been chosen.  If so, maybe it is time for the second non-cooperation movement.   Who is wrong, and who is right? Time will tell. It always does!

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Rahul Basu 04/03/1956-05/03/2011

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

T.S. Elliot

This  blog post is by Neelima  Gupte and Sumathi Rao

Monday, January 7, 2019

The IPA Rahul Basu Memorial Award Ceremony 2018

The award ceremony for the Rahul Basu Memorial Award for the best thesis in High Energy Physics in the years 2016-2018 took place on 13th December 2018 during the DAE symposium held at IIT Madras. As in other years, two nominees Dr. Apratim Kaviraj and Dr  Ipsita  Saha  win   selected for the award, and two nominees, Dr Taushif  Ahmed and Dr Rusa Mandal received honourable mention for their contributions. All four awardees   presented their work at the award ceremony, Dr Kaviraj and Dr Mandal  in person,  and Dr Saha and Dr Ahmed via Skype.

Dr. Kaviraj gave a very clear and comprehensive talk on the bootstrap method, and how it could be applied to the AdS/CFT correspondence. This area is notorious for the incomprehensibility of its papers,and to hear it explained so clearly was a rare experience. Dr Kaviraj's own thesis contained a significant new step in incorporating Witten diagrams and the use of the Mellin space, which simplifies the computations significantly, to a point where the computation can be automated. New results which demonstrated the power of the new technique were also obtained. This was truly a thesis which was worthy of the award.

 Dr Ipsita Saha gave a talk on Skype on her thesis on her  study of the physics beyond the  SM at the LHC in the light of dark matter searches. She summarised both the successes and the shortcomings of the Standard Model, and the current efforts to go beyond the standard model. Her work focussed on the efforts togo beyond the standard model by incorporating additional features to the theory. She discussed the implications of the addition of a scalar doublet for the vacuum stability problem, the addition of complex scalar triplet for the neutrino mass problem, and that of the addition of a complex scalar triplet plus real singlet for dark matter. The experimental signatures of the theoretical calculations were also touched upon.

Dr. Taushif Ahmed also gave his talk on Skype. His talk was on QCD radiative corrections to Higgs physics. He explained clearly why  it was necessary to go beyond the leading order corrections to make quantitatively correct corrections for the Higgs Boson cross sections, as well as rapidity distributions and form factors  for Drell Yan processes. Factorisation methods were incorporated to obtain very accurate and reliable  results.

Dr Rusa Mandal was present to give her talk in person. She spoke on rare B decays and new physics. She analysed decays of the B meson to K plus leptons type via parametric forms of the Standard Model amplitude eliminated hadronic contributions, and obtained results  independent of nonfactorisable contributions with minimal dependence on form factors. This is a new technique which could be generalised to other cases.

The awards were presented by Prof. G. Rajasekaran,  one of India's  most senior high enegy physicists, and a former colleague of Prof. Rahul Basu's at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.  He  concluded with a short remembrance of Rahul,  and how his contribution in all spheres was missed by his colleagues, several of whom were present at the ceremony.

The award committee consisted of Bedangadas Mohanty (Chair), Sunanda Bannerjee, Debayoti Chowdhuri, Debashis Ghoshal, Rohini Godbole, Sourendu Gupta, Neelima Gupte, and Sunil Mukhi.
The award  committee worked very hard to carry out the herculean task of going through all the nominations and  coming to a unanimous conclusion. They also consulted a number of experts outside the committee. Heartfelt  thanks are due to all, and most especially to Prof. Bedangadas  Mohanty, the  committee chair, and his meticulous organisation of the entire process. Due to their continuing effort, and also due to unstinted support from the Indian Physics Association, the award has now got established  in the high energy physics community. Students in the area now vie for the award and are inspired by the talks and the professional level of the awardees.

We hope this award will contribute further to increasing the activity and contributions of the high energy physics community of  India.

This blog  post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Photos: First photo : Dr. Apratim Kaviraj and Prof.  G. Rajasekaran.
             Second photo: Dr. Rusa  Mandal  and Prof. G. Rajasekaran
             Dr. Ipsita Saha and Dr. Taushif Ahmed can be seen on the
             screen in both photos.


L-R:   Drs. G.D. Date, M.V.N. Murthy, Rahul Basu and Matthias Brack in the IMSc GH porch,  sometime in the early 90-s. (Photo credit: Matthias Brack).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Mars Landing

The latest Mars probe, Insight, lands on Mars tonight. The landing is tricky, as the spacecraft negotiates the Martian atmosphere to slow down from 20,000 kmph in space  to 8 kmph to coast to the Martian plain Elysium Planitia in 6.5 tense minutes deploying a supersonic parachute. The space craft carries a heavy load, a burrowing heat probe, and three supersensitive seismographs, whose function is to measure temperatures beneath the crust and to record Marsquakes. Unlike the Curiosity rover, the Insight probe will stay put in one place.  However, all plans are on hold till the spacecraft lands safely. NASA starts a live telecast of the landing at 12.00 midnight  today here
Happy watching.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte  and Sumathi Rao.

It was a flawless landing. Insight landed, phoned home and sent a picture.  Yay!

Here is the Nasa team viewing the  pic.

And here is the pic itself,  Mars looking like a spotty teenager.

The splotches are dust, they say. We will wait for the good pictures. In all, this is Nasa's  18th landing mission to  Mars, and the 8th successful one. The rest crashed! That should say how tricky it is.
More updates as and when. Bye for now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The IPA Rahul Basu Memorial Award 2018

The winners of the IPA Rahul Basu Memorial Award have been selected for the period 2016-2018. These are:


Dr. Apratim Kaviraj,  Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Thesis Title: Conformal Bootstrap: Old and New.

Dr. Ipsita Saha, University of Calcutta, Kolkata
Thesis Title: The study of the physics beyond the SM at the LHC in the light of dark matter searches.

Runners up:

Dr. Rusa Mandal, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai and HBNI.
Thesis Title: Rare B Decays as a probe to beyond standard model physics.

Dr. Taushif Ahmed,  The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai and HBNI.
Thesis Title: QCD Radiative Corrections to Higgs Physics.

The award ceremony will be held as a part of the DAE symposium on High Energy Physics, 10 - 14th December, 2018 in Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.   The winners will be given a cash prize of Rs. 25,000/- each and a citation. The runners up will be presented a citation.
Congratulations to the awardees.

This  blog post is by Neelima Gupte  and Sumathi Rao.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hawa Hawaii

This  blog post has been long delayed,  not because there was nothing to write,  but there was too much. It was literally a case of sensory overload in a tropical paradise. This was the notionally American archipelago of Hawaii, to be exact,  Lahaina on the island of Maui. The long, tiring journey just fell away at the sound of the ocean outside.  Hawaii was all it was advertised  to be: sun, sand, surf and swaying palms.  Missed the jellyfish, however.

There was, however,  a bit of trouble in paradise: a  rumbling volcano on the next island, and a cyclone approaching.  The sky and the sea changed colour, and surfers were warned out of the water.
Waves washed over the highway,  and all the  traffic jammed (just to  remind us that however tropical the island, this was  still the United States).  It rained on the way to the Iao valley,  but that was good for the waterfalls. The little  hike had to be cancelled unfortunately. The park was closing and it was raining hard. Still, it was clear that the park justified its title:  the Yosemite of the west.

The little town of Lahaina has its own points of interest. The courtroom and the 150 year old Banyan tree  planted in 1873, which was sent by missionaries from India, and is the largest tree in the United States.  Even nicer is the little tree  by the bus stop  which had  leaves inscribed by dozens of bored kids waiting  for the bus. Two more joined the bandwagon.  The little complex behind the bus stop had a movie theater and dozens of  handicraft  shops, to say nothing of  sushi bar, and an Indian restaurant to provide succour for all compatriots in search of Indian vegetarian food (many in number, said the lady at the sushi bar)!

There was a beautiful sunset on the last ride  to the airport and  a red eye flight to mainland U.S.A, San   Francisco to be exact. A drive across the bay with friends of forty years and a lovely day at San Juan Batista, one of the old Spanish missions in   California.  This is the church and the museum which feature prominently in the  Hitchcock movie Vertigo. Observe the mountain lion, and the engineering contraptions. Unfortunately,  the steeple where the climax of the movie is filmed  is a Paramount Studios stage set. A sixteen year old was having her first communion in the church, dressed like a Disney princess. The mission garden was essentially a botanical garden  for  all the local flora, and some truly well tended  roses.  We had to go back and watch the movie of course.

Finally after a lovely 1.3862 days in SF, it was back to Chennai, which also has sun and sand and swaying palms, and hibiscus flowers and banyan trees. Another tropical paradise. The Hawaii crowd wants to visit  and verify  the truth of this statement (working on it guys!)


This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's a Marscopter!

Those who watch it won't be the Little Green Men. It will just be Houston watching the Mars Rover.
NASA plans to load a little helicopter for exploring the Mars terrain on its next Mars Rover mission scheduled to take off in 2020.  Making the Marscopter work is a serious technological challenge (not that the rest of the mission isn't!). Although the Marscopter is tiny (just 1.8 kg, about half a kg more than standard laptops), the real difficulty lies in making it operate in the low atmospheric density of Mars. The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of the earth, so that a craft at the Martian surface encounters an atmospheric density which it would encounter at 100,000 feet  off the surface of the earth. The helicopter needs to be as light as is feasible, as well as strong as is feasible. It took the design team four years to come up with a viable machine that is currently under test in NASA's laboratories.

Here is  today's video from NASA.

And here is  one  for the nerdy engineering types.

The 'copter can survey the Martian terrain far more rapidly than the rovers which can explore about a 100 meters a day. NASA plans to use the 'copter for about five flights, over a period of about ninety days. The chopper is expected to cover a few hundred meters in  ninety seconds. We thought Curiosity was a hard act to top, but this one bids fair to outdo it. We wonder what they will call this one. Cat? That would be a killer!

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.