Sunday, November 27, 2016


``The living owe it to those who no longer can speak, to tell their story for them.''

Czeslaw  Milosz.

A video.  (Note: The video can be disturbing.)

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The IPA Rahul Basu Memorial Award 2014-2016

It is our great pleasure to declare that the winners of the Rahul Basu Memorial Award have been selected. These are:


Dr. Bhawna Gomber,  Calcutta University.
Thesis Title: Search of Large Extra Dimensions in g+ET final state in pp collisions with the CMS detector at the LHC.

Dr. Roji Pius, Harishchandra Research Institute, Allahabad.
Thesis Title: Perturbative aspects of String Theory and Gauge/Strong Duality

Honourable Mention:

Dr. Md. Rihan Haque, NISER, Bhubaneshwar.
Thesis Title: Nucleii Production and Azimuthal Anisotropy of charged particles in heavy-ion collisions at RHIC

Dr. Kirtimaan  Mohan,  CHEP, IISc, Bangalore
Thesis Title: The Higgs Boson as a probe of physics beyond the standard model in the era of the LHC.

The award ceremony will be held as a part of the DAE symposium on High Energy Physics, on 16th December, 2016 (Friday) in Delhi University between 12.00 and 1.00 pm. 

Award committee: Bedangadas Mohanty (Chair), Sunanda Bannerjee, Debayoti Chowdhuri, Debashis Ghoshal, Rohini Godbole, Sourendu Gupta, Neelima Gupte, Sunil Mukhi.

Thanks all.

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The week that was

And what a week it was! It started off pleasantly enough, at the theater with  Wooster and Jeeves, trotting off in the two seater to Totleigh Towers, with Aunt Dahlia, Madeliene Basset, Sir Watkin Basset, Roderick Spode and Stiffy Byng in the mixture. Bertie was in trouble, but Jeeves saved the day. It was a terrific production, given that all roles were played by just three actors, with the two seater and the bath tub also playing stellar roles. Here is Bertie in a bath tub, although at a large distance! The ticket prices played their role in keeping the audience at a distance, with the front seats being priced at Rs 5000 a piece!

If Bertie had a bad week, the rest of us had it worse. On Tuesday, the U.S. got Trumped and India got Modified.  `Change' had a great week. The public was out of money, the ATMs were out of cash, and the PM was out of the country. However, the apologists were not out of excuses. After holding out for several days on the basis of 10 Rs notes  having found their way to the corners of sundry purses, sheer necessity forced a trip to the bank. Two and a half hours of patience yielded four of the notes below, with Gandhiji smiling bashfully on a background of a colour hitherto associated with Barbie.

All the chaos was in a good cause, being dedicated to rooting out black moneys. Here is one of them below, looking dejected. (In case of incomprehensibility, consult Google Translate).

We now await the rigours of the next week. However, Chennai might look forward to some relief. Amma is expected to be discharged from hospital. Please stand by for further bulletins from the frontline.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Turbulent times

This post is long delayed, and hence covers a lot of mileage, due to long journeys, all through troubled parts. Although, just about everywhere is troubled these days, including, home. It's more a case of troubled times than troubled parts.

July was Europe: Slovenia, France and Germany. Summer in Ljubljana was beautiful, flowers everywhere, and dragon statues on the bridge. However, there was shocking news  every night. Bombs in Turkey, terrorist attacks in Nice and Rouen, terrorist attacks in Munich, protests in Berlin. The streets looked deceptively peaceful, but the long lines in airport security and the number of policemen in the streets gave clues to the tense state of affairs. There was a huge protest outside the Berlin Hauptbahnoff. Angela Merkel's humanitarian generosity was provoking xenophobic backlash. (There were anti-protest protests too. Good for those guys).

August was the U.S: blue skies, fresh air and the Rocky mountains. All looked idyllic, but the presidential race was hotting up. Xenophobia and misogyny were rearing their ugly heads again. Who knows what the election results will throw up, and whom it will affect? No country is truly sovereign these days, as everyone knows.

September was back home again. Dead silence in the newspapers on Kashmir, despite numerous indications of trouble. The Uri attacks and `surgical strikes' blew the lid on the bottled hysteria. All the chest thumping nationalism was woefully similar to that seen in other parts of the world. Saner voices were dubbed `anti-national', exactly like elsewhere. Xenophobia, and a preoccupation with immediate interests, seems to have become a worldwide theme.

The pictures belie the simmering discontent. All looks so pretty and so peaceful. Maybe that is the real truth, and  all the turmoil is superficial and  a passing phase. The pundits claim the world is becoming more peaceful, not less. Otherwise, as ordinary citizens, we are fearful. Let's hope the learned ones have got it right!

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Brigadier Sir Nils

This blog has been following the career of  Sir Nils Olaf, a king penguin, a member of the Norwegian Kings Guard, a long time resident of Edinburgh Zoo, for many years now (see earlier post).
Rising through the service ranks of  a corporal, a sergeant, a sergeant-major and a colonel-in-chief, and after being knighted in 2008 (the occasion celebrated in the previous post), Sir Nils was promoted to Brigadier, by the King's Guard, who were in Edinburgh yesterday to take part in the Military Tattoo. Sir Nils received his promotion with composed pride, after inspecting his comrades at arms, who maintained absolutely straight faces. (See news item and video). Congratulations, Sir Nils!

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Happy Birthday, Chennai

Today is the 377th birthday of our city by the sea. Happy Birthday, Chennai, and may global warming never destroy your climate, or your coastline. The city has been through a harsh test, but managed to emerge with its characteristic resilience, leaving the smiles of its citizens intact. (Sometimes we new Madrasis wish the citizens would have less patience!) However, there is something to be said for those who go through disasters, and come out still armed with their usual good nature. We hope the next year will be nicer, to all of us. Meanwhile, the celebrations are on. The MahaVishnu of Mount Road is always the most informed about all that happens here. So here are the full details.  
Hope to see everyone at the numerous festivities.

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Juno and Jupiter

Juno's reached Jupiter, and is in a Jupiter orbit, as everyone with a news feed knows! Nasa's spacecraft  Juno has a very intensive scientific programme planned, including an investigation into the unusual stability of the solar system's biggest coherent structure, the famed red spot of Jupiter. More updates as information trickles in.  Meanwhile, a picture of the red spot from an old friend.

A picture of the little red spot of Jupiter by New Horizons, taken when it flew by Jupiter in 2007.

This is a polar map of Jupiter (South pole) constructed from images taken by the Cassini spacecraft.
(Thanks, Ashutosh). Dynamics aficionados will note the effects.

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

NASA photos. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hill station holiday

Last month was the right month to head for the hills, and escape the oppressive heat of the plains.
There's of course no way of escaping the jostling crowds at New Delhi's T3 terminal, except via the jostling crowds at New Delhi Railway station. However, everyone else is also in a good mood, since they are  escaping to the hills, too. In fact, everyone is in such a good mood that Air India staff escapes being slaughtered, even after announcing that the flight to Kullu is cancelled, and there is no other flight till the next day. (Passengers look murderous, Jet Airways staff looks smug, but there is no riot). On to Chandigarh, (no, no cancellation), and out into the heat of the afternoon, a reminder that we are still in the plains.

An early start to Chail, up the hill road, in a rickety bus. The perfectly good two lane road of ten years ago, is in the process of being expanded into a four lane highway, and is currently a nightmare, with bulldozers, excavated hill sides, and invitations to land slides. The valiant bus crawls its way clinging precariously to the side of the road. The driver is brilliant. Various faces turn green and water bottles are passed around to quieten queasy stomachs. One tea stop and sundry jacaranda trees later, the rain starts. Various cheerful stories also start, e.g. of people who left for Shimla, sixty kilometres away, on a day like this, and were rescued by helicopter fourteen days later. The bus slows to a crawl, but we end up safely at Chail's palace hotel, merely a little damp due to the rain inside and outside the bus. Chail was the summer capital of the Maharaja of Patiala, who was kicked out of Shimla by the Viceroy for his hell raising antics, and built Chail Palace in a huff.

Chail palace is charming, with huge rooms, antique furniture, log huts and an annexe and a pine forest all around. It's unlikely that the pictures are the  Maharaja's pictures. (The death of Socrates?)
They also throw in a few monkeys.

The lights of Shimla can be seen across the hill.

There's a pretty little garden. The village is a one road village, but there is a stadium, a military school, and a Kali Mandir with a spectacular sunset, an unexpected view of the snowline, and, guess what, solar panels. A few days here, is a few days out of time, out of the hassles of day to day existence, until it is time to go back.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Tailpiece: Day to day hassles? What do you mean day to day hassles? See below.

Self: How can you lose my bag on a Chandigarh Delhi flight?
JA:  Not to worry, we already sent it to Chennai.
Self:  But I'm here in Delhi.
JA:  Not to worry, we will get it back.

Not to worry, they did. Took time, though!

Friday, June 3, 2016

A planetoid called Pluto

Our favourite planetoid Pluto is in the news again. The United States Postal Service has released two beautiful stamps showing the eternal pair, the New Horizon space craft, and one of its wonderful  pictures of Pluto, in fact every one's Valentine picture of Pluto, with the heart shaped region, the Sputnik Planum,  featuring prominently.

The USPS has added to the bonanza by releasing a set of 8 stamps each one with its own planetary member of the solar system.  Pluto, which got bounced from its status as a planet, and demoted to being a dwarf planet, a while ago, has been consoled by giving it its own stamp, together with that of its intrepid explorer.

Neither planets nor planetoids have ever looked more gorgeous, albeit thanks to digital enhancement. Now that NASA and USPS have done their bit, we look forward to our own pair, ISRO and India Posts, to give us our own set of stamps from ISRO's space explorations.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Friday, April 22, 2016

JNU/HCU/IIT and all that

This post is a bit late. On the other hand it is perhaps better to wait till the dust has settled down to write on controversial topics. The last six months have witnessed turmoil on several academic campuses, with strong similarities between the incidents that occurred on each one.

The saddest case occurred on the Hyderabad University campus,with a  tragic culmination in  the suicide of the young and promising Dalit student, Rohith Vemula. What started as a simple case of a scuffle between two student groups, and the consequent rustication of one student group, went out of hand due to mishandling and political interference, and resulted in the loss of a young life. Subsequent events were even more bizarre, with reports of vandalism on campus, the entry of the police,  the arrests of students and faculty, and verbal and physical violence towards protesting students.

The story at Jawaharlal Nehru University involved `anti-national' slogans raised at a student event involving Kashmiri students, the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the student union, subsequent attacks on him at the courts, and the hunt for  those who were actually involved in the incident, who may or may not have been the students finally identified as the culprits.

The incidents at IIT were milder, as befits its sober and nerdy image. Arguments between  students belonging to two student societies, resulted in the withdrawal of recognition  to one of the concerned parties, allegations and denials of political interference,  and the subsequent restoration of the status quo, albeit with more restrictions on the organisations than existed  before.

What is startling is the similarity between the incidents on widely separated campuses, which could have been handled peacefully within the rules of the academic institutions, provided they had been applied with some vision and concern, and the opportunity they provided for outside interference. Even more startling is the reaction of the general public, which  includes berating students for taking interest in societal and political issues, questioning their academic and familial credentials, and even going to the extreme of estimating the cost of their student stipends and recommending that they start `earning their living' and stop being `a burden on society'.

 There are several broad issues involved here, and many of these have already been discussed threadbare in public fora. We would only like to focus on one here. Universities and academic institutions are meant to be places where notions of society, state and culture are discussed, and to provide platforms for opposing points of view. The norms and regulations of academic institutions are supposed to have evolved to a point where differences of opinion can be sorted out in a democratic, orderly and peaceful manner. It will be  best if politicians and the public allow them to do so.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.     

Saturday, March 5, 2016

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

May the road rise up to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rain fall softly on your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

An Irish blessing. 

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Gravitational waves

Has the LIGO observatory observed gravitational waves? Rumours have been rife that LIGO (Laser Interference Gravitational Wave observatory) has picked up the signature of gravitational waves   (ripples in space time) arising from a massive cosmic event, the collision of two black holes. Astronomers have been looking for confirmation of the rumoured LIGO events  in the form of an optical flash in three parts of the sky, in the constellation Dorado, as well as in the constellations Aries and Hydra. The last time the classic signature (a `chirp') was observed in the LIGO data was in 2010, but it was announced to be a false signal, fake data inserted to ensure that the analysis could, in fact detect a signal. The experiment has scheduled a press conference on 11th February, where they may confirm the observation, (or not!).  More tomorrow,  the entire physics world waits with bated breath. Hopefully, the LIGO spokespersons will not shout April Fool, in February!

 Update: February 12th:

They did find it. We had the unique experience of hearing the universe chirp, that too on our mobiles (the quality of the broadcast was absolutely wonderful!). Gabriela Gonzales provided the details. Two massive black holes of solar masses 36 and 29 coalesced to form an object of 62 times the solar mass. Their motion, which spiralled round each other, before the collapse (250  revolutions per second at half the speed of light) provided the chirp. This event occurred a billion light years ago, at a time when life on earth had barely progressed to multicellular organisms, at a location roughly in the direction of the Magellanic cloud. The observation was a triumph of state of the art experimental technique and technology, the mirrors of the interferometer moved through a distance of 4/1000ths of the diameter of the proton due to the effect of the wave. As far as the theory is concerned, the original prediction dates back to Einstein in 1916, and Taylor and Hulse had made an indirect observation of the gravitational waves which would have been obtained due to two neutron stars spiralling inwards coalescence. Taylor and Hulse got the Nobel for their discovery. So who is in line this time? The three originators of LIGO were Kip Thorne,  Rainer Weiss and Ronald Drever, and of course,  there are now younger collaborators. The Bicep2 team must be sad at having missed the first detection, although they may still get the first wave from the big bang. The result is also a vindication of big science. The National Science Foundation spent $1.1 billion over the LIGO detectors at  Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington over 40 years, including the recent upgrade to the Advanced LIGO lab, which finally bought the detectors to the stage where the recent detection became possible.  The result came almost immediately after the upgrade, last September, just after the calibration of the advanced LIGO system. The result is a collaboration between these two LIGO Labs and the Virgo observatory in Europe.  There are three more events in the pipeline, which are currently under analysis. Two more LIGO labs are proposed, one in Japan, and one in India, where they will hopefully find adequate funding support and ecological blessing from all concerned parties! These are exciting times to be in physics. These discoveries are invitations on the part of the discipline to join the excitement.

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Postscript: The original paper has appeared in Physical Review letters yesterday. It's great to see a Chennai institute, Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai in the affiliation list of the authors.

 What did the blackbird say to the black holes?  `And a chirp to you, too'.

Update 16/06/16

A second gravitational wave event has been detected, again from the coalescence of two black holes, somewhat smaller than the ones which collided in the first event. This second event was a Christmas gift from the universe to us. The data analysis took six months, which is why the event was only announced last week. As for the details, one can't do better than quote  the succinct Physical Review Letters abstract, reproduced below. So here you are, error bars and all.

'We report the observation of a gravitational-wave signal produced by the coalescence of two stellar-mass black holes. The signal, GW151226, was observed by the twin detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) on December 26, 2015 at 03:38:53 UTC. The signal was initially identified within 70 s by an online matched-filter search targeting binary coalescences. Subsequent off-line analyses recovered GW151226 with a network signal-to-noise ratio of 13 and a significance greater than 5σ. The signal persisted in the LIGO frequency band for approximately 1 s, increasing in frequency and amplitude over about 55 cycles from 35 to 450 Hz, and reached a peak gravitational strain of 3.4+0.70.9×1022. The inferred source-frame initial black hole masses are 14.2+8.33.7M and 7.5+2.32.3M, and the final black hole mass is 20.8+6.11.7M. We find that at least one of the component black holes has spin greater than 0.2. This source is located at a luminosity distance of 440+180190Mpc corresponding to a redshift of 0.09+0.030.04. All uncertainties define a 90% credible interval. This second gravitational-wave observation provides improved constraints on stellar populations and on deviations from general relativity.'