Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Scientists do not require garlands or mobbing – thus spake Nobel Laureate Ramakrishnan

The largest National Science event of the country the Indian Science Congress (ISC)  is taking place in Chennai, at SRM Engineering College premises at Kattankulathur.
The Conference was inaugurated by our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.   The theme of the 98th Science Congress is “Quality Education and Excellence in Science Research in Indian Universities.”   Six Nobel laureates and host other eminent scientists are attending the Meet.
There is also Children's Science Congress,  purely devoted for young children.   This was inaugurated by eminent Nobel laureate in Chemistry Venkatraman Ramakrishnan.    He (1952) is an Indian-born American structural biologist, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Thomas A. Steitz and Ada E. Yonath, for "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.
The country rejoiced on his winning the Nobel Prize and many sought to have closer links with him.  Earlier Sir CV Raman had won Physics prize in 1930 and Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, won  for physics in 1983.  there were claims that  all three winners of the Nobel in sciences have their roots in Tamilnadu. 
Ramakrishnan was born in Chidambaram in Cuddalore and at a very young age had moved to Baroda.   Then he moved to USA where he obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from Ohio University in 1976. 
Last year, the Indian Govt. conferred ‘Padma Vibhushan’  the second highest ranking civilian award, which is awarded to recognise exceptional an distinguished service to the nation in any field, including government service. 
Venkatraman, Steitz and Ada Yonath
Ramakrishnan, known for his frank views has come down hard after being mobbed everywhere for photographs and autographs in the first 2 days of the ISC.  He asked Indians not to confuse scientists with movie and cricket stars.   In his inaugural address, he said that science had no place for rituals and ceremonies, and that Indians were confusing scientists with stars.   He reportedly stated that Science is for the welfare of the humanity and there is no need for roping in National fervour.
“Scientists are not movie stars or politicians who will feel insulted if they are not showered with accolades. Scientists are not interested in accolades,” he said.
It is reported that  Mr. Ramakrishnan was clearly unhappy in not being able to explain the advances in Indian science to the other Nobel laureate Thomas Steitz  as they were mobbed everywhere.  Newspaper reports quote him as saying  “Science is curiosity, testing and experimenting,” he said, adding that as a scientist, he was accumulating human knowledge and not playing cricket for India.
“Science is an international enterprise where discoveries in one part of the world are useful in other parts. The traffic should be both ways, and at present the flow from the West to India is more,” he noted.
Concluding his remarks, Mr. Ramakrishnan said, “I've been honest with you. You are free to disagree. That's science.”

This is not the first time Mr Ramakrishnan is echoing similar views.  Upon conferment of Nobel Prize, there was an article in Telgraph that he is not  one of those Indians constantly checking their BlackBerries. Going by the accent and appearance, there was an allusion  Robert Langdon, Dan Brown’s hero of The Da Vinci code.
He was quoted as saying that Nobel is not to be seen in narrow, nationalistic terms. “ Science is done for the pursuit of knowledge. It is not done to represent your national team. It has no national boundaries whatsoever. This is the thing that people need to realise.”  He had also expressed his desire not to change due to this recognition and had stated that his lab in Cambridge,  he is the 29th Nobel Prize winner in an elite list that includes Crick & Watson, the pair that unlocked the double helix of the DNA and the  lab has two Chinese, a Malaysian, a Canadian, an American, a German and  all sorts of people.
Just to recall, here is the list of Padma vibushan in 2010.  Ebrahim Alkasi (Art), Umayalpuram Sivaraman (Art), Zohra Segal (Art), Dr Yaga Venugopal Reddy (Public affairs), Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (Science and Engg) and Dr Pratap Chandra Reddy (Trade and Industry)
And in case, you are bewildered as to who these personalities were, here is something on them as well :
1)     Ebrahim Alkazi (1925) is one of  Indian theatre directors and Drama teachers in 20th century Indian theatre. He also remained the Director of National School of Drama, New Delhi (1962–1977)
2)      Zohra  Segal (1912) is an Indian stage and film actress.  She has appeared in many Bollywood films as well as English language films and television series.
3)      Umayalpuram Kasiviswanatha Sivaraman (1935) is a famous  mridangam player and carnatic music exponent
4)     Dr. Yaga Venugopal Reddy (1941) is an  IAS officer of 1964 who served as Governor of the Reserve Bank of India
5)     Dr  Prathap C Reddy  is a Cardiologist and entrepreneur who founded the first corporate chain of hospitals in India – the Apollo Hospitals Group revolutionizing health care.

In a country given to adoring Cine Heroes, Sportsmen, Politicians – erecting cut outs and pouring milk on the day of opening of film,  Venkatraman Ramakrishnan certainly belongs elsewhere.  

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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