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CNR Rao: Bharat finds a jewel in science

DC | B.R. SRIKANTH
Published Nov 17, 2013, 1:09 pm IST
Updated Mar 18, 2019, 6:40 pm IST
Rao is the second scientist to win Bharat Ratna; Just want to be a good man, says Prof Rao.

Bengaluru: The Sun shines on Prof. C.N. R. Rao at 80. It is the Sun embossed on a Peepal leaf, with the words ‘Bharat Ratna’ (Jewel of India) below it.

On Saturday, Prof. Rao, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Council and India’s most cited researcher, became only the second Indian scientist to win the honour.

 

As he stepped off a flight from Thiruvananthapuram, with wife Indumathi Rao beside him, Prof. Rao’s first thoughts were to pay tribute to his mother Nagamma and remember his inspiration, Nobel laureate and the first scientist to win the Bharat Ratna Sir C. V. Raman.

Doing Science had given him supreme satisfaction, he said.

As a dozen scientists and former chief of DRDO Dr. V. K Aatree crowded around Prof Rao and his wife Indumathi Rao on their arrival from Thiruvananthapuram at the airport, the scientist told Deccan Chronicle in an exclusive interview that though he worked with scores of young scientists and with several Prime Ministers to promote science and technology in the country, the feeling for science and the satisfaction of being a scientist was incomparable.

“I feel basic science is getting its due now. I used to say earlier that Dr Homi Bhabha should get this honour and also some other eminent researchers. Scientists work very, very had but rarely get recognition. I have been working for 62 years. I was 17 when I started my research. I am going to be 80 soon,” he added. 

His wife Mrs Rao said “I am overwhelmed. He (Prof. Rao) is a unique person.”

Prof Rao said he would continue to inspire youngsters to take to science but wouldn’t consider himself an icon. “Based on my work, if somebody considers me a good man then I will be very happy. I have done a lot to get young people interested in science and will continue to do it.”

Recalling his association with the late Sir Raman, Prof Rao said he visited the Nobel prize-winning scientist’s laboratory in Bengaluru first as an 11 year-old school boy. “He was the first to recognize my interest in science and has given me a lot of encouragement. He made me a member of the Indian Academy of Sciences when I was only 30. I can never be equal to him.”

He said his late mother Nagamma’s blessings helped him gain recognition worldwide. “She used to bless me and say may Goddess Saraswathi bestow you with knowledge so that you win every award.”

Admitting that news of the award came as a complete surprise to him, Prof Rao said “I heard about it (award) when I was at the Thiruvananthapuram airport. An airline employee said there was an urgent phone call from somebody who wanted to greet me. I turned my cell phone on and then got a call from PM Manmohan Singh. I thanked him for the honour.”

He congratulated Sachin Tendulkar on winning the same award.

Next: Science, not power, for Prof Rao

Science, not power, for Prof Rao

Bengaluru: Ram”, as Prof Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao is known to fellow scientists, has always set higher goals for himself in research, a trait that helped him churn out more than 1,600 research papers and over 40 books, the highest by an Indian scientist. He has preferred science to positions of power, rejecting a berth in the Union cabinet and membership of Rajya Sabha a couple of times.

“I never compromise on quality, and work hard to achieve things that are beyond one’s reach,” says Prof Rao, while speaking about his research and the fact that he heads the table with the highest citation index of 103 which mirrors his position at the high table of cutting edge science.

The recognition for his work has come in the form on election to every academy of science, including the Chinese and Vatican academy of sciences.  In January 2013, he won China's top science award for his contribution in boosting Sino-India scientific cooperation.     

Fellow scientists recall Prof. Rao’s long hours at the lab—an average of 12-14 hours a day while juggling administrative responsibilities.

While serving as director of Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and President of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Prof Rao would arrive at his lab first at 8: 00 am, work for an hour before heading to the office, and return again to the lab in the evening.

On weekends and holidays, Prof Rao spent the entire day at the lab.  

Prof C.N.R. Rao with his wife Indumathi and others at his residence in IISc campus in Benglauru on Saturday — DC

In 2004, Prof Rao and his entire family had a providential escape when tsunami struck while they were holidaying in Sri Lanka. He, his wife Indumathi Rao, his son Sanjay and grandson Karthik were out in a boat when the oarsman realized an unusual rise in the level of water and raced back to the shore.

A world-renowned chemist and an authority on solid state and materials chemistry, Prof Rao has led teams which developed high temperature superconductors, a variety of new materials including nano materials. As Chairman of Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Council, he catalyzed an indigenous effort aimed at developing supercomputers.

Thanks to his efforts, the Union government instituted fellowships to reverse brain drain, and established Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) across the country to encourage teenage students to take up research.

That’s not all. He has been travelling to remote towns and speaking on science topics to encourage more young men and women to take up research. A Trust run by him and his wife felicitate best science teachers from all over the country on June 30, his birthday, every year.   

Born to Hanumantha Nagesa Rao and Nagamma Nagesa Rao, Prof Rao graduated from Mysore University in 1951 and secured masters in science from Banaras Hindu University in 1953. After securing his post-doctoral degree (Ph.D) from Purdue University in Indiana State in 1958, he returned to India in 1961 and joined  Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Kanpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh in 1963, as a faculty in its chemistry department.

After serving at IIT-Kanpur till 1976, he  a visiting professor at Purdue University, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge in Britain and University of California in the US during 1980s.

In 1984, he took over as director of IISc, and served for a decade before moving on to head JNCASR.

Next: ‘Industry doesn’t do enough research’

‘Industry doesn’t do enough research’

Darshana Ramedev | DC

Bengaluru: On a bitingly cold, rainy Saturday evening at the Indian Institute of Science, Professor CNR Rao’s house, nestled in a dense, wooded area, slowly fills with people. A couple of professors mill about, waiting to offer their congratulations. Soon, a group of students troop in, totally unperturbed by the weather, some clutching bouquets, all of them wearing big, proud smiles.

"Professor Rao and his wife treat us like family," said Urmila Mehtra, a PhD student working under Professor Rao at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, of which he is the founding president. "We're so happy for him, his contribution to science in India and abroad is enormous. Despite his age and his fame, we have become a second family to him and his wife,” she smiled.

Professor Rao arrived at this point, and was surrounded by a large group of well-wishers. "Science is everything to me," Professor Rao said, smiling broadly. "I have received awards from all over the world, but Bharat Ratna is special, because my country is finally celebrating my work. I don't want money, all I want is science," he remarked. "South Korea and China are both booming at the moment, we need to catch up with them. India should be one of the top three countries in terms of science and research."

Does he believe this will motivate youngsters to consider careers in research? Is enough being done toward this? "Times are changing," he said. "The government has begun doing a lot to promote research in the country, especially among the youth."

Can more be done to bridge the gap between industry and research? "I think industry doesn't do enough research," he replied at once, although he declined to elaborate on the matter for the moment.

Professor Ramamurthy, from the Materials Engineering department, who had collaborated with Professor Rao in the past, was the first to arrive at his house, bouquet in hand.

"India has always recognised her scientists, but Professor Rao receiving the Bharat Ratna will glamorise research, which needs to be done," he said.

"Professor Rao deserves this award. I'm in my prime now and I manage to put together 20 papers a year. Professor Rao still writes about 30! He's working all the time, he breathes science, it is his life."

 

 

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Location: Karnataka




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