Abhay Ashtekar, an Indian scientist who has dedicated the last four years to studying gravitational science, will soon be awarded the prestigious Einstein prize, which was established by the American Physical Society (APS) in 1999.
This year, the award carries a prize of $10,000 and will be conferred upon Ashtekar “..for numerous and seminal contributions to general relativity, including the theory of black holes, canonical quantum gravity, and quantum cosmology.”
Here are six facts you should know about the brilliant scientist:
1. Born in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, Ashtekar studied in a Marathi medium school in Mumbai till he was 11 years old. He was introduced to Hindi and English literature only after that.
2. When his school lessons started including physics concepts, he realised how physics is constant whereas art, literature is subjective to cultures, places and people.
Speaking to Edex Live, Ashtekar said, “What is considered great in one language or context could well be mediocre in another. At the same time, I learned Newton’s laws and universality of gravity—what makes the apple fall on earth also makes the planets go around the sun. This was stunning by itself… It was striking to me that the same Newton’s laws are taught and admired in India as in China, Japan and the West.” This was when the scientist in the young Ashtekar was born.
3. Ashtekar completed his undergraduate education in India, and enrolled in the graduate program for gravitation, at the University of Texas at Austin. He went on to complete his PhD from the University of Chicago.
“Later, in college, fundamental physics seemed to me to be the deepest and purest way to pursue [an] understanding of Nature (the external world). In graduate school, I chose to work in general relativity, cosmology and quantum physics because that is where the most fundamental questions about space, time and the nature of the physical universe are discussed,” he said.
4. The scientist has held several important appointments in Oxford, Paris, Syracuse, Canada and India.
His bio-sketch in the National Academy of Sciences reads, “Abhay Ashtekar is a theoretical physicist specialising in general relativity, cosmology and quantum gravity. He is best known for initiating the Loop Quantum Gravity program by introducing new variables to simplify Einstein’s equations, for analysing the very early universe using Loop Quantum Cosmology, and for his contributions to the study of the asymptotic structure of space-time and gravitational waves in full non-linear general relativity.”
5. Currently, he works as the Eberly Professor of Physics and Director for the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos at the Pennsylvania State University, USA.
6. This year, the gravitation scientist will be awarded the Einstein Prize by the APS, which he regards as a “lifetime achievement”. “The award, usually to a single individual, is for outstanding achievement, in theory, experiment or observation in the area of gravitational physics. It is open to any scientist, worldwide,” records the APS.
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7. Ashtekar is confident that Indian scientists and researchers, like him, are on the path to making groundbreaking discoveries in the near future.
“There are extremely talented physicists in India who are making first-rate contributions to pure physics in areas I have first-hand acquaintance with. I am particularly pleased by the ‘LIGO-India’ project that is now placing India firmly in the front ranks of international efforts. The Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, in particular, will play an important role in the major discoveries that will be made with the international network of gravitational wave observatories between 5 and 10 years from now,” he said.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)