Thus Spoke Sudarshan: An Interview with God's Own Physicist

Thus Spoke ECG Sudarshan: Interview with God's own Physicist.

This is a compilation of Sudarshan's interviews with Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Urjith A Yajinik and GK Rajesh.

Biographical Sketch.
*Sudarshan was a very famous Physicist of India, who challenged Albert Einstein's theory that nothing with mass could travel faster than light.
*Sudarshan discovered the possibility of existence of certain particles named Tachyons , which could travel faster than light.

Birth and Education

*Born in Kottayam, kerala in 1931 as Ennackal Chandy George Sudarshan.
*His contributions in Physics range from formulating fundamental ideas in particle Physics to understanding quantum nature in light.

*He was born and completed his basic education in Kerala.
*Graduated from CMS College, Kottayam.
*Later secured master's degree in physics from Madras University.
*After that he joined Tata Institute of Fundamental Research..
*There he worked with Homi Bhaba, the father of Indian Nuclear Program.

"After that he moved to Texas and worked as a professor in Physics at Rochester University and University of Texas, for 40 years.

His Major Contributions.

"VA Theory- a theory about weak interactions between subatomic particles.

*He continued his research work in weak interactions in collaboration with famous scientists like Marshak , Weinberg and the like.
*He has also made major contributions to the field of Quantum Optics.

*He was the first scientist to propose the existence of ' tachyons', particles that can travel faster than light.


*Though he was eligible for Nobel Prize he was subject to prolonged neglect.
*However, he was awarded the Dirac Medal of the ICTP in 2010
*Padmavibhushan in 2007.
*Kerala State Puraskaram in 2013.

*He died in 2018.

The Interview.

*This work is a compilation of excerpts from the interviews Sudarshan had with Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Yajinik and GK Rajesh.

*This compilation throws insights into Sudarshan's early life, education and his profession.

First Question.
Sudarshan's family and School.

*He was one among three brothers who belonged to a sort of academic home.
*His mother was a school teacher and he remembers how he was afraid of his father finding fault with his English.
*As a child, Sudarshan was fond of Maths.
He understood maths even without getting it explained.
*His fellow students, very often, tried to test his knowledge by asking him to solve maths problems.
*He remembers how he read his brothers physics textbook and got tremendously impressed by the formula of simple pendulum.
*But he says all these occured so naturally and he did it all without competition, for none seemed interested in them.

Second Question
Experience of having grown up in Kerala.

*He deems it a privilege to have grown up in Kerala, with its great culture that gave importance to learning.
*He remembers how well they were taught maths and language.
*According to him, Kerala was ahead of the rest in terms of pursuit of knowledge.
*But outside of that, both curriculum and texts were dull.

Third Question.
What does Physics mean to you?

*Physics, means everything to him.
*He says he doesn't know anything else better than Physics.
*He liked the excitement of looking at the world through the prism of Physics.

Fourth Question
Quantum mechanics
*He remembers how good his teachers were at MCC, who provided inspiration.
*Mr Thangaraj's optic course was inspiring, who loved to teach without notes, but carried chits in his pockets, which he used to pull out, at the right time during his lectures.
Sudarshan remembers, Optics was taught seriously in India, due to the presence of CV Raman, but once he went abroad, he realised that Optics was an old fashion there.

Fifth Question.
TIFR Recollections.

*He was at TIFR for three years.
*The food served was not suitable for a South Indian Palate
*The rotis were horrible.
*However they found a South Indian joint that served idlis.

*His contemporaries at TIFR were S S Jha, Raja Ramanna, Suryanarayan and K K Gupta.
*He had been assigned to the experimental cosmic ray group.
*The work involved identifying emulsion tracks of cosmic rays with great precision.
*But Sudarshan's hand was not steady and because of this reason he couldn't do it with precision.
*But his fellow student Biswas, whose hands were as steady as a rock could do it well.
*They also developed a model for this, which turned out to be quite effective.
*Sudarshan also started helping Dr Phadke's lab, whose group was designing an electron gun.
*Gradually Sudarshan emerged as a consultant to that group.
"During his first year at TIFR, Paul Dirac, the world famous English Physicist, visited TIFR and taught them a course in quantum mechanics for six months.
*To Sudarshan, he was very friendly.

Upon completion of your PhD, you were given a fellowship to join Harvard University by Julian Schwinger. What was your interaction with him?

*Though Marshak recommended me for a fellowship at Institute of Advanced studies to Oppenheimer.I was asked to wait until the next year, for it was already late ,and the term had already begun

*However Marshak approached Schwinger and he arranged a special fellowship for me at Harvard.
*I had a very short interview to test if I really knew anything beyond theories and diagrams.
*Finally I was hired.

What led to your decision to settle in the USA?

*While my advisor in India, told me that I won't make it,at Rochester they asked me where I was all this time.
*But the real reason is, he had expected to complete his PhD in 5 years, which he finished in just 2 years. After that he was offered job by Schwinger.
*In the meantime, Bhabha also offered him a job, but Marshak told him that Sudarshan already got a job with Schwinger.

So Bhabha also offered you a job.?

*Yes he too had offered me a job, says Sudarshan . 
*Bhabha was already aware of my achievements in the field of V-A theory.
* But it was already late, as Sudarshan joined Rochester.

Rochester Days: Really memorable days.

*The first year was really a memorable one.
*One day Marshak was out of his country
*The responsibility of his 10 students fell upon the next senior professor, Gabor.
*Gabor, who had some personal problems, vested the same along with teaching, on Sudarshan.

*Of course, teaching was his passion. But teaching those extraordinary students of *Marshak was very difficult.
*Chief among them were, Tom Jordan, Douglas Curry and Korkut Bardacki.

*At that time Sundaran was residing in the Bachelor's apartments, near students accomodation.
*So the students were free to approach him at any time.

*Jordan was very good with Maths, Curry though good at physics was always arguing.

*During that time Sudarshan was studying Paul Diracs proposal for relativistic theories of quantum mechanics.
*He used to discuss this with the students, who occasionally expressed differences in opinion, mainly with Curry.
*Later the three jointly published a paper on Manifest Covariance versus Relativistic Invariance.

*A new student named Mukunda arrives. He completed degree from Delhi University.
Sudarshan was almost afraid to talk to him.
Sudarshan was teaching classical mechanics that year and he had his own ways of teaching Because he hated the mechanical way in which maths was presented in the textbooks.
*This Mukunda used to take down lecture notes. Later when sudarshan went through these notes he thought that he must have been wise, as there were so many good things in those notes.

The Nobel Prize is the greatest Laurel in the academic world. But is it administered fairly?

*He said no. They could have nominated me for this prize for my PhD Thesis 1957. 
Atleast they could have given me the same after 10 years. But they didn't. Instead they gave it to someone who did something on top of what I did, bypassing the ground work done by me. 
*They gave his prize to Glauber. Glasgow, Salam and Weinberg did the next step to what Sudarshan did. Without the first step they couldn't have done it.
*Later he received the Dirac medal , that too on the tenth year of it.
*But he says that his life is not dependent on a nobel prize.

Recollections on IISC and IMSC.

*When Sundarshan took over IMSC it's budget was 3 crores. By the time, he handed it over, after 5 years, it was 30 crores.
*A lot went into building infrastructure and library renovation.

It was during that period, the academic staff' s salary was raised. 

*Sudarshan and team , then set up the Centre for Theoretical Studies in IISC, . Its mandate was to carry out research applying maths to both applied and basic sciences.

Once your name was synonymous with tachyons. now nothing is heard about it. Could you reflect on Tachyons?

*First Sundarshan denies that nothing is being heard about Tachyons. Even now Tachyons are relevant. It was two years ago, I proposed the existence of such particles and it created a great furore.
*People misunderstood things. 
*Usually as per the theory of relativity, if you give more and more energy to a particle, it can move faster but can never reach the speed of light. So people said this is an absolute barrier.

*Here lies our real problem 
*Light barrier is not the absolute barrier.
*There are particles that can travel faster than light but we are not discovering it.
*The necessity of discovering such things haven't urged us yet.
*Necessity is the mother of invention.
*To prove this Sundarshan suggests an analogy of a dog chasing us.
*If a dog is following you and if you think the dog is not well intentioned towards you, then you try to walk faster, eventually you start running. If the dog approaches you faster, then it would be very awkward and you wil be forced to break your maximum speed limit. This is the problem with us too.
*We haven't come across such a dog.
*Even the greatest scientist, Einstein said that nothing can travel faster than light.
Sudarshan denies it. Einstein made this statement centuries back, it was relevant then, but not today. Also at that time Einstein was an old man. Obviously he has said and done many good things, but what is the problem if one thing he said goes wrong?
*We need not do the same mistake again.
So if you ask me can anyone find particles that can travel faster than light, my answer would be yes.

Tachyons and application

*They have a wide range of application.
With tachyons , communication can be made faster.
*At present we are limited by the light barrier.
Once we overcome this, we can communicate with another star. 
*If we don't make use of these we are mere frogs in the ponds.

*Secondly, you can do things at a distance faster than light can travel. Your range of doing things get extended. It can bring in revolutionary changes in our life and economy.

*Sadly most of the people don't believe in Tachyons.

How do you rate the present standards of scientific research in India?. Are you pleased with the work that is happening in our universities and institutes?

*Except the hype, we could hardly see any results coming out of it.
*Most of the scientists are locked up in their comfort zones with no desire to excel.
*Progress is not made by repeating things that has already been done.

Do you think that we still lack facilities for doing decent science in India?.

*It is not the facilities but attitude that really matters.
*Today many people migrate to foreign lands in pursuit of science and the explanation they give for that is there they have better facilities.

*It is not the facilities that we do lack, but a proper scientific temper .
*Sudarshan says that one doesn't need a laboratory for doing science. I just walk around with my hands in my pocket. Once stricken with an idea I just take it down on the paper.
*Also I don't agree with the general opinion that science is doing all the right things.
*But the number of scientists today when compared to the times before is amazing.
*There were no scientists those days. The people who taught us were ones who learnt a little more and sometimes did not know very much more. 
*But now there are scientists everywhere.
Also the amount of scientific research carried out today is very high. But it could be better.
*For instance there are big national laboratories which do not do anything.
*Earlier people were satisfied with a master's degree alone. But now things have changed they pursue PhD and even post doctoral. So there is a steady growth in the rate of doing research, but it is a very awkward growth. It is just like a tumour.
*Our system has a lot of money for nonsense like God's particles and the like, but no fund for the universities and institutions.

Have you considered moving back to kerala?

*I think of it often, but I don't think I can.
*Now people here regards me as a guest.
Once I move back permanently, I fear they might perceive me as a pest.
*So I am happy as a guest.

What is your message for students today?

*Now I can see that the trait of doing things out of one's own curiosity or interest or by one's own efforts have gone from students ( inspired inquiry).
*Aa a result our education has gone down.
Sudarshan says that, while he was at MCC, I learnt more than people learnt for their PhD course.

*Also students should be aware of the interconnectedness of things. 
*Especially those who opt physics should realise that physics is a connected subject.
If you are a physicist, you must know about the melting of ice, which requires a thorough knowledge of the various allotropic variations of ice.. so things are connected. 
*One such person was CV Raman.
*Inorder to study the process scattering of life, he had to do research in a kind of blue butterflies who got attracted to blue hibiscus flowers.
*Likewise he also did research in musical instruments for his theory of vibrating strings.

*So this same sense of inspired inquiry needs to be brought into the honours class.