Saturday, August 21, 2010

Festival of geometry

These are those rare occasions in life when it becomes possible to concentrate on things completely surreal  without getting too much affected by the mortal issues. In general I do find it difficult to concentrate on doing my science after I have a had a walk along say the streets of Mumbai and seeing people living on them in abject poverty. And I have no reason to feel optimistic that any science I ever do will help them. This depresses me at some sub-conscious level. But then probably my love for ethereal surpasses my mortal pains. This ICM Satellite meet at IISc on "Geometric Topology and Riemannian Geometry" that I happened to be selected to attend was not free of such aspects. The key facet was the intensity of the mathematics and the opportunity to meet people with similar interests. (as I have never done! It is quite a rejuvenating experience to spend hours at a stretch talking to people who are all interested and intrigued by the same questions and issues.) The palpable thrill of being able to discuss geometry with professional geometers did help me take my mind off such nagging issues like the food which was unhealthy enough to make me and some others sick (looking at the correlation of events the suspect is the restaurant called Nesara inside IISc), that the bathrooms very often had no soap and that for some queer reason students from Princeton in similar stage of their PhD as me were put up in hotels. (whereas I got a student hostel to live in which was at least way better than the terrible accommodation that I had gotten when I last visited IISc as a KVPY fellow some 7 years ago) I have no clue why this discrimination was done but when I pointed out this seemingly racist arrangement to one of the organizers I got back some gibberish like "you are not equal to them" and "foreigners are not allowed to live inside the campus" etc. I was almost being tried to be given the impression that my fellow Princeton student was paying for his hotel (clearly this is false as I found by cross checking with them) whereas I on the other hand was being given some 800Rs as DA. (with no harm to me I could have easily returned back the 3500Rs odd of TA/DA but given the scenario such an act of mine might have been considered indecent!) As far as I can infer from experiences (may be I am wrong) even TIFR probably as some policy like this whereby every random grad student from outside India when lands up here will get a guest house room in the campus which is almost always out of bounds for similar standing Indian student visitors. Anyway when I first visited TIFR as a summer student I was given an accommodation so far away from the campus that I found it more beneficial for academics to spend my nights sleeping on the sofas and taking bath in the night-guard's bathroom.

The conference did start with some very dubious facets like an Internet arrangement that was yet to be set-up when I arrived. (apparently I was "very early" by arriving one day before the start). The travel instructions somehow seemed to say that there will be someone waiting to receive the visitor at the airport if one arrived by plane. Of course people like me who can't afford to travel by planes had to struggle around to get to the conference location. (Interestingly 7-years ago KVPY organizers had arranged for a pickup when I arrived on plane for the summer camp} {some fancy for the "sky-people"? (Avatar!)} Even when the Internet facility was set-up it was under lock and key! So there was no way I could have accessed the Internet without first wasting quite a bit of time running around to figure out which volunteer had the key. Clearly at night it was impossible to do this. By the time the lectures ended and I got some breathing space to check my emails the mathematics office considered it to be the end of working hours and hence locked the computer room meant for the visitors! Thankfully some of the volunteers after a day or two realized that I am the only one around who is using the Internet facility and they let me keep the key. (Most others had laptops who connected using the wifi in the conference hall)

Some students in IISc apparently mistook me for a prof! (happy to know that somehow my face didn't look like some teenager's to them like many strangers think!) and some people observed to me,

 "Why are you so happy the whole day? Why do you always have a smile?"

Never heard that from anyone!
  Anyway coming from a formal background in Physics it was an interesting experience to attend a mathematics conference for the first time. It was fun being the only Physics student in the midst.
It was quite an experience to attend a Hindustani Classical music (on Clarinets) concert by Narsimhalu Vadavati with a bunch of some of the best mathematicians. (weirdly enough the Japanese people seem to have been visibly enjoying what looked quite cacophonous to me!) The very low quality of the music left me depressed. Definitely India has far far better music to showcase to the world. Add to that the fact that the acoustics of the hall at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) were pretty bad with the ear splitting at the higher pitches. And then the power fails for a few minutes during the concert drowning us all in total darkness. Though not the first time. It happened the same way when Hutchings (from U.C.Berkeley) was explaining to a full packed hall the mysteries of the geometries of soap bubbles. (Interesting that we still don't have even a conjecture about what the shape should be for more than 4 bubbles together!) Such organizational fiascoes from the Indian side leaves me pretty much embarrassed while sitting in the crowd amidst an international crowd.

Hutchings amazed me by his conspicuous silence throughout the conference whether during lectures or during tea-breaks. It is hard to find someone who so rarely ever talks! He never asked a single question nor did I ever see him interacting with many others. But it was endearing to see his childish enthusiasm and smile when on stage explaining even utterly complicated stuff like his recent discoveries of new obstructions to symplectic embeddings in 4-dimensions.

I had a quite interesting conversations with Fernando, a Riemannian Geometry prof from Brazil. (After all one of the standard texts in the subject was written by doCarmo, a Brazilian). Fernando's talk was very neatly organized which made it very appealing to beginners like me.

I had some very fruitful conversations with this guy Aron Naber . He did his bachelors in aeronautical engineering from Penn State and then did a PhD in Riemannian Geometry at Princeton under Gang Tian! During his PhD he completely classified all Ricci Solitons on 4-manifolds. He is just 1 year into his post-doc and he has been invited to speak at ICM satellite meet!

Interestingly he wanted me to explain to him what are sigma models! That is a very exotic QFT thing. Wonder why is he interested in it. He tells me that people are smelling that the good old idea of sigma models in QFT have some deep Riemannian Geometry hidden in them! I explained to him whatever I knew about sigma models. 
Aaron's knowledge of geometry is awesome and I gained a lot from him.

He shared with me his various insights about Ricci flows and solitons.
I got pretty much charged up to follow up further on this topics.

Interestingly Shiraz (with whom I have very regular interactions in theoretical physics) had some insights about what are called rotationally invariant gradient solitons years back in this paper of his. It seems that there quite a non-trivial interest in being able to see if there is a cause-effect relationship between existence of a Kahler-Ricci soliton on a manifold  and flat (in any sense) metrics on the cone over it. There are some technical conditions on this base manifold like it has to be
compact complex manifolds whose first Chern number is positive (Fano Manifolds)(examples being the projective space probably)     Apparently if the manifold is Einstein then the cone is probably Calabi-Yau and that is apparently of interest in physics.

Some other examples of interesting open questions which excited me were,

{not that I understand the exact issues but something tells me that these are interesting}

* If you start with a negative sectional curvature metric then is/when the constant scalar curvature metric in its conformal class also of negative sectional curvature? The problem seems to be that being of negative sectional curvature is an open condition and hence it is not clear as to whether it is preserved under Ricci Flow.

* Are there hyperbolic 3-manifolds with a foliation whose leaves are minimal surfaces?

* Seems to me that there is quite a serious problem in finding an analogue of Heegard-Floer homology for 4-manifolds. (The motivation being that Seiberg-Witten invariant for 4-manifolds is analogous to the Alexander polynomial on 3-manifolds)

* People seem to want to know whether a hyperbolic 3-manifold is always finitely covered by a fibered 3-manifold. 

* It seems that there are some topological restriction to putting hyperbolic metrics on spaces and it is not known whether one can put an hyperbolic metric on surface bundles over surfaces.

I hope that at some point in future I will get time and opportunity to spend time thinking about these.

Here I mention some basic issues that I discussed with Aaron and gained clarity about,

* Transitive action of the isometry group on the tangent spaces does not guarantee that it will take an orthonormal basis to another. In some vague sense the number of orthonormal basis in a vector space grows exponentially with the dimension and just transitivity can't match up. Being "maximally isotropic"  or "maximally symmetric" (both meaning that they have n(n+1)/2 Killing fields or that is the dimension of the Isometry group) is necessary to make the isometry action be transitive on the set of all orthonormal basis of a tangent space (and make sectional curvature constant). Thats what happens for the euclidean planes, spheres and the hyperbolic planes and also for the FRW metric in usual cosmology.

Basically the idea is that homogeneity and isotropy is not enough to get constant sectional curvature. Homogeneity alone gets only scalar curvature constant and isotropy at a point gets only Ricci curvature constant. (it basically maps every 1-dim subspace isometrically to another and Ricci basically depends only on a basis)

Homogeneity and Isotropy together hence give only a constant Ricci curvature manifold.

* If you can act on a constant curvature (probably in any sense) by a discrete subgroup of the isometry group then you end up as a quotient another constant curvature Riemannian manifold whose fundamental group is isomorphic to the discrete subgroup you started with. But whether or not the quotient is compact and whether what its genus will be (if definable) are much harder questions.

I had come across this concept while I was trying to understand some paper of Witten's where he seemed to be creating solutions of Einstein's equations by acting on the hyperbolic plane by discrete subgroup of isometries of that.

One more interesting piece of insight from Fernando's talk that I ruminated over during these is that from the Gauss-Bonnet it is not so hard to see that on a torus if the sectional curvature is always non-negative then it is surely 0.

Now it seems that this kind of "rigidity" theorems also hold in higher dimensions but they get enormously harder and only work case by case.

The statement for n-dimensional torus was due to none other than Gromov and Lawson.

A particularly interesting generalization of this is by Schoen and Tau who showed that "mass" as defined in General Relativity always has to be positive. (intuitively this should always be true but this was far from obvious from just the Einstein's equations). Apparently there is a more sophisticated proof of it by Witten using Penrose's twistors. (I guess this is the same Schoen who proved the famous Yamabe conjecture that on compact manifolds every conformal class of metrics has a constant scalar curvature metric)

A general idea behind these rigidity theorems is that given a manifold with a metric a compactly supported metric deformation cannot change the scalar curvature. This is something that I would like to understand further.

I also met this very eloquent PhD student at Princeton called Nick who is looking into Conformal Geometry (under Wang). I got along very well with him. He happens to be a batchmate of Arul (he was one year senior to be at CMI). Among the many interesting quips he made about Maths and doing a PhD, one was, "If you really like someone then you should get married otherwise one marries either before or after a PhD". {Of course getting a PhD is simpler than that!} This came up in the context of Aron having already married while only 1 year out of his PhD. (of course there were rumours about who will get the Fields but now talking about them is pointless, but definitely it is completely exciting that half the Fields medals have been given for proving conjectures in condensed matter physics and one can read a short very insightful review of them here by none other than Terence Tao, another Fields medalist himself) Though Michael Usher said, "Fields medal? Who cares?" (Usher gave a very nice talk with lots of motivations!)

Interestingly Nick tells me that given the hugely depleting number of geometry students in his place he is very lonely in his working. (On my side geometry definitely looks almost extinct!). And he tells me that many students in Princeton work for long hours alone and rarely ever talk to others. (interestingly he says he is one of them though I found him quite loquacious!)

Good to know that I am not the only lonely one around. (as one often feels in TIFR where the rest are always huddled into groups doing some calculation which I don't find interesting)

Nick and I chatted about everything under the sun from windmills to conformal metrics and a lot about student-advisor relationships and the hiccups about beginning research. We talked quite a bit about the issue of building pre-requisites for research. (so many things in Riemannian geometry end up being questions in Cartan's classification of semi-simple Lie Groups. How many geometry PhD students know the proof of Cartan's classification? Nick tells me none!)  It was nice to find someone to talk to about some of these issues which have been also puzzling me off-late.

Nick did his undergrad from Washington-Seattle.

Nick tells me that at Princeton many people work completely alone and since people don't have to attend classes together there is very little bonding between the people. He says that people at U.Chicago form a very well-knit group since they go together to classes. We talked about which is better, to have regular classes and courses or to be left alone to read as in Princeton. 

Aaron's wife works as a counselor in some "Residential Home" for "crazy teenage girls". They are basically taking care of lunatics and helping them rehabilitate them. Aaron says that such social work is simply horrible life since there is lot of work and she gets paid zilch for it. He tells me that he would for nothing on earth take up social work as a career. Apparently it has been listed at the top of some recently brought out "never take up" jobs list. Apparently Mathematics is at the top of best jobs in the US! He didn't lose chance poke at me by pointing out that Physics features somewhere in the 6th or 7th position.

I met my CMI prof KV at the joint dinner between the geometry and the representation theory conference. He asked about my whereabouts and seemed pretty friendly to me. He has also been following on the Vinay Deolalikar stuff and he says that people are apparently convinced that the proof doesn't work but something interesting might be going on.

I also got saw the legendary Kashiwara around. Though I didn't talk to him.

On the mathematical front I was quite enthralled by the talks given by Ron Stern and Ron Fintushel. Awesome people. It was quite exciting to talk to them too. Stern tells me, "One learns Seiberg-Witten Theory if one really wants to learn it". And anyway one upshot of many of the talks was that I should get excited everytime I hear of a lagrangian submanifold of a symplectic manifold. Apart from just a rewriting of good old classical mechanics I had not taken symplectic forms that seriously. Seems I should. And also I had never taken a keen interest in spaces where the dimension is not constant even on connected components. These are of course not manifolds. But then they are very exciting in Riemannian Geometry. For one thing these don't have a well-defined notion of "tangent spaces" but have "tangent cones". And more curiously these might not even be unique. From whatever Aaron says it seems to me that these are known in Physics as "orbifolds". I wonder if they are the same things. Aaron has proved some rate of growth theorems about the dimensions of these stuff for lower bounded Ricci curvature spaces and the formulas looks like Holder Inequalities. (strange!)
 Andras Stipsicz made this very thought provoking statement while analyzing the path-breaking work of Sucharit,

{Sucharit and 3-manifolds have become almost synonymous now!}

"3-manifold are like prime numbers" 
Sucharit's talk was one blitzkrieg of intelligence overflow.

He made his intentions very clear by his opening lines,

"All this is very interesting to me but will be either known to some of you or will be simply too overcomplicated. Hence I will go fast anyway"

He set up an algorithm by which any link could be written as a grid diagram (like Tic-Tac-Toe) and a set of moves on it which basically mimicked the Reidmaster moves and showed that all his moves give cobordant links. Then he constructed a hugely complicated derivative operator which sums over some very queerly chosen blocks inside that grid and miraculously its composition with itself is 0! And hence you have invented a homology theory.

Now the biggest miracle is that this is precisely the Heegard-Floer homology.

Sucharit says,

"The definition is too complicated but it comes out naturally"

Except probably Andras and Siddharth nobody asked a question and the entire talk ended with the same eerie silence as it went with.

Anyway on a larger scale it does seems to be quite a big thing to do to be able to see in absolutely unexpected places interesting dimension lowering maps whose self-composition is 0. Thats the name of the game. You have discovered a homology theory! Things are miraculous if that gives a finite process of counting in the space of maps in some other well known homology theory.

Pursuit of geometry does bring one to very endearing events in life.This guy Nick from Princeton was very nice to me.

He said to me "I think you should definitely meet Gabai" and he introduced me to David Gabai! It was quite an opportunity to get to talk to this legend.

I have been startled by the exuberance and energy of Gabai. I don't know of of many students in their 20s who are so excited about mathematics as this some 60 year old guy! He always had a sparkling smile on his face and was always scribbling on with something or the other in mathematics. I was just stunned by this guy's never ending energy to talk about mathematics and always so with a huge smile on his face!

I also saw "Mahan Maharaj" around apparently one of the very famous "swamis" at Ramkrishna Mission/Ramkrishna Mission Vivekananda university. He allegedly secured a very high rank in the IIT entrance exam in 1987, the same year Rajesh Gopakumar topped it. Rajesh did his PhD from Princeton and Mahan did his from Berkeley. As far as I hear after some more years around as post-doc he gave up normal life and took "diksha" and became a "swami" living that stern life.

Mahan is pretty famous for his work on hyperbolic manifolds and what are called "ending lamination spaces". I have heard a lot about him from 2 of my acquaintances who have studied under him during their undergrad. He has apparently been working very hard with the organization at his place to make subjects are differential geometry compulsory for Physics undergrads and subjects like Conformal Field Theory and Classical Mechanics compulsory for maths undergrads. He has had partial success.

Finally I saw him around here. David Gabai seemed to be very fond of him. Mahan has an awesome physical built!

He gave his seminar wearing that typical saffron coloured kurta and beneath a saffron coloured wrap around dhoti.  His talk was about some partial solution of the Hilbert-Smith conjecture. His was clearly the best Indian talk. (compared to unspeakably bad talk by Ramesh Sharma and add to that his distractingly irrelevant mention of some calculation tricks in "ancient Indian mathematics" at the beginning of the talk) Mahan had an awesome level of confidence and a charismatic speaker. His intelligence was almost palpable. Fintushel one day came up with a question as to whether every involution on the product of two Riemann surfaces of different genus splits as a product of involution on each. The very next day Mahan went up on the board and gave a proof for it. In fact he proved a stronger statement that it splits for any discrete group action. (or something like that). Interestingly it was Fintushel's birthday on which Gabai said ,"This is Mahan's birthday gift for him" Gabai said that "I won't reveal Fintushel's age but he now qualifies for medical aid"

Gabai led the congregation to sing a "Happy Birthday to You" song for Fintushel to which he replied, "I thank you all from the bottom of my heart" The camaraderie between these stalwarts in geometry was very inspiring.

I am not just irreligious but anti-religious but it doesn't stop me from appreciating Mahan. This guy can go around as a brilliant mathematician and except for his dress there will be no reason to see or know of his such queer affiliations. Thankfully he doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve.

I planned out a dinner with Nick and I was wondering if he would make it to the appointed spot treading through this so complicated campus with innumerable lanes and forests. And I was overwhelmed when around the meeting time I saw Nick standing by the side of the nearby jungle poring over a map of the campus!

I went up to him and saved him further trouble to what already he had taken up to find his way through this labyrinth to come and meet me.
I was simply overwhelmed by this gesture. I don't remember the last time I was at the receiving end of such efforts!

Over dinner we managed to talk about a myriad of topics. Nick asked me about my family and he wondered "So does your entire family do mathematics?" !
Then he asked me whether I have brothers or sisters and whether they too do mathematics. He told me that he has a brother who is also a maths undergrad at Washington university. His father is a chemist who "works with fishes for the government" and his mother apparently used to check car license certificates but gave up the job after he was born. And his mother was 42 when he was born and he also a brother! (My mother is currently 42!) He gave me a long lecture on what he sees computers to be able to do by 2050. In this context he explained to me how using ZFC one can code every mathematics proof as a sequence of symbols drawn from a finite set and how using some simple rules a computer can be made to check in finite time whether this proof is correct and how this implies that in principle a computer can also come up with a proof given a statement. And how this entire thing relies on Godel's incompleteness and how this is impractical because of time-complexity issues. Apparently Russel was the first person who showed that this can be done and using this coding technique he took 77 pages to prove that 1+1=2! (But this is important since that is apparently the only way known by which a computer can be made to understand the proof of 1+1=2. It is also apparently the first example of a computer comprehensible mathematical proof and very few such examples are known) Then he went on to explain to me how using the axiom of choice coupled to this technique one can make the computer understand statements like "take any 2 points in the topological space". And how this connects to "Model Theory"

Interestingly he has picked up all this while he did philosophy courses as a maths undergrad. This is very interesting that philosophy courses end up teaching so much of deep mathematics. (Philosophy courses as I have seen some Indian students do in Indian colleges is just pathetic nonsense)

He imagines that the time-complexity issues of coding proofs will be the next big thing computer technology is going to achieve. All this while he was so excitedly and animatedly explaining it all this, he seemed to clearly forget that there are other people around in the restaurant! We went on to talk about Avatar, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Celine Dione and Crisswell and Golem! (comparing the similarity of the technology between how Golem and Avatars were created)  Then the discussion shifted to cooking and had a laugh comparing each other's astounding cooking skills. (He has gotten addicted to Chicken-Tandoori and Garlic-Naan and thats what we ordered. I introduced him to Lassi which he found awesome) He seemed to have had a very interesting undergrad where he took 5 years to get an MSc from Washington-Seattle. In those 5 years he did some 10 undergrad courses and some 20 graduate courses. And he had the opportunity to replace the undergrad algebra courses where Artin is covered by 3 quarters of Algebra courses where Dummite and Foote is covered. And he took one full graduate course on curves and surfaces! (Its a terrible state in India that people can get BSc. in Maths never having done any theory of curves and surfaces like the ones in the book by Pressley or Singer and Thorpe). While in Washington he did 3 courses in differential geometry where basically the 2 books by Lee were done. (I have read most of Lee's second book and it is beautiful) His complex analysis course looks very inspiring to me where they took 2 quarters to do Ahlfors' book thoroughly! They spent about a month learning how to do real integrals using contour integration and doing those curious summations using complex analysis. I was mentally comparing to that the terribly unspeakable Complex Analysis course which I did in CMI where that horrible compressed book by Remmert was declared to be over in 4 months and never ever was using contour integration to do real integrals discussed and that was called a misuse of complex analysis course! Thankfully I have picked up a lot of that given the efforts of Amol to make us go through that in details, Probably the most (of the rare few) important things I learnt in any TIFR classes. It was simply impossible for me to understand from Cauchy-Riemann Equations to Casoratti-Weirstarss theorem in 4 months. (as was attempted in one of those rare bad maths courses in CMI) A first course can at most go up to Riemann Mapping Theorem or at best Picard Theorem but even that was not done (judiciously so) in this Nick's college even in 6 months.

Nick told me of his experience of meeting Terence Tao when he visited UCLA before applying there. He was completely awed by that guy (and why shouldn't one be!). Apparently Terence took him out to the botanical garden and showed him around all the curious plants they have. Expectedly Nick says that Terence was probably one of the most friendly and kind people he has ever met. They did discuss some mathematics about what Terence was doing then. Never did it become an issue that he was talking to probably one of the greatest thinkers ever. 

I had decided to pay for the bill but Nick put up an enormous protest and he wanted to pay. He was under the impression that I was an undergrad and when I told him that I get a stipend he agreed to reduce his stake to 70% of the bill. He said that he will pay the full bill if I ever come around to his place.

Post dinner we had a walk where he came up to my accommodation to see where I live.

Probably one of the best of the rare few dinner outings I have ever had.

I ended this trip by meeting an acquaintance of mine in Bangalore whom I technically know for the last 22 years but haven't met for many years in between. Interestingly while out with him I witnessed the upcoming Bangla band "Backbenchers" perform life at PlanetM. It was quite impressive.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A life through links

In this ever resource constrained world thanks to the struggle for whatever little there is up for grabs, it is getting easier and easier to label people. It is getting harder to control the addictive simplicity of boxing people into narrow containers of  what the classifier wants to see. It has become so hard to refuse the convenience of seeing people as taking sides if one argues for a cause. It is so easy to hold the resources hostage to bargain social compliance. 

Like in the wake of incidents like Dantewada, one dare not rise up for the people in the Gadchiroli village, you might run the risk of being called a Maoist (which has become synonymous with being a terrorist probably not without good reason).  One dare not say the prof is teaching completely wrong stuff lest one faces social backlash. One better be careful to decontextualize every academic discussion so as to not hurt the egos of someone powerful but has no clue of the academic content of the discussion. (We have now new names like "diplomatic skills" or "soft skills" as euphemism for bad words like "playing politics") One dare not speak against nuclear energy if one is taking salary from the Government of India, or worse from the Department of Atomic Energy. One dare not show contempt for pro-women political smooth-talking  lest be threatened to lose potential life-partners.

In this world of threats and arm-twist bargains that I live, it is only getting harder to say the truth, blog, have a chat, publicly discuss, argue, Buzz. I was so naive when I thought that science is all about rational thinking. I was so stupid when I believed that precision and correctness though not the forte of politicians does find appreciation in science.

Growing up is all about disillusionment.

I thought trying out here another form of political smooth talking that I have unfortunately learnt being in academics, avoid the risk of having to show courage of saying something on one's own by filling up writings with web-links. 

So here I list some of the web-sites which I have been following for the past few months,

* You-tube like non-English websites this and this one.

* Homes pages of some students in Berkeley whose academic interests largely overlap with mine Kevin Lin, Schoemmer Pries, and Theo

*  Witten's QFT lecture notes, fall and spring.

* Some papers on the importance and validity of intelligence and its measurement like, this one , this Gladwell's article, on the importance of g, this blog on intelligence measurement, this article in NYMagazine, (though I have strong objection to this practice in New York schools as explained in this article), and this one about there being so few girls in mathematics.

Inspite of all the research one is still left waiting for the Indian education system (especially the Physics ones that I am more familiar with) to recognize the importance of intelligence and more importantly to recognize that "specific skills" are not to be confused with "general intelligence", the former have a lower cognitive floor and is trainable. We can't skew the system in such a way that "skills" become more important than "intelligence". Just because one can repair broken cars one is not a mechanical engineer. Just because one can do large integrations fast or use Mathematica or can write C++ programs one is not a physicist! 

* An interesting CFT paper

* Discussion on the Feynman Path-Integral at MathOverflow, one, two, three and four and the references within. 

* A writing on renormalization group

* Once in a blue moon there happens good/interesting courses in TIFR like this, one by Sunil Mukhi and the other by Shiraz and this one by Amol.

* A beautiful article on the problems with economic reforms in India by Swaminathan Aiyar. This is website provides a good open-source collection of articles on socio-economic issues. Unfortunately not everything is open-source here. 

* Home-page of Avi Loeb and CFA
  Avi Loeb's papers are a joy to read. I recently had some interaction with him while I was preparing for this talk I gave recently. This also brought me to interact with Jonathan Pritchard.

* I was skimming through these papers from the Poverty Action Lab ,one, two, three and four.

* An interesting blog by a taxi driver in Singapore.

* Steve had something to say about Noam Chomsky here.

* A beautiful song by Greenday and this addictive one by Shakira.

* A organization called BloodConnect for organizing blood supply during emergencies. An acquaintance of mine was one of the founders of this.

* Stories by Anderson
* An article in this new e-magazine devoted to reporting on the Middle East.

* MIT OCW's Algebraic Topology, basic, advanced, more advanced.

* An article on evolutionary reasons behind psychological differences between men and women.

* Trying to understand complications of immigration from this article from here. This is another amazing open-source collection of articles on economics.

* MIT World

* Berkeley Lectures 

* An organization called "Boond" which looks promising. 

* A beautiful photoblog.

* Etingof's course on the interface of geometry and QFT

* A book on QFT which I can freely access because TIFR has subscribed to it.

* Two amazing lectures at TED on regenerative medicine and artificial limbs

* An article on possibility of space-travel

* Have been looking through these articles by Tim Gowers and Ben Green.

* Dror Natan

* Have been reading through QFT and CFT notes by David Tong 

* 3 books on Riemannian Geometry that I realized I can freely access because TIFR has subscribed to it. One be Jost, by Besse and one on Twistors. I have read mostly from the book by Jost and I like it whereas I haven't explored much of the other two. Associated to this is this recent discussion I had on MathOverflow.

* Some good articles by M.V.Ramana explaining a super-obvious idea as to why pursuit of nuclear energy should be stopped and especially India should not invest in any nuclear power and how terribly flawed is the current state of operations and possibly coming up laws on nuclear reactors in India. Its high time we come back to common sense and stop going gaga about people who were instrumental in bringing nuclear energy to India and those who have been hard-selling this self-defeating nuclear dream.

This is another beautiful article by M.V.Ramana along with my friend Suvrat explaining the problems with the cap on nuclear liability.This one is by Suvrat alone.

A  malfunctioning at a nuclear power station can within seconds put these numbers of 19000 dead of Bhopal look like a small mishap, something these days Indian media is suddenly excited about. The verdict was yet another example of the barbie-doll status of the Indian judiciary and the administration and more importantly it proves that every Indian is valued between $500 and $2000 by the Indian Government.

Monday, April 19, 2010

For Sashi Tharoor

I rarely take serious note of any political event in India. Definitely not seriously enough to write a blog about. And never have I blogged about any one single person centric event. But this time with this forced resignation of Sashi Tharoor, I am seriously perturbed.

First of all I know Sashi Tharoor only as much any lay man knows from his websites and public statements. But I have known about him since a long time from he used to be the under-secretary  general to UN and later executive assistant to Kofi Annan. More because as far as I remember he happened to have studied at the St.Xavier's Collegiate School Kolkata where I studied from Class 7 to 12. If my memory is not failing me badly I remember my english teacher there Mrs.Ranjana Bhattacharya telling me that Sashi Tharoor was in her class. I also happend to be in Ranjana's class quite a few times. A very charistmatic english teacher who started off by giving me the near failing marks in the beginning and scaring me to death with her principles but ending with giving me the highest scores in my final english exams. Getting almost full marks in her english correction scheme is not a cake walk. 

The basic point that is far from clear is, what is the crime? In no allegation that I hear people putting up against him is there a crime! I see no victim! He apparently "influenced" Sunanda Pushkar's getting a stake in the IPL Kochi team. So what? What prevents me from helping a friend of mine get something as long as I am not breaking the law or infringing into the rights of some more able candidate?

There is no clear allegation of crime against him as far as the news reports go. I suppose he probably being unfamiliar to Indian politics became just an easy target.

I believe our home minister Chidambaram is a very knowledgeable and respectable man and he has also stated that Sashi Tharoor didn't benefit from the IPL bid. This statement obviously has no legal value but is definitely important.

It seems more to me that it is hurting the deprived sensibilities of some people to see an "elite" in a high post. If this results in me being labeled an "elitist', so be it.

There is little doubt that very few people in the Indian parliament have the level of know-how of international politics as Sashi Tharoor. Goes back to his extensive involvement in the past notably with the peace processes in Geneva and Yugoslavia. It is hard to imagine a person with such extensive international experiences in the Indian government.

Now isn't the cost that India incurred in losing his know-how quite substantial?

More importantly, why are the people who have something against Sashi Tharoor not filing some police case against him and take to proper legal route if he is suspected for some crime? Why just create a ruckus in the parliament and cause personal embarrassment? 

Deplorably it isn't unusual in India for a technical problem to be turned into a personal mud slinging.
Even in research institutes during scientific discussions!
Unfortunately Sashi Tharoor hasn't been spared either.

And this isn't the first time. His tweeting has wrongfully been repeatedly pulled up against him many times. We as a nation don't seem to really believe in freedom of expression and all this hue and cry about maintaining secrecy about government policies is just arcane psychology to say the least. Wonder when people will realize that paranoid secrecy in the functioning of an administration is the perfect womb for corruption.

In India one is free to have an opinion as long as it agrees with the person higher up.

His comment about not enjoying a holiday on Gandhi Jayanti was definitely a good point and didn't obviously go down with the section of people who mysteriously feel that holidaying is a great way to show respect to a person. I think if not anything Gandhi was at least quite a hard working guy. We even give holidays for voting!

Here we see not just causing personal embarrassment to a person but a signal to the intellectual class of the population. "Stay Away".  The entire Sashi Tharoor episode casts a deep shadow on the sensibilities of the Indian parliament and its sensitivities about the upper educational echelons of India.

There seems to be a systematic (deliberate?) disconnect between every Indian administration body and the intelligent educated Indians.

It in someway comes as a very little surprise since quality education never really was in the priority list of the Government of India. It has always been focussed on opening "more" institutes than to build even a single best-in-the-world institute. It continues to live under the self-defeating delusion that quantity can substitute for quality.

We as a nation are still far away from realizing that education is NOT about being able to turn knobs of some machines or read and write or even being able to compute some Feynman diagrams! Education has to beget ability to have researched opinions. Now you cannot expect people to get more educated and yet have no opinions in the public. Civilization is essentially characterized by the extension of the means by which every opinion can get heard in the world and resulting in more and more sophisticated public discussions. Democracy by discussions is an idea championed fiercely by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. We have moved from speeches to posters to books to web-pages to blogs to Orkut to Twitter. The Indian administration has to realize that they cannot live under the delusion of wanting hordes of educated people without opinions!

Then let the government invest more money into making A.I and robots and not on schools, colleges and universities. They might just then have the country they dream of, lots of intelligent machines working day and night and producing results but will have no opinion whatsoever. Robots will not blog or tweet.

This episode further deepens the fatal chasm that exists in India between the intelligent educated people and the administration systems.  We are just making it threateningly impossible or people in the former class to step into the second. May be its the way it is designed to be.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A biology lab travelling on the oceans.

This is a photograph of the boat Tara Oceans on which I happened to land today by an absolute stroke of luck. 

I generally don't blog about some particular incident but almost always about an assimilation of ideas from a string of events in life. But this time I am going to change this pattern for this unique case. 

It was my first experience of meeting and interacting with an international scientific expedition group. This is very different from the life of a regular scientist. Of course I also heard accounts from these scientists of meeting with pirates near Somalia and how the French Army escorted them when while they were passing the gulfs near Arabia.

Basically this is a small sail boat on which a bunch of French and German biologists (mainly from University of Heidelberg and EMBL)are traveling around the world looking at the distribution of organisms (especially photo-plankton) around the oceans of the world. This will be a path breaking experiment which will do a comprehensive study of the effect of the human civilization on marine life. Remember that half of the oxygen that we breathe comes from the planktons in the ocean. We wouldn't be there without the oceans.

Ofcourse these sientists pointed out that world population crossed the maximal sustainable limit of nature around the 1980s! So the planet having to support a population so much in excess of its upper limit is straining the ecosystem of the oceans to dangerous limits. And this is much more fragile than the one on the lithosphere.

It is a 3-year program during which these people will travel around the globe's coasts sampling the data. Anybody familiar with biology would know that doing on-line analysis of organisms in a solution is near impossible. But precisely thats what these scientists are doing on board continuously using their very sophisticated instruments. To get a feel of the technology remember that to do microscopy one almost always needs a completely disturbance free region. Ocean waves 100 meters away from a microscope on land can be fatal to the experiement. Now comare that these people are able to do amazing levels of microscopy while traveling on the oceans! 

This team arrived in Mumbai today and their next stop will be Malaya and then to the Antarctica. The lead scientists landed up in TIFR to give a talk about it and I happened to be in that talk. I was supposed to go to my class on cosmology after that talk but then the cosmology prof (Alak Ray)  came and told me with a cheeky smile that he is cancelling the class since he is goin aboard Tara Oceans. It took some minutes for this information to sink in. And then I realized that the biology department has organized a trip for lottery selected 40 students from their department to this amazing floating travelling laboratory. First thing I was told was that I am not allowed to tag along. My cosmology prof was somehow the only non-biology person to be specially invited to the trip.

And the TIFR bus left at 5:30Pm with those few lucky biology students in it.

But then its me the desperado and I wasn't the one to sit around taking that. I came to know that at 6Pm the speed boat would leave from the Gateway of India heading towards this ship. And it was already 5:40Pm. On the spur of the moment I just packed in my camera and left with a friend of mine from the neutrino physics department. I asked the taxi to drive to the Gateway as fast as he could. But even on reaching there we couldn't figure out from where the boat was leaving. And almost when we were planning to come back,I spoted the TIFR biology crowd in an obscure corner. And I also spotted the biologist with whom I had recently done a biology project

And I hung around as the Tara Oceans sent in speed boats to take the bio people to the ship. After sunset when the last boat arrived, I jumped in. And I didn't regret it. 

Since I was in the last batch to arrive on the boat we got a longer time to move around and see this floating laboratory. And the German scientists were more than happy to show us around and explain stuff.

I am pasting below photo of this awesome sailing on the oceans molecular biology laboratory that I saw.

 One of the scientists (most probably German) explaining this crucial machine that goes down into the waters to collect samples. It can typically go inside for about 120m though they can in principle send it down for 2000m
This is where they purify the ocean water to extract out the organisms from it which is the ultimate objective of study.

This is the entrance to the kitchen and the bedroom and the living-room and the microscopy room of this floating molecular biology laboratory.
The kitchen. These French and German scientists have learnt to cook Biriyani.

A closer look at the capsule that goes underwater

The living room and library of scientists floating around the oceans. It is in the lower deck.

The store-room for the scientific apparatus and food supplies.

The other end of the kitchen with the fruit supplies hanging from the top in the net.

The scientists in front of the control room on the uppermost deck 

Unfortunately  blogger doesn't give me a method of uploading the videos I shot of the descriptive talks that the leader of Tara Oceans gave to us on board.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Right Answer

A student's life in India is a progress in skills of getting the right answer but probably never being taught how to ask the right question or ever been inculcated the skill to distinguish between what is an important question and what is not. Nobody ever gave any credit for asking a good question but the social hype has overvalued to the extreme the debatable worth of a right answer.  I remember as a child vividly watching on television a guy in Kolkata being taken around in almost a chariot with garlands round his neck for scoring the highest marks in the Class 10 board exams of West Bengal board. His only claim to fame seemed to be that he could get the right answers to some questions in some exam on some day. The image disgusted me so much. But paradoxically I see the same psyche prevalent in bigger and bigger proportions in the other institutions too where I happened to land up in the following years like the CMI Physics department and TIFR physics department.

As I made my way across the rest of the school life and the BSc. and half of my MSc. the biggest thing I realized is that every thing I studied at a point turned out to be a special or approximate case of something larger that I studied later. And almost always in subjects especially like Physics, every answer has limits of validity and in more and more complicated areas of Physics there are more and more subtle assumptions behind every answer. Hence the notion of a "right answer" to make any tangible sense has to be continuously be confined to narrower and narrower regimes to remain "right".

Somehow I was born so foolish that every time I am told a statement in maths or physics, I go around looking for the assumptions made in getting to that and then I try to figure out what would happen if I tweaked those assumptions. And very often this has resulted in me asking a question about it in class and now I have learnt that it is the biggest sin to commit as a Physics student in India.

One of my recent attempts at pursuing such assumption tweaking can be seen in this article of mine on the Hall-Effect. Probably not terribly exciting but gives me a personal sense of satisfaction to have brought an idea to a reasonable conclusion.

Possibly the biggest thing to realize about science is the simple fact that the most important questions have no answers!  And a point so amply emphasized and aptly illustrated by say the mesmerizing lectures by Prof.Alak Ray at TIFR.  Or as Prof.Kailash Rustagi (from IITB who taught me a course in TIFR) said to me once that "If you ask a question for which the instructor has no answer then it is surely a good question....a student is remembered for the questions asked in class"

Such sentiments are only too rare.

Such simple things were never in the priority list of any education system in India that I have seen. It is always busy trying to figure out the "top" based on ability to produce right answers in some examination. Wonder how come India is not the must sought after research destination even though since childhood every other person I knew was so busy trying to "top"! Probably the reasons are also not so hard to seek.

A few more Pink Floyds might sing a few more "Another brick in the wall" but we shall dedicatedly keep building the walls and we shall continue to be fossilized in the walls. The Great wall of China between countries. The Berlin Wall within a country! Walls between houses. Walls between persons. Walls between Physics and Maths. (the word "maths" has been reduced to almost a slang in the physics departments) Walls inside the brain. Walls inside the heart.  Rabindranath only wasted his energy writing, "Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls"

Rabindranath was too foolish a person to understand the worth of being able to generate the "right answer" and probably out of his innate stupidity arose those immortal words.

Thankfully Led Zeppelin inspired me to buy a "Stairway to heaven" so that I could climb over those walls.

I remember when the day before my electrodynamics exam in TIFR, I was struggling with a particular assignment problem and then I realized from a batch-mate that expectedly this was solved in the back of some obscure book. And the solution involved some complicated identity about fourier transforms which I had never seen before and I asked this noble person to explain to me where this queer formula comes from. With extreme disgust written on his face and with a heavy accent this guy replied to me "Pehle copy kar dete hain taki kal marks mil jaye. Kahan se aya kyun aya yeh baad me socha jayega." (a rough English translation would be "let me just copy it for now so that I get the marks tomorrow. Where it comes from and how it comes from is something we can think later")

I am very puzzled as to what research is supposed to be about if I am to accept "facts" unquestionably. Probably for such students "research" means what it states literally "to re-search" i.e somebody had written it in some website and now you conquer the world by being able Google it out! I somehow fail to understand how come some of the brilliant profs of TIFR whom I find admirable fail to inspire most of the students into adopting certain basic minimum sense of ethics. But then probably most of them might have not done research had somebody assured them 3 delicious meals a day for free.  A conjecture.

Even if the above conjecture might look like a poetic hyperbole, at least I had the shocking experience where I as the organizer of the student-talks was once forced to delay the seminar because all of a sudden just before the talk most of the potential audience and the speaker wanted to spend time eating bowls of dried puffed rice mixed with some raw vegetable slices and mustard oil etc. It is a very characteristic food of rural Bengal.  It is a preparation that is usually distributed in the refugee camps established for the homeless in the aftermath of calamities like say a flood or earthquake. 

(Not a dish that appeared ever anywhere in my list of preferred food items but that is an orthogonal point.)

In this same fateful electrodynamics course the instructor has surgically removed any detailed discussion of the foundations of special relativity since he didn't perceive them to be "useful" though I am going to stick my neck out to say that probably very little else in theoretical physics is so very important as them. At any rate we could have spent at least 1 class discussing the subtle issues about its axiomatization.  But then going by the generic pattern of the courses it is not very surprising since almost systematically all subtle aspects of every subject gets omitted where there is no clear notion of a "right answer".

{It is a different fact that in that relativistic electrodynamics course nothing of any substance or authentic value was ever discussed! }

This over-importance to the "right answer" has very often been extended to a point where people sadly fail to distinguish between what is conceptually important and what is practically useful. And subtle concepts have been dangerously compromised on the shameful pretext of not being "physically relevant". Very often raising my suspicion that it is just an excuse to cloak lack of understanding of the finer notes. Again a conjecture. But then again probably these are not crimes committed consciously but it is part of the general psyche of a society which has gotten into what I would call the  "third-world mentality" where you continuously compromise on quality for the sake of quantity.

Scientific research is probably the most vulnerable place to try out this mode of thinking where the cost can be astronomical of  only focusing on a perception of usefulness (usually contorted!) neglecting conceptual importance.

I am not so worried about being useful than I am keen to be correct.

Knowing better I never went back to ask him whether he ever figured out where that equation comes from. I lost the marks in the exam.  And this statement from the TIFR student reminds me of similar statements from college-mates reported by Tejaswi in IITK (he is also a student of Physics) in this blog article in his quote of "arre yaar. ye sab hamaare liye nahi hain. bas formula bataado, aur ham lagaadenge".(translated in english inside his blog) (Had it not been for the objectionable language in the blog used I might have greatly applauded the insight of this article of Tejaswi)  I think Tejaswi hugely overestimates the reach of this attitude when he says that with this we might have remained in the stone-age. 

{Aside: Incidentally I had a brief interaction with Tejaswi some 6 years ago in our KVPY camp in Class 11. Then it was a completely different me though. Coincidentally the 3 photographs on the top of that page are from our camp! I can recognize Radhika Marathe in the second photo and Shatajit Mazumdar and Nerella Tejaswi Venumadhav in the 3rd photo.}

No wonder I rarely ever risk discussing publicly anything in science that seriously interests me.

Who knows when I will run into the risk of facing this self-defeating attitude so carefully nurtured by the course work where all one needs is to get the "right answer". Now you go and beg borrow or steal for it. As long as you can get it, you are the greatest genius ever born.  You might be taken out in chariots with garlands round your neck for having located that amazing obscure website which happened to have complete worked out solutions for the assignment. 

I love discussing science and thats why I seek scientific discussions. Most often I don't seek scientific discussions because I want to learn something since I am sure I can learn on my own almost anything that I want to learn and almost always better than what most people can teach me. It is always exponentially more efficient for me to learn something on my own than to learn it from someone and most often given certain amount of time I seem capable of knowing any particular topic of my interest far better than most people with whom I might have otherwise discussed it. Especially in Physics. And increasingly so in mathematics.

If I am really interested in learning something from someone then those of my serious and hard academic discussions happen behind closed doors with some specific inspirational profs of TIFR  or over hundreds of emails with some specific people in my peer group in other institutes around the world or at MathOverflow. It is just too risky to try to have discussions in public or in most of the courses where the society seems to be predominantly interested in being given someway or the other a right answer as shortly and as soon as possible instead of trying to explore all the possibilities of the subject.

I wonder if this feeling of urgency to agree upon a right answer very soon and proceed anyway irrespective of how flimsy the conclusion might be, is somehow related to the post-colonial mentality. I feel that under such a spell one always lives under a self-defeating "race" against time as if trying to compensate for the all the time lost under some oppression.

Of course I give student-talks to share some excitement Anyway most people who see me everyday get to know at most only 10% of all the academic activities I do in a day.

But then again let us be wary of trying to measure work in terms of hours put in. That sounds only applicable if I am ploughing in the farms, which I am not. The reason why I find it hard to rationalize when the administrators try to measure a course in terms of "contact hours".  As if I am going to be ever grateful for all the hundreds of hours spent sitting through those dozens of courses in TIFR most which while I sat in, I kept wishing I was never born!

This has many curious manifestations in the administrative techniques in regions where the illusion of a "right answer" gets harder and harder to erect like in experimental physics projects or advanced reading courses. There we have come up with contorted bureaucratic methods to bring in the all-so-familiar sense of accountability which seem to be more counter productive than anything else and driven by a misplaced sense of paranoia. 

Like the bizarre question that I was asked at the beginning of my experimental physics project interview "How many hours and weekends did you spend in the lab?"! Me being me clearly refused to answer such insulting questions and had requested the administration to stop asking such questions which so directly seem to send out a signal to the student that he/she is being suspected to be a cheat with no prior evidence. Especially I found this offensive when my project guide (Prof.Roop Mallik) was pretty happy with my efforts.

Or in advanced reading courses where the proxy for the right answer somehow seems to be spending "25 contact hours" with the guide and ratification of the plan by higher authorities! A technique which seems to start off with the assumption that students are in general going to be dishonest.

Thankfully I am in the Department of Theoretically Physics of TIFR where at least reading courses have not been banned like I hear has happened in  some other departments. I get to hear so from students in those departments. I personally think that reading courses are extremely important things.

We seem to be so haplessly searching for a bureaucratic peg to hang on to when the illusion of "right answer" seems so difficult to erect and delude oneself into believing in it.

A different situation is seen if I say ask a question like "What is AdS?". This is a question which has a pretty precise notion of a right answer. But I find it quite puzzling that almost all students who I know to be working on what is called the AdS/CFT conjecture by Maldacena find it impossibly hard to give me an answer anywhere near being what might be called respectable.

Do people start research also like that? I don't understand how generations habituated to passing courses by looking up answers in websites and solution manuals is expected to do  research. I somehow see a contradiction or may be a miracle!

I see a lost opportunity of  benefiting  the society if such levels of check had been put in the right place for assignment evaluation and course examinations where every possible means of corruption gets adopted freely across all intellectual stratas. And it is so much more easy even for a person with average IQ to see that by being dishonest in a reading course the only person losing is he/she him/herself.

Probably the daunting task of confronting situations where "right answers" are not defined also explains the dangerous absence of arts departments from the research institutes I am familiar with. An education system which completely cuts out studies along sociology,music,economics,movies etc has little hope to mould complete people. I definitely find the priority lists very hard to justify where electronics courses are compulsory for Physics students but nobody is encouraged to study about the theories about the socio-economic roots of international terrorism. I am not very sure I can think of any argument which will make the later less important than the former.

Obviously understanding terrorism is an example of an extremely important question where a "right answer" is extremely hard to agree on. No wonder many of the greatest thinkers of out times have spent so much effort on this one single issue. 

Sometimes I feel that the overarching importance given to right answers as compared to exploration of the boundaries has basically been reversing the civilization as we know it. At one point humankind was frightened to death seeing the storms and the lightning and they conjured up gods to erect a "right answer".

In the academic circuits that I am familiar with, I continuously see this attitude to create demi-Gods to give the "right answers". The importance of being able to get the right answer is so huge that from where it comes and how it comes has become immaterial. So now if there comes by a person who can give the "right answer" for free we have a solution to all our problems! No need to think. No need to read. No need to explore. No need to struggle. Just ask this new found God! And the best of all there is now no need to debate.  Debate is probably the thing that most science students I know of are scared about. That is extremely risky business since that runs into the danger of having to question everything that one believes to be true. And it is obviously so easy and safe to believe than to think! Especially if one can find a "God of right answers" to believe in.

The question of belief is so very complicated a theme that I dare not enter here lest this blog article becomes tremendously complicated and long.  Just would like to mention that I am yet to rationalize the existence of "pujas" like "saraswati puja" etc in research institutes!

Now once the society has erected this demi-God who seems to have the right answer to every question which most people seem to face on a day to day scale, we start hero-worshiping.  Thats the beginning of starting to slip down a slope from where return is hard to fathom. Now science and logic and rationale and thinking are all at stake and bartered for in exchange of a idol to hang on to. How simple it is to try to hang on to an unanimously created illusions of God than to independently try to think through everything. No wonder we have such charismatic politicians when even research societies seem so amply capable of creating super-powers within their nanoscopic world. 

And now corruption begins. The system has got the seeker of the answer into a time and resource crunched situation where the seeker badly needs nothing but the right answer for survival and here comes the demi-God who can provide for it. What a perfect case for monopoly! The giver can so well give utter crap wrapped as the right answer and seeker will not even question or try to test or reason what is being given since the system simply doesn't give him/her the chance to do so. The giver soon realizes the immense power that has gotten vested in it and how much it can be used to propagate one's own dogmas in the garb of right answer. Now the giver can extend its sphere of influence irrationally beyond where expertise could even faintly be justified!

Since all you asked for is just the right answer and not the justification.

The giver slowly accretes a gang of cronies around and an system of patronization of mediocrity begins where the ratification by this created super-power is the last word. Scientific rationality and logic got sacrificed long ago at the altar of search for easy answers. 

Now even if the giver's worth is provable within the narrow domains of may be Quantum Field Theory, the giver's opinion can go down as a law about much complicated questions like the caste system or the Telengana issue! Since seekers have all found an illusion of magical power to hang their sagging thinking on they are ever so ready to accept the most flimsy arguments in support of say something in Indian politics because the giver of the "right answers" was correct with curvature of space-time!

It is so easy to accept an answer and believe it because of precedence in orthogonal arenas than to think and verify afresh in each realm of activity.

I prefer the later any day. 

It is sad that the world I know sinks so deeply into this logical paradox from where recovery will require nothing less than a miracle.  I don't know what or how much of argument or proof is necessary to convince a society of the irreversible dangers of hastily looking for the right answers.

When the situation is looking so very gloomy and it is suffocatingly dark all around, sometimes I do see a flicker of light or hope when say Prof.Rajesh Gopakumar in his speech says " this age of continuous updates in the iPhone let us not forget the slower processes of building edifices of knowledge.."

I was fortunate to have been interacting with him over two weeks recently when I was learning from him the techniques that he has recently established for exactly computing heat kernels on homogeneous spaces like S^3.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Letters from Germany

I recently observed that neither on my home-page nor on my blog I had ever written about my adventures in Germany 2 years ago when I went there as a part of the Indian delegation to the Lindau Nobel Laureates-Students interaction program. I was selected to that meeting towards the end of my 3yr BSc.(Hons.) degree in CMI. It is a joint program between DFG and DST and in 2008 many Nobel Laureates in Physics came to meet selected students across the world at this annual event.

The connecting portal for Indian aspirants for this year is this.

Today trying to recollect and write out everything that fascinated me during that entire trip would be a very hard job and hence I decided to compile together here excerpts from various emails that I wrote to my mother and sister, during this journey through Germany.

Of all that happened and I saw during this journey the most lasting impressions on me was my experience of giving a talk on behalf of the Indian delegation at Bonn in the DFG headquarters, a visit to the Nazi Holocaust Memorial at Berlin,a walk through Berlin on a chilly rainy evening to visit the old churches in the city, the chocolate brown roses in the Island of Mainau and the white roses in Bonn and a western classical concert in the Island of Lindau.

The date of when the original email was written is mentioned on the top before the start of the excerpt.

The writings on 6th and 8th July 2008 are most reflective to me.

Never mind the many "..." in the mails.
They were written in different states of the mind.

Written on 30th June 2008

Dear all,
Its a grand experience. 550 representatives from 67 countries.

I have heard what 5-star hotels are like but the treatment we are getting here will be underestimated if it is called 7-star. The schedule is very packed and internet access times are weird. So it is very difficult to even write emails.

The boat trip across Lake Constance was an experience beyond words. I have never seen such a romantic and exhilarating atmosphere. Can't think of a better place to go on a honeymoon!

Sunset on Lake Constance in the backdrop of the Alps mountains was breathtaking.
And the music was amazing and the food was awesome.

On the ship I had discussions with Kapil Sibal (the science minister of India)

Deepti, I and Vikrant watched the Germany-Spain Euro Final with a HUGE group of German fans in a huge park in a open air screen. I had heard a lot about the football crazy German people but watching it with a 1000 other Germans is an experience. The atmosphere was crazy and sounds and shouts were defeaning and every German was drunk.

{Here you get 10 beer cans for 1.5 euros and hence people drink alcohol more than water. Almost every food here has some alcohol in it. Here in almost every meal we are offered alcohol {the costliest quality of white wine, red wine and beer and beer shots (40% vodka!)}. Some of the people in the group are drinking like anything. (notable the guy from Jadavpur University is probably drinking a few liters of wine everyday!).

Of course I have not had any alcohol. I am having pork in breakfast and turkey meat in lunch. Turkey is amazing to taste.

We had interactions with the teams from Canada,Germany,Bangladesh,Pakistan and attended 3 of the Nobel Laureates lectures. On the ship we had personal discussions with Prof.Grunberg who won the Physics Nobel in 2007. Nobel Laureates are amazing people. You can talk and laugh with them like anything.

Nandini , I and Shreayas are walking all around Lindau and during such a walk we had interactions with the Chinese team. They are very nice.  We had ice-creams here as our first expenditure.

Will write later,



Written on 1st July 2008

Dear All,

Yesterday I missed the guided tour of Lindau because I  was writing the email. Later we who had missed just walked out and joined the group at a later spot. Given that this is a 3km x 11km island one can find out something pretty easily. Today I am missing lunch to write this email. The timing of the internet access is such that one has to miss something to write a mail.

There is a tremendous lack of communication within the group and I think even today some of us have missed the lunch with the US team. Everybody seems to have left and some of us here have no information as to where they are.

It seems that yesterday was the formal welcome ceremony in the presence of the countess and the ball-dance. So we all wore our sherwanis and sarees. Expectedly the Indian contingent turned out to be the most colourfully dressed ones.

The Chinese press took some photographs and videos of me wearing the Sherwani! And some newspaper from Poland also took photographs of me and Shreyas in Sherwanis with Nandini in her green sari. { Many German guests here came out to compliment Nandini saying that "You look beautiful"..she got the heads turning here!}

Today at breakfast table a Chinese lady joined me and she said that she had noticed me dancing in the ball-room and thats how she recognized me. She said that she had spotted me because of the conspicuous sherwani.
When the ball dance started the only ones to go out were Swastibrata, Krishanu and Ankit. We all just kept standing watching. Ankit balled with the wife of the president of the US Department of Energy. She said that she has 3 daughters and she wants to marry them to Indians! Krishanu got royally dumped after sometime by the lady because he couldn't dance. And the German man who took Swastibrata was so huge that she shied out after sometime.

The lady in the Pakistani team refused to dance because she is already engaged!

It was looking pretty unsocial with us not participating in the dance when all the other countries were on the floor. So finally some of the Indians started dancing together and that attracted a lot of attention.

Anita (the Punjabi lady in our team) invited me to dance with her. That was the ice-breaker for me. First time ever on the dance floor! We tried to do a waltz but  couldn't get it very right. She taught me how to do it and we tried doing the ball dance for about 20 minutes. It was a very new kind of an experience.

I think Deepti took photos of me doing the waltz with Anita. Some say it looked pretty nice!

21 years of socially ingrained inhibitions are not that easy to shed!

Ultimately the entire team joined in and we all set up huge circles in the center of the room and Anita led us. We tried typical Bollywood group dances and the rest of the countries got excited about it and joined in. Some of the German ladies did the Bhangra pretty well and one of the German guys danced with Shreyas with great vigour.

Then we tried Bavarina dances with the other Europeans and that worked out well.

Nandini tried to do a ball dance with me but that didn't work out very well since I couldn't match her energy. After 1 hour of shying away she turned out to be a very enthusiastic dancer!

Nandini, Krishanu, Shreyas, Bhargav, Ramesh and Akhilesh danced very enthusiastically and led the whole crowd. After sometime I,Shiva and Prathiba took to the sombre role of photography being unable to match their energy.

Then we played punjabi rocks etc in the hall and all the countries joined together to dance with them. It was a celebration of India ultimately. Members from all the countries joined together to form concentric circles and danced to the music of punjabi Bhangra.

But of course some of the Germans danced the waltz amazingly. I have taken many photos and videos of that. I found a couple here who did that in an awesomely elegant way. I videotaped them.

Of course one should mention that the German lady who was doing that was too beautiful to be believed to be real.

Prathiba and Deepti planned to return home at 11:30Pm. Prathiba asked me to escort her to the hotel since she is "scared" of the drunk Germans on the street! {What a protection to look!!} Thats when I returned back (with her). Others came back at about 1Am and I heard that the dancing got more energetic and fast as the night went on. I heard that the Indian team was given special applause by the other countries for having completely changed the atmosphere.

Anyway lot of other things to tell....but I am missing a lot now...wonder where the USteam-Indian team lunch is happening!!



Written on 2nd July 2008

* I attended lectures in Condensed Matter Physics by Nobel Laureates like Prof.Hansch, Prof.Grunberg, Prof.Giaver, Prof.Von Klitzing, Prof.William Phillip and Prof.John Hall.

* I attended a special discussion session with Prof.William Phillip and also had a 3 hour long dinner table discussion session with him. We discussed a myriad of academic and non-academic things.

* I attended lectures in structural biology by Nobel Laureates Prof.Deisenhofer, Prof.Huber and Prof.Michel.
  I attended a special discussion session with Prof.Huber on the topic of determination of protein structure.

* I attended lectures of Prof.Veltman and Prof.David Gross.
  Prof.Gross was thoroughly excited about LHC and its prospects of discovering Supersymmetry.

The Condensed Matter Physics Nobel Laureates whose lectures I attended all seem very excited about the idea of using BEC trapped in optical lattices to produce Quantum Computers. Prof.William Phillip almost took a detailed class on the idea of trapping BEC in optical lattices. There is a lot of discussion abong the Nobel Laureates about the idea of nano motors and how some of these have been partially achieved using laser cooled atoms. Everybody is talking about the experiment where a set of Bucky Balls with Rubidium ion trapped in it was rolled through a carbon nano-tube. They even showed videos of this. They have designed atomic conveyor belts using these trapped BEC.

There is also a lot of discussion about the idea of using trapped BEC in optical lattices as a simulator for the Bose-Hubbard model and then to use it to study the "2D Superfluid-Mott transition". They are referring to this web-site :

Prof.William Phillip is thoroughly excited about this and we has long discussions about these. He explained the idea of splitting a BEC into many lumps and then transporting them through optical lattices. He also referred to the rotating bucket of Superfluid experiment by Prof.Leggett.

Written on 3rd July 2008

Dear All,

Few short comments:

*  People in Germany are pretty clumsy. In every eating place we have been (the restaurants or the Lindau dining hall) the waiters would collide against each other and crash the glass plates and glasses. Even in flight the German waiter crashed all the dishes he was carrying. Today at lunch the waiter at the lindau meeting crashed a pile of dishes while washing them!

* There is no dress code in the meeting except for the special receptions. People are wearing anything and everything. Only a small minority are in formals. Some of the ladies in the meeting are wearing a little more than a lingerie. {Anyway Germany seems very open about dressing sense}. The president of the Lindau council today was wearing a blue shirt with a red pant. {You people prevent me from wearing such things!}. Germany is very free about public display of affection. We saw a couple stand and kiss on the top of the Lindau tower gate which is about 70-80ft above the sea and looks down on 3 countries. Such a romantic idea!

   Nobel Laureate Josephson has come wearing a completely crushed laboratory apron!

* Today another Nobel Laureate was talking about the "3Am effect"! That all good ideas come around that time.

Yesterday I was mailing a few profs and I sent a detailed mail to Prof.Baskaran about some of the interesting Condensed Matter Physics ideas being discussed here. Prof.David Gross was explaining how various connections have been found between String Theory and Condensed Matter Physics and how methods of one are getting used in either. Polchinsky and Subir Sachdeva (from Harvard) are holding a workshop on this next year at UCSB. I am planning how to apply for that!

I attended Nobel Laureate David Gross's lecture and discussion session. It was exciting. So many people came to attend it that initially the hall that was booked for it proved to be too small. So Gross and everyone walked into the dining hall and we had the session at dining hall. Gross sat on the dinner table and talked. It was a session on understanding the current situation with String Theory. He is very optimistic and said "Now nobody can kill String Theory"   but said that we must be prepared to change a few ideas in the wake of the LHC  {the largest and costliest experiment in Physics in history that will be done starting next month}.

During the walk Prof.Gross and I had a conversation. He was asking where I am joining and under whom I plan to work etc. He obviously knows Shiraz and was referring to him. He asked whether I am from IIT. As usual IIT happens to be the only institute in India that they know of. 

Yesterday afternoon Shiv Teja (the guy from IIT who is joining UIUC) and I took a bus from Lindau and went on a trip to Germany. We took a 1 hour bus ride through various towns and villages of Germany. There is a small bridge across the Lake that has to be crossed to get into Germany . On the bus ride we met the Austrian team. They are very nice. They took photographs with us.

Prathiba and Deepti didn't join us since they said that the idea is absurd and we won't be able to make it back for lunch and the concert. But we did!

Yesterday Prathiba, I, Deepti and Vikrant went out and had ice-cream at 11:30Pm and we spent the evening on the Lion tower gate of Lindau. It is an amazing view from there. Then we 4 roamed around a lot. Here sun sets at about 9:30Pm and by the time our official obligations are over all the shops close down. So we are being able to buy nothing except ice-creams whose shops remain open till late at night.

Prathiba and I went on a photographic spree all around the coast which is the common meeting point of Austria, Switzerland and Germany. We were almost competing on our 2 cameras as to who can take better photographs. Today Prathiba and I plan to go shopping in the evening. If we can.

Many people in the group are getting very physically weak. Hemwati Nandan fell down unconscious while asking a question to Nobel Laureate Prof.Smoot. He had to be hospitalized and German hospitals did all checks on him from CT Scan to ECG! Prathiba is also periodically getting weak. She needed extra glucose to get to work yesterday. She was suffering a fall of blood pressure and is going dizzy. So she gulped down spoons of Lemon Rasna that I am carrying with me.

Yesterday I came to know that Prathiba is 2 times Gold Medalist in Physics (BSc and MSc) from Madras University. Now she is in the second year of PhD at IITM.

Anyway I ate beef today. Nothing great to taste.
Pretty much like mutton which I don't like.

Yesterday we attended the western classical music program to which we were invited. It was an amazing experience to listen to a live performance of Beethoven. It was a transcendental experience. The concert group playing it consisted of 7 people from 6 different countries!

Day before yesterday we had a special dinner with the Chinese and Nigerian teams. They were also very nice people. It so happened that some Nobel Laureates decided to come to that meeting. It was going to be completely arbitrary as to who gets to sit with whom and the number of Nobel Laureates was much more than the number of tables.  At the last moment there was an arbitrary change in the seating arrangement and it so happened that I got to sit with Nobel Laureate Prof.William Phillip (about whose non-academic lecture I had told you earlier)!

So I had a 3 hour long in-depth dinner table discussion with Prof.William Phillip. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for discovery of Laser Cooling. For million reasons academic and non-academic he completely mesmerized me. Firstly he is a hard core experimental Physicists with pretty strong theoretical base and who doesn't rule out the possibility that String Theory might be right.

 Through discussions with I discussed with Phillip the following questions in details: 

        1. The issue of dissemination of scientific information among researchers across the globe.
        2. The issue of fund allocation among various branches of science say String Theory or Atomic Phyiscs or Algebraic Geometry. Who decides and how to decide.
        3. Is it a good idea to let scientists take over this decision making process from the politicians?
        4. Is it a possibility that scientific research becomes financially self-supporting and disjoint from the corporate world?



Written on 6th July 2008

Dear All,

Life is getting very complicated and very hectic. One thing is very clear..the next time I leave India it is going to be with some very high quality laptop. It is impossible to connect back home without it. There are only 2 laptops here and knowledge of how to connect it to the  wifi is very limited. So it is getting very bothersome as to how to get hold of a laptop and how to connect it to the net. I am finally doing it from the professor's laptop who is accompanying us and with his help.
There is no guarantee  when and from where I can contact next. Yesterday night Prathiba and me went around the entire Lindau searching for a cyber cafe but could not find a single open one.

I am going almost without sleep for the past few days. Today we arrived at Munich from Lindau on bus. Tomorrow early morning we will leave for Berlin. It is a 8hr bus journey from Munich to Berlin. Even today it seems that I will not be able to sleep.

Today as soon as we landed in Munich we were taken on a guided tour of Munich. We had to walk miles. Then Shiva, I and Jyoti took an adventurous trip all across the city  to Munich to see the Olympic stadium and climb the Olympic tower of Munich. Thanks to Shiva's road sense we managed it. It was a breathtaking view of all of Munich from the highest point in Munich..the tip of the Olympic Tower at an height of 204m.

We had earlier arranged for food. We got back in broad daylight at 9Pm. Prathiba had arranged for the plates and the food. We bought in Indian food and she distributed it. Shiva, I , Prathiba, Sampoorna and Jyoti had it together. Prathiba is the first non-vegetarian Tamil I am seeing!
Earlier today we went to the German Technical Museum. It was beyond imagination. It had a complete mine and dissected aeroplanes in it!

We have walked miles after miles over the last few days and now the calf muscles and the foot sole is paining like hell.

On the last day of the Lindau meeting we went to Austria on bus and foot. Austria is just too is green green and green all around...all you see is lakes and green fields.

The last function of the Lindau meeting was on the Island  of Mainau and it needed us to take a ship trip across lake Constance. It was beautiful beyond description. We went by the side of Switzerland and the scenic beauty was breathtaking. The ship trip was just like a dream sequence. I can't imagine a more beautiful place. It was just like an oil painting straight out of the medieval times. Almost like Lindau, Island of Mainau can also be aptly be called "The land of roses". Roses of all colours grow there all across the island. They grow just like bushes.

In the island of Mainau, I was so absorbed in photographing that I got lost twice! First time I happened to run into the Pakistani team. The Pakistani prof was very nice. We chatted for a long time and he brought me back to the known places. The next time I got lost I ran into Deepti who also got lost in the Island. Then Deepti and I trekked across the Island to find our way back. The only problem was that she was in her trekking shoes and I was in my kolhapuri with my flat blue punjabi. It was painful walking across the island in kolhapuri.

After returning from Mainau island (where Gross gave the closing speech) the following people immediately left for a quick trip to Austria:  Prathiba, Shiva, Jyoti, Deepti, Vikrant, Anita , Anupam and me.
I am taking photos at the rate of about 200 a day. My batteries are failing me. I am transferring my photos into my pen-drive and Shiva's laptop.

A lot more to write......



Written on 8th July 2008

Dear All,

This is going to be a completely disorganized is night 2 Am now (a soft German opera is playing in the background in this hotel lounge) and I have to wake up tomorrow at 6Am to catch the bus...tomorrow we travel from Berlin to some university and then to there is no guarantee that I will be able to contact again...

Today it rained in Berlin (it was very romantic) and there is a certain amount of chill...the temperature dropped fast and all I had in the street was that red sweater...some of the Germans took out jackets!...I caught cold!...but Shiva is in his half shirts!

Anyway the hotel I am currently in is probably one of the most aristocratic hotels here...the cost is 200Euros a night...everything you touch here is carpeted and bathroom is in itself a beauty to see with glass partitions inside my room i have a mini bar attached with all types of costliest wine, beer and cognac filled in the fridge....Shiva and I are living together.

Abhishek Bhattacharya (the great mathematician "Bhotcharge" of South Point and now in Jadavpur University) found me out at the canteen of Technical University of Berlin and pounced on me from behind while I was paying the bill and we met after 3 years. Its ironic that it took us both to come to Berlin to meet! He is doing his internship in the telecommunications lab at TUB. We had lunch together and he is completely unchanged. We talked and laughed for  more than an hour.  He was at Lindau a few days ago and I missed him by a whisker there.

We both realized that we are completely unchanged when he gave his trademark shout in the canteen "Kire Onirbit" the utter surprise the other german students there.

He has visited one of the Hitlers concentration camps and he was telling me what a frightful experience that was..Bhotcharge is planning to take me and Shiva on a trip to the gas chambers at Auschwitz....Bhotcharge has gone to East Berlin too and he was telling me that he has seen active Nazi groups there.

Anyway yesterday given the tremendous interests of me and Prathiba, as soon as we landed in Munich we visited the "Holocaust Memorial" (the amazing achitecture built in Berlin in memory of the Jews killed by the Nazis) and the amazing glass tomb of the German Parliament......When I was in class 9 I had read about this exciting glass structure in readers digest as one of the best architectural specimens of the 20th century...yesterday I visited was breathtaking.

We also saw a  piece of the Berlin wall. Every corner of Berlin bears testimony to the Nazi movement and the destruction of the WW2...the city can send shivers down the weak spines.

Again at the insistence of Prathiba we found out an Indian restaurant and had lunch there....a punjabi dhaba where I and Prathiba shared a 7Euro plate of Chicken Curry and others had vegetarian food....The shop is called "Bolliwood-Berlin"....In Munich we had lunch at an Indian restaurant called "Indian Mango"....these places give unlimited rice to Indian customers....but tonight Shiva and I went on a walking trip of a few kilometers to one of the oldest churches of Berlin...and hence no dinner...he had 2 cup-noodles and thats what we had...he took some chocos and complan..but I didn't.

Shiva did his 6th semester of IIT at NU Singapore and his last summer internship at US and hence he is more experienced about living outside India.

Within the group now there are a lot of sub-groups...each goes out in its own plan...In mine and Shiva's group..the ladies in power happen to be Prathiba and Deepti...they have taken posts of finance ministers and hence it is impossible to buy anything while going to the shop with them...Prathiba and Deepti have measured out how much money to be spent where and hence they have prevented us from buying anything interesting since whatever I find interesting they call it too expensive.

The men are finding it impossible to ignore the precautionary force of the ladies Prathiba and Deepti. Prathiba is also the disciplinarian in this sub-group who is also controlling our voice levels...but giving us scary looks every time the men speak at decibel levels higher than what she has set as the maximum decent level...she says "You are spoiling the Indian reputation!"

Other officials are asking us as to how come we are so silent than the other Indian groups in the past. 
The "Prathiba effect"!

No cuckoo-clocks....the cheapest ones are 50euros and they look bad...the good ones are 150 euros each!

I visited the Technical University of Berlin. As usual the only university that they associate to India is the IIT. Seems that the IITs and TUB are setting up joint collaborations. Except for their nano technology and telecommunication labs I found TUB pretty much non-impressive.

I had done a training program in the best LASER lab in India at Indore.
Compared to that the laser lab of TUB is just childish and crude.

They have spent 5.5 million Euros in setting up the nanotech lab there! No wonder in India experimental Physics is suffering like this. They have expansion plans of TUB nanotech to 35million Euros in the next 4 years! I was amazed by their water and air purification system in the nano tech labs. They purify water to 18megaohms of electrical resistance and air to 10 ppm! (compare to the fact that normal european air has 1billion ppm)

In TUB the telecommunication lab is run by T-mobile and it costs 135million Euros!

The amount of funding available in this world in certain areas of research is just unthinkable and then it seems to need justification that String Theory is suffering from such an intense fund crunch.

It was a theme emphasized over and over again by the Nobel laureates that without extremely sophisticated laboratories further progress in experimental Physics is just impossible since the effects we are looking for today are so subtle.

But my experience with the German research tells me that the difference is simply in money and attitude. Indian science is still not so bold to try any new idea. But probably such huge financial support brings in this courage. Indian scientists need to get far more aggressive than they are and need to build in some more amount of killer instinct to be always the first one to achieve the breakthrough.

Indian science is still far away from developing that uncompromisingly ruthless attitude that nothing but the best shall be pursued and everything even slightly mediocre shall be trashed.

But the only way to break this cycle seems to me be to pump in a few milllion euros into Indian science. The rate at which technology seems to be evolving in Germany it seems to be well beyond the reach of Indian science in any near decade unless something is changed drastically.

Today Prathiba, Shiva, Jyoti and I saw a rally in Berlin protesting the US led attacks in Iraq. We took the leaflets...the statistics was scary...Prathiba is completely anti-US..Shiva is the diplomat.

Today we were given a special reception by the Indian Embassy at  Berlin at the "Tagore Hall"...we had idlis!
{Prathiba and I felt connected to home-town Chennai!}

Now it is 3Am..and I am hungry! 

The soft German opera in the lounge sounds ever more romantic in this chilly and silent night that has befallen on Berlin.



Written on 13th July 2008

"Yesterday I came back from the 58th Nobel Laureates-Students meeting (18th in Physics) at Lindau, Germany. {I am currently in Delhi finishing off the final formalities}

It was an experience of a life time over and above the amazing feeling of representing one's motherland in an international conference. During this I met and talked and had dinners with various Physics Nobel Laureates. It was a great time interacting with them. Apart from the technical exchanges it was a powerful experience to feel the courageous creative spirit of the Nobel Laureates and the attitude of challenging every supposedly known idea to break presumed barriers.

After the meeting we went to a trip across some of the best universities of Germany at Berlin, Bonn, Hamburg and Munich. During these we were hosted some exotic dinner trips on cruise liners across Lake Constance and the River Rhine. During one of these trips I had a meeting with Mr.Kapil Sibal (Minister for Science and Oceanography for India). He was telling me about the formalities been completed for establishing 2 Max-Plank institutes in India.

On the end of the journey a joint meeting was held at the headquarters of DFG (German Research Foundation) at Bonn along with the delegates from China. At that meeting at the conference hall in Bonn, I gave a speech as the spokesperson for the Indian delegation.

DFG is launching a special program for collaborations with India through its new upcoming huge program called "New Passage to India".  Many of the big institutes in Germany are part of this program.

It would be a great impetus to CMI if CMI Physics can become a part of this endeavor.

I am trying to understand from them how CMI can specifically gain from these collaborations that are going to burst onto the Indian academic scenario within the next few years. Unprecedented amount of collaborations are going to come and CMI Physics I feel can grab these to build an international image and get out of its current state of complete anonymity.