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Logic, Reasoning and Passion

Through the Eyes of a Soldier of Science


Millions – if not billions – of eyes followed the spacecraft as it slowly disappeared to its distant mission to the red planet. It was the 5th of November when PSLV – C25 launched off carrying the completely indigenous ‘Mangalyan’ capsule on an year long voyage to mars. The ever faithful comrade of ISRO – the PSLV series of launch vehicles – successfully maintained its 100 percent success record. As the small capsule leaped forward into the space, India reiterated its presence in the scientific community by becoming the nation to launch a martian mission at one-tenth of the cost of an equivalent US mission.

And today, 60 days after the launch a humble traveler in the path of science introspects on the position of his country in the scientific arena. His country! A country too colourful; a country too diverse; the birthplace of the oldest religion of the world; a country that proudly shelters more than 18 languages; a country that boasts of its festivals and culture. He greets you from Bharat, Bharatvarsha, Aryavarta, Hindustan. He  greets you from India.

As a billion souls felt their chests broaden after the launch, a few eyebrows were also raised. The questions were not new; but they were relevant. The writer’s country is not only a country brimming with culture and diversity; it is also a country where more than one-fifth of stomachs sleep fighting hunger; its also a place where thousands of children find themselves in tea stalls and not schools; it’s also a country where hospitals are a luxury for some. And the question that was very evident after the mission was this –

Should a country of more than 400 million poverty stricken souls spend 73 million dollars (450 crore rupees) on a mission which may or may not yield a major breakthrough?

Well yes we have a large population under the poverty line. And it may seem to be a sheer muscle flexing act by India to send off a mission to mars and not divert the money to the upliftment of the poor. But is this expenditure really a waste? Well for one thing; out economy was growing at a fast pace when the western world was facing a global slowdown. So we do have money to sustain ourselves. Additionally, even if the mission does not provide something amazingly new, I guess it is an achievement in itself to launch such a cheap mission. This gives the outside world a faith in India’s technology. This attracts may other nations to trust India as a cheap and efficient client to launch their satellites and other space missions. This is one of the immediate returns of the investment.

On the broader perspective, this mission or any other scientific success has a much larger impact. To reduce the economic disparity of the nation, it is essential that the youth gets educated. The question arises why are they not getting educated? In today’s India, most of the citizens appreciate the importance of education. The problem arises because there are not many teachers in the country. Same goes for the health sector – there are hospitals, but doctors are nowhere to be found. And believe me it is these small success stories which create teachers and doctors. It is these scientific stories which inspire the children to take up science; pursue higher education, and be the future scientists, doctors, professors and teachers. So the investment in Mangalyan may seem to be a huge in the short term; but the long term returns of missions like these are things which cannot be simply measured in monetary terms.

At this moment I also feel a lot of responsibility on my soldiers. As a student of science in India, I realise that we as a nation have a long way to go before we come up to the front line of the scientific race. I also know the level of competition in the top-notch institutes of India. I have faced it . And I have survived. But now I feel there are millions of eyes staring at me in expectation. There are thousands who deserved to get through but couldn’t. There is something that really needs to be done. If India; a country of 1.2 billion has produces just 4 Nobel laureates (India born foreign citizens excluded); there is something seriously wrong. When 4 other India born foreign citizens receive the same prize; there is something to ponder about. Why did these people need to become foreign citizens before they could get the Nobel?

When someone addresses us as the cream of the cream (or crème de la crème) of Indian education system, it definitely fill us with pride. But more than pride, it fill us with a sense of responsibility. The cream of the cream should not fail. The cream of the cream cannot afford to fail.

It is said that C. V. Raman cried as he received the Nobel prize; as he was standing under the Union Jack as he got the prize. Although aspiring for a Nobel would be highly over-ambitious for me, I can guarantee the soul of Dr. Raman that if such a day comes, it would be an Indian standing under the Indian tricolour.

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Before I end this rather long speech of mine, I would like to make two announcements. Firstly, a friend of mine, Harshda Mangal has participated in a story writing competition. So you members of the Facebook community, please read the story and vote for it if you like. Here is the link. The voting lines close tomorrow. So please hurry up! Please use a PC or a laptop to vote as voting by mobile has some issues. (You might ask why didn’t I participate. Two reasons. One, I don’t have a Facebook account. And two, I don’t write stories).

Secondly, From tomorrow I am thinking of starting a series of daily posts on sharing of the quotes said by some of the brilliant people on the planet. I hope you would enjoy them.

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So I come again tomorrow. Till then,

Goodbye, Namaste, Nomoshkar, Sat-sri akal, Khuda Hafiz, Jai Sri Krishna.

And Bon Voyage to Mars Orbitor Mission (Mangalyan)

In the Hunt of an Internship


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Welcome to IISER Kolkata’s APC Roy Boys’ Hostel – housing 300 of the brightest minds of the country in a 3 storied – 2 winged building. Here you would find the marvelous gray matters doing everything but studying. There are many interesting aspects to the life at APC Roy like the ‘ultra-mechanized’ students’ canteen, the bathroom singers and the colorful language of ours… Not to forget the frequent and regular ‘snake encounters’. This feature is unique to our hostels. Since our arrival here, we have been acclimatized to seeing snakes to an extent that now we seemingly don’t fear them (probably it is the other way round). People say that the life must be great as we are the holders of the largest scholarship in the country. But alas they miss out one of the vital pains of our hearts – The struggle to hold on to the scholarship…

Early August: Session begins

Summer Vacations have ended… People sharing experiences of the ‘research projects’ they underwent – well theoretically. In reality…

SDG: Dude! That is what you call a beauty… Smoking Hot! I’m telling you, she’s going to be mine within weeks… Just wait and watch

MP: Don’t tell me… I have heard it time and again. Give me a break…

SDG: No man this time it is serious… Just wait and watch…

AS: Great man! I see determination in your voice!

SDG: Don’t you?

AS: Sure… So when is the treat?

SDG: In the next life… You moron!

Late August to Early September

This is when the heat rises… the hunt for internships begin. We need to do an internship each year to extend out fellowships. But as it always happens… there is a small problem… who will take us?

AS: So, what about next year?

SDG: Hmm… Would have to apply again! What the hell! Not again!

SG: Why now? Relax… We have just finished one…

MP: We have to hurry up… don’t want to be in a hurry like the last year.

September to March

This is the peak time for applications. The process starts off by a careful selection of mentors: their work, profile, availability etc. Everyone starts with high hopes. As usual there are a few lucky chaps who get their internships early and as usual… this puts on additional pressure on the rest of them. Time passes by and down go the hopes as each one awaits a single positive response. Those lucky are envied. Mails are sent more frequently and (more importantly) more randomly. Terms of friendship change…

MP (as usual peeping through the window): Any mails as yet? (Mail=Positive Response)

SDG: There is one I received, but it says that the lab is full…

MP: Heard that SP has got one…

AS: What the… Why always him? UM has got one too… SM is deciding between Stanford and Max Planck…

SDG: As usual, I am doomed…

MP: So am I, 50 mails; 2 responses; both negative

SDG: What the hell do they write to get one?

AS: I don’t understand why the Profs don’t reply? Do they ever read the mails or do they filter out all our mails?

One fine day when AS lazily was strolling outside his room; SG literally comes running to him and jumps onto him with ecstasy…

SG: Got it! Got it! A positive response from Caltech!

AS (with an expression too weird to describe): That’s great! Fantastic!

SG: I was browsing hopelessly for a professor somewhere, as all of a sudden my mailbox shows of this new new mail… Yippee…

AS: Well done man!

AS returns to the room with a hung face; and declares

AS: SG… Caltech…

MP (who has not got an internship yet): Oh no! Not Caltech! How can he… I mean… SG is going to CALTECH???

SP (who has got one): OK, that’s fine… What is the fuss all about?

AS: Shut up you moron!

One of the most pathetic situation is that of a person whose both the room-mates are going abroad and he is struggling hard to get one even within the country. Amidst all the mutual discussions of the visa process, air tickets and dreams of the foreign land; the one on the receiving end finds himself in an ocean of utter discomfort. Helplessly staring as a deer, he turns to one who never disappoints him – the pair of earphones – and tries to shield himself from the ‘noise’ (although he nostly doesn’t succeed…). At this moment it is only natural to realise the truth of the famous dialogue from the movie 3 idiots

Agar dost fail ho jaye to dukh hota hai… Par agar dost first aa jaye to aur jyada dukh hota hai…

Although the emotions, the disappointment and the disgust is only transient and temporary, one gets the true feeling of restlessness as he journeys through…

I feel I will miss these days when I pass out. This hunt has taught us a lot… How to write mails – LOTS OF MAILS; How to negotiate; What does it mean to try desperately and above all How does a hard earned success feel like…

Disclaimer

All the people named here are very very good friends of mine. The article is an earnest attempt to bring a smile on your face and is meant to be taken in good humour. No inferences whatsoever must be drawn on the nature, character etc. of all those named (if you ever get to know their real names).

Well…


The Days of Competition…


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Halfway through through my undergraduate days, I look back in time to ponder over the times which passed by. Memories come flooding into my mind – but the ones of which I think the most, are those which had no no time to think. The two years which I believe every science student in India has experienced – The Last Two Years of Schooling. So here is what comes to my mind when I think of the two years…
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Time: 4:30 AM
Alarm Beeping… Sudden Realisation – “I overslept for 30 minutes… Oh no!”
Looking at the heap of books… Rushing towards the washroom; and then back – for what – Studies of course! To battle out questions to be exact

“I overslept… How could I…
Anyhow Subject for the day – Chemistry
Target: 120 Questions – 1 hour
Timer Set
Ready..Set…Go!”

And then the poor notebook of mine… Going through all the pains as structures of weird, poisonous and dangerous chemicals were drawn through. My mind, immersed in solving the questions – we and only we do know how ‘unscientifically’ did we reason them out.

Time’s up!
I feel the sun on the horizon.
Time to check the answers…
” aadc…aadc; bbdb…bbdc.
Oh no! c… How! Why! I was sure that it was b!
Anyhow -1 instead of 3. 4 marks gone. Continue checking”

“191 out of 360…
Not enough!
Anyways…
What’s the time now… 6:45…
Mom! Breakfast!!”

Had the breakfast – get ready – and rush…
“Why do they have a rule for 70% attendance?
Else I would have more time solve questions.
What the crap!”

In the school…
Lecture going on
Me – on the first bench – solving questions of a test paper – not related to the class in anyway.
Now there arise two questions
First – How dare I do so?
Answer – Special privilege of being the ‘brightest’ in class. I don’t know how did they decide it. I was not the topper.. was the second rank holder (that damn girl – how much could she study?). Anyways, I did have the permissions for an open betrayal of the class.

Second – Why did I?
Answer – Because everyone did so. After all we were a bunch of more than 1 million students struggling for less than 4 thousand seats. We were preparing for IIT-JEE. The competition: immense; the craze: boundless…

Return from the school – 2:30 PM
Take a bath, have a lunch – and then off to coaching – The Factory to produce studious stupid Human Machines so that they can be dumped into an engineering college.

In the van, taking us to the coaching centre, we had the moments where we gossiped with our friends. Topics of discussion – how many questions did one solve for the day; were there any good question banks available; or what are our odds of being selected in the exam.

Then we reached the coaching centres. The place where they claimed to ‘teach’ us science; they taught us how to solve questions. The system was too mechanical…

9:00 PM – Back to home – Dinner – Study again (but this time with heavy eyelids).
And as the clock struck 11 o’ clock. My eyelids gave up for the day.

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Those were the days of a blind struggle. Aims in life were: Solve questions till the last breath; learn less – only to the extent required to solve questions. No problems if you score less in an exam if you can ensure that others too score less. Those were the days of competition… to crush others and strive forward…

Such is the life of a typical class XII student of science in India. The funny part is they don’t understand what they are doing. And FYI, the ‘Science’ students here do no science… What they do is ‘Engineering Preparation’ in official language and ‘Moving in a flock of sheep’ in the actual sense.

What they do is not my choice, but by force. The society forces you to do what you are doing. Here engineering is the default branch of study if you choose science and maths during schooling. If you enroll in a ‘science’ course in the college, it is implied that you did not get an engineering seat…

And today as I sit in a science college writing this stuff up, you must be thinking, what happened next. The battle way long and twists to the story remain. But those I save for another day.

The Exam of Life


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Why are you so restless, my mind?

Is peace that you seek so difficult to find?

Why do you tumble through ups and downs?

Why do you care about the smiles and the frowns?

“Sir! Please! For my Children…” (Bhaiyya! Bachchon ke liye kuchh de do). These words awakened me from a nap, only to  see a pair of hands been spread out in hope of money. I raised my eyes to see a lady, very poorly dressed along with a child, maybe in his tens. I took out a rupee coin and gave it to her.

It was a lazy afternoon and waiting for a train on the platform made it even boring. And after a very busy Christmas, one requires a short nap for sure. But as my sleep was already broken, I decided to take a walk down the platform. Then I saw a bunch of coolies (the people who carry heavy luggage for people) discussing the recent India-Pakistan cricket match. They seemed to be enjoying the rare respite from the work they do.

The jolly mind of mine turned pensive. I was happily rejoicing the long awaited results (which stated that I was amongst the toppers of the class), the eagerly awaited holidays and the ever delicious home-made food (one of the two reasons I want to goto home – the other being sleep). But now I was filled with questions.

“Look at yourself, Arindam! What do you do? Feed yourself over a huge scholarship! And why did you get the silly scholarship? Because you cleared an exam. Does clearing an exam make you so eligible that you make your living virtually without efforts for the next 5 years of life? Where does the money of your scholarship come from? From the government. More precisely, the tax payers. That includes the coolies sitting there, the vegetable vendor who comes to your house daily, the auto driver who drove you to the station.”

Very true! It is eventually they who let me study throughout at subsidised rates. And for all these favours, what do they expect in return? Development. Why is it that the lady had to spread her arms in times of need? I believe that I still have something to do to make the people here proud.

The problem of the country starts only when the brighter lot of the country flees away from the responsibilities. If I use the advantages given by my people for my own benefit and luxury I would be a parasite, a cheater.

So what, if you were born in a dirty lake? If you run away from the lake into a cleaner one, the lake remains to be dirty. Why not clean the lake instead to make the lake realise its true true identity?

“Try to make others happy; happiness for you is born out of the happiness they get.”

Yes I topped my class and a handful of people congratulate me on that. But I await the day when I die – May the world congratulate me on succeeding a exam – the exam of life…

The Great Game of Chess


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“What do you do? I mean what do you physicists do? All you seem to be doing all day is reading books, reading research papers, (and more often) playing computer games, blogging and (most importantly) sleeping. Do you at all do anything?”

Well the question posed above; although in a satirical fashion is a genuine one. And whenever people ask them this question to anyone studying or doing physics, they receive a reply far beyond their understanding; as the answer is loaded with jargon far beyond a sane mind can grasp (that’s why we are called insane by the sanes). But let me try to put a pictorial view of the work we do in general.

According to me, we observe a game of chess – A great game of chess – (or any other game of your choice, but here I take chess as the example). This game is being played by nature, and we are both its pieces and the spectators. The aim of observation is to understand its rules as much as we can. “What’s so tough about it; go to a rule book…” they would say. But the trouble is you never have a rule book. In fact, it is the rule book that we are trying to compile.

Now here are some interesting features of the task we do

1. By mere observation, you may conclude about the allowed moves; but you can never say about what cannot be done. Just because a move was never played, can never mean that the move is not allowed. So when we see an unusual move on the board, this creates a commotion in the physics community (things like objects moving faster than light, the production of Higg’s boson – or the God Particle). And this is the time when many of our presumed rules get striped off and new rules are made.

2. What if we know a law to be true (to the greatest of beliefs)? We then try to see its implications. Or in simple terms, translate the strict and complex language of nature into a more lucid language so that they can be applied to the daily life. This is the phase of transforming the horrendous Maxwell’s Equations (sorry for the technicality – they are some ugly looking laws of light) into mobile communication, Thermodynamics (laws of heat) to automobile engine and Quantum Mechanics (the laws of small things) into Quantum Computers – computers which would be a million times faster than today’s machines (oh.. I am reminded of my soul mate).

Beyond all these, there is another greater aim of what we do.

Nature is wonderful. It is like a treasure or a mine. The more carefully you see it; the better are you able to appreciate all its secrets. Through physics we try to unearth all secrets of this beautiful place by the equipment of logic and reasoning. The pleasure it gives to dig out a single jewel from here is greater than anything that I can imagine in my highly inexperienced career. It is a joy that can truly never perish.

What do you picture the portrait of nature? Tell me if you like…

And Merry Christmas to you all…

The Joy that will never Perish


Being born and brought up in Indian culture; the ideas of mythology always fascinated me. And browsing though ‘religious’ books, watching TV soaps and through general discussions, one thing was very clear to me – there is something called ‘moksha’ that was sort of ‘preached’ to us as our aim of life. It was presented in a way that this is what we live for; this is what we must strive to achieve. As I grew up meaning of the word, became clearer to me; and simultaneously did the question – Why Moksha – became more tempting to me.

Let me first tell you how is the concept portrayed to the general Indian. We were told that once we die, we are bound to be reborn in some other form. Death is nothing but the departure of the soul from the body. This soul enters another body to give birth to an individual. They say that in a lifetime body suffers through sorrows. And hence we must make efforts to free the soul from the birth cycle and gain never ending joy. This freedom is what is called moksha. How do we achieve moksha? By doing ‘good deeds’.

Somehow this idea did not fit into the scheme of my logic. Too abstract for my appetite. I had to find out what does this actually boil down so that a person as crazy as me can digest. And hence sat a group of philosophical lunatics of the hostel to materialise the abstract. And that discussion – which ended at 3 am that night – added a dimension to look at life.

“Turns out that it is true that in a lifetime, we come across many sorrows; moments of shattered hopes and grave depression. But no one can deny the fact that life gives moments of joy, excitement, fun, love, peace and satisfaction. So the argument of the orthodox that life is full of sorrows stands on shaky grounds. The concept of rebirth is speculative. If I do not know whether or not I would ever be reborn, why should I care about what is going to happen in the next birth?”

OK, I get your point, but if I don’t care about what is going to happen after I die, what do I care about? Umm…of course my present life. So what does a person seek in life? Well surely… not money as it is only an agent…”

“Agent to do what? Buy… buy what? Happiness… Yes got it! We seek happiness. Or things which make us happy. Like we seek money to buy things of luxury; we seek fame as someone praising us makes us happy. We seek to listen to songs, go for outing; and that makes us happy. Gotcha!”

“But I you look carefully, there is one cause of all happiness – Realisation – you earn money; buy an air conditioner to realise what it feels like to be in an air-conditioned room. You go to Kashmir to realise what it feels like to be in a paradise. You seek beautiful places to realise that such masterpieces exist in nature. What is the greatest realisation? What is it that gives you unbound joy?”

“To know something is truly a joy forever. To discover how mysteries of nature unfold is what gives joy whenever we think of it. If the smallest of discoveries like how to make a pebble bounce on water, how to climb a tree and how to plant a sapling can give us unparalleled joy, how joyous would be the moment when we know why the nature is the way it is?

The magical words had been spelled. The answer was there for the taking. To have a complete knowledge of how nature works is what I believe  Moksha is supposed to mean. Moksha is freedom in true sense. Freedom from all sorrows because if you know nature, you would be able to realise that all the materialistic sorrows have to perish and all materialistic joy has to end. What will sustain is the eternal joy – the joy of knowing everything…

A Thing of Beauty… A Joy Forever


God said, “Let mathematics be beautiful” and hence came figures like the one showcased above. And henceforth this angel has been continuously en-captivating people like me. This is truly a source of seamless beauty and in truest sense a joy forever. Welcome to the world where the harder you analyse, the richer the object becomes… Welcome my dear friends, to the world of fractals…

I hope that the title figure has already invoked curiosity if not amazement in your minds. But you are right; isn’t it just another picture? I bet, it can be anything but not ‘yet another picture’. Here is the reason; zoom into any boundary of the picture, and you get…

and further in…

Keep going!

And finally after zooooooming into one little corner you would see

 

A miniature Mandelbrot.

And take my word for it – the whole of the first figure (the original Mandelbrot) is composed of infinitely many miniatures of itself.

What is even more fascinating is that such figures have a family of their own – figures composed of miniature copies of themselves. Here I showcase a few more of their kind

 

The Newton Fractal

The Julia Set

The Sierpinski Carpet

Zoom into them and let your imaginations fly

To know more about these mathematical beauties, you can have a look at a presentation given by me (and my friends) on this topic FRACTALLY SPEAKING

Or you could do through this general article by me Fractal Article

One law to rule them all


Being a student of science in general and physics in particular, I tend to be one of the laziest persons professionally. I mean, I am serious! A theoretical physicist spends most of the time in his life reading, listening to songs, watching movies, gaming and most importantly sleeping. And oops I missed a vital point – discussing (read gossiping) with peers. And hence following the trend, I too spend a significant portion of my life thinking of useless issues (and posting them here).

One of the most fundamental questions that haunted me since I chose the field of physics was: why physics? And the most satisfying answer was its structure which made it so beautiful. By its definition itself (my version although) it tries to explain the most basic ways in the universe works. The most basic laws which make the universe the way it is. In a way it does a very vital job very simplistically. Let me explain my point with an example.

Consider the early ages, when man first started understanding the world around him. For him the world was full of facts and rules. That the sun rises from the east and sets in the west; that anything released from top falls downward; that periodically something (or someone) covers the sun so as to create night like conditions during the day were a few of them. Life was good for them but for a couple of problems. Firstly there were too many of laws to govern their lives (which is not too good if you think about it). Secondly, there was no way they could use nature to their benefit. This aspect was necessary for humans, because physically they were not in a position save themselves from the other animals or the disasters of nature. Here is where science (or physics) enters the scenes. People start realizing that day and night, falling objects and the solar eclipse are manifestations of the same law. This was a great discovery. A great reduction in the number of laws: from three (or presumably more) to a single one. Fabulous!

This in fact is an example of the way physics works. It seeks the simplest way in which to explain the working of nature. Today physics has advanced a great deal. With the help of mathematics it has simplified the structure of nature. But the goal remains the same: reducing the number of laws (or assumptions) that are needed to explain the nature of universe.

It would be very likely that the world around us would be very different than what is now. Why is the world the way it is? There has be a law which underlies the very existence of the form of nature. A law which superposes every other law. One law to rule them all…

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