‘There’s life in the universe, in some or other form’

Manasi Saraf Joshi
Sunday, 10 March 2019

A recipient of the Padma Shri, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Department of Atomic Energy, Prof. Swarup is a promoter of an all-inclusive approach to teaching science. The nonogenarian vividly remembers how he was inspired by the August 15, 1947 speech by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru

PUNE: “We are not unique and I am sure we will survive through this century,” said renowned scientist Professor Govind Swarup, a radio astronomer who built India’s first radio telescope at Ooty and Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope near Pune.

While talking to Sakal Times, Prof. Swraup, who will complete 90 years on March 23, said, “I do not believe in God. But I do believe that there is life somewhere else in our universe. It may not be just humans, but in some or other form.”

A discoverer, Prof. Swarup believes that the discoveries are accidents, but ideas grow by right circumstances and for that we need fertile minds. “During the initial procedure of building up of Ooty Radio, I remember, Dr Homi Bhabha had said to me that you come up with a big idea, I will approve your project.”

The nonogenarian vividly remembers how he was inspired by the August 15, 1947 speech by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru ‘Tryst with Destiny”. Swarup was studying at Hyderabad then and had listened to the speech through a broadcast. In his speech, Nehru had mentioned that “young science students should build Science India,” he said.

“My passion for science was triggered by Prof. KS Krishnan, a student of Nobel winner Prof. CV Raman. I went to Australia (Sydney) as radio astronomers had found a few galaxies. My research guide at Stanford told me to take up electronics, though I was a Physics person,” he said. 

In 1962 Ooty Telescope was approved by Tata Institute of Fundamental Research headed by Dr Homi Bhabha. “Bhabha had said that you meet our expectations and we could build big equipment. The work started in 1965 and was completed before 1969. The average age of the team members was 28 years”, he said. 

“The GMRT project was approved by late Rajiv Gandhi for Rs 38 crore,” he said adding that it was formed to solve the difficulty of how radio galaxies were formed. “The universe is filled with hydrogen (75 per cent) and Methane (25 per cent). It was built in India as it does not snow here,” he said. 

Happy with the current progress made by GMRT and astronomy in India, Prof. Swarup said, “The largest telescope SKA  is being built at South Africa, and Australia Prof. Yashwant Gupta is the member of the board of directors there.”

“We need to search. Until and unless we search, we will not come to know whether there is any life elsewhere. SKA may help us find some answers.  Aliens may transmit over a wide bandwidth. Since hydrogen is the predominant component of our universe, one possibility is that they may transmit at the frequency that is emitted by neutral hydrogen. It radiates at a unique frequency of 1,400MHz, that is 21cm wavelength. To increase the sensitivity for reception of the signal, they may transmit over a very narrow bandwidth, say 1Hz or 0.5Hz. We need to develop a suitable back-end electronics and software system for the GMRT to detect such signals,” he said.

MANY CONTRIBUTIONS
A recipient of the Padma Shri, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Department of Atomic Energy, Prof. Swarup is a promoter of an all-inclusive approach to teaching science. The proposal that he made along with Prof. VG Bhide for a five-year integrated programme for intensive education in science led to the establishment of the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs).

STILL KEEPING A BUSY ROUTINE
I get up at 8 am and by 10.30 I am done with breakfast and I come to my study. Then, I take a break for lunch and go to sleep at 10.30 pm. In January this year, I underwent an operation to install a pacemaker so now I walk with this cane which I bought just a day before. I recently, published a paper with my student who is working at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and I will attend the Asia Pacific international conference in Delhi.

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