Father of Indian Radio Astronomy Prof Govind Swarup passes away

Salil Urunkar
Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Govind Swarup spent his early years in the small town of Thakurdwara in Uttar Pradesh. He obtained his MSc degree from Allahabad University in 1950 and went on to pursue his doctoral studies at Stanford University in 1961.

Pune: Father of Indian Radio Astronomy Professor Govind Swarup, who set up the world's largest radio telescopes Ooty Radio Telescope (ORT) and Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), passed away on Monday (September 7) night following a brief illness. He was 91 and is survived by his wife, son and daughter.

Prof Swarup was the founder-director of TIFR - National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) in Pune. A recipient of the Padma Shri award, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize and the Grote Reber Medal, Prof Swarup nurtured a community of Indian radio astronomers that is among the best in the world and continues to inspire many generations of astronomers, engineers and students to this day.

Govind Swarup was born on 23 March 1929 and spent his early years in the small town of Thakurdwara in the Moradabad district of the state of Uttar Pradesh. He obtained his MSc degree from Allahabad University in 1950 and went on to pursue his doctoral studies at Stanford University in 1961.

At the back of his mind, always, was the plan to return to India to set up a radio astronomy group within the country. Swarup, along with three other Indians working in the field of radio astronomy abroad - Professors Kundu, Krishnan and Menon - wrote a proposal to set up a radio astronomy facility in India and sent it to five major research organisations and agencies in September 1961.

Within India, Prof Homi Bhabha, the Director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai approved the proposal and conveyed TIFR's decision to set up a radio astronomy group. This marked the golden beginning of radio astronomy in India.

Swarup returned to India in 1965 and joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Aware of the geographical advantage India had due to its close location to the equator, Swarup and his team set up the 500 metre-long, 30 metre-wide set of dishes in a cylindrical parabolic fashion, covering an area of 15,000 square metre in the lowest cost possible at Ooty. Pune's GMRT has an array of 30 dish antennas spread across a distance of 25 km, arranged in a 'Y' shape at Khodad in Junnar taluka. Since 2002 GMRT has facilitated novel discoveries in the field of astronomy.

Dr Arvind Natu, Senior Scientist said, "Dr Swarup played an important role in developing an organization like the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research. GMRT is in a way his living monument. His contribution to basic science is invaluable. The IISER family will always be indebted to him."

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