Sunday, October 26, 2008

Our RN article on the puzzle in the B-meson system

With my new co-worker Gauhar Abbas and a summer student from St. Stephen's, Kriti Ashok, I studied problems in the B-meson system, and in collaboration with my old friend S. Uma Sankar, an article was written for publication in Current Science explaining the issues in their Research News Section. The article may be found here.

My paper on the heat-kernel coefficients of `non-minimal' operators

Some years ago while collaborating with Bachir Moussallam, I ran into the issue of so-called non-minimal operators and their heat-kernel coefficients which is of interest in chiral perturbation theory with virtual photons. On my own I tried to understand the issue and the results, found lots of results with no apparent connection, contradictory references, etc.. So I decided to sit down and work through the masses of xerox copies of papers on the subject and wrote a draft of a paper pointing out several connections, simplifications, working out special cases, etc.. I sent it to Journal of Physics and got one report which said it should be published as it is very useful, and another saying that all this is well known. It went to an adjudicator who pointed the possible reason why I was finding some inconsistencies, and said that the paper could not be published in that form. When I took this reason into account all the inconsistencies vanished and it was submitted again, and the round had almost the identical outcome as regards referees. The new adjudicator agreed that it should be published after many many more changes were to be accounted for. The happy outcome of this voyage of discovery may be found here. I am posting this as a part of my new policy of explaining on my blog what I do in my research as well, for the benefit of all the three readers of this blog!

(Teaching vs. Research) vs. (Teaching and Research)

Many of my academic friends who blog have blogged in the past on the issue of Teaching and Research. I have participated in the comments on these. It is my humble submission that those who are primarily engaged in research actually do not really understand or appreciate how much it takes to be a good teacher. Often the arguments run that those in Research Institutes who are not doing great work and are somehow falling behind could be farmed off to Teaching Institutes. In fact one could write a farcical counter-proposal to this as follows: "X was hired to to a teaching Institute. Over the years X started getting really sick of students and teaching. He found that he does not find students questions and grading interesting any more. The Head of the Department summons him and says that we are aware that you once did some research also. In your graduate students days you held a research assistantship and even wrote a couple of papers. Now that you are really falling behind in teaching, maybe you should seriously consider a change in career and take up research in one of our premier Research Institutes. After all, all these years in a teaching environment would have given you special skills to deal with unpredictable situations that could arise in a research environment." Now back to reality after a few moments with farce: It is only recently I have come to discover how hard it is to hold the attention of students for a semester, leave alone a year. Not that I have not taught before; in fact I have been teaching for over a decade, not counting years of teaching assistantships during graduate student days. Recently I have been teaching some additonal classes as students wanted to learn about some advanced topics, not connected to the course I teach. The patience that is needed to prepare for lecture after lecture, make up homework assignments, conduct tests and exams, see students off and on is almost superhuman. Furthermore, if one's mind is so preoccupied, how is it possible to really do research? The magnitude of work required to do a good job of research is also awesome. Maybe it is only superhumans who can do a good job of both at the same time?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chandrayaan launch

We were already up this morning and were able to watch the launch live on TV. It was quite an enthralling experience. Can't imagine how much excitement there must have been at Shriharikota. What I find most impressive about such achievements is the teamwork. Without that how can one get any project of this magnitude done? I will look forward to reading about the actual take-off from the earth's gravitational field into that of the moon. What I found intriguing also is how they went ahead despite the strong cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal? [Speaking of this, I got really drenched this afternoon walking to IISc on New BEL Road.] Way to go.

The Indian blogosphere and the US election

I must confess that I am pretty much surprised at the amount of bandwidth that has been consumed by the US election on the Indian blogosphere. Perhaps there are some reasons: many Indian people have lived in the US, have relatives there, read the English press, regale the stories on the idiocies of Palin, the foibles of McCain, the charm of Obama. But I still cannot understand the intensity of opinion and the singular preoccupation of an election circus in a far-away land. Much has been said about Obama's middle name --- does the American voter think of this before he or she casts her vote, is the American voter a bigot, the list is endless. [I wonder how much bandwidth was consumed in the American blogosphere on the Pratibha Patil vs. Bhairon Singh Shekawat election or the Ansari vs. Heptullah election! ] My humble submission is simply: who cares?! Why should anyone care who is elected President of the US. Does in make any difference to the average African-American if an African-American is elected President?! Will the streets of Washington D. C. be safer? Will there be fewer attacks on Afghan civilians by US armed forces? Will fewer people lose jobs?! On the issue of the possible bigotry of the Republican camp: who cares? Why not Indian people think about bigotry in India? Could it be that the Indian blogosphere is dominated by upper-caste types who are themselves not really victims of the endemic and widespread bigotry of our society and cannot relate to it, but can instead relate to purported bigotry against those of `colour' in the US? Such is the nature of confusion in my unsophisticated mind...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Recent talks that I have given

I will be trying to link the talks that I give to this blog so that I have a record of these, and just in case one of you is also interested.

On September 10, 2008 I gave a talk here at CHEP in honour of the first beam at LHC. It was one of the best attended talks that I have given and to my satisfaction many students seem to have liked it. The link for the pdf file is here.

A shorter version was given as a colloquium at Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad and the link for the pdf file is here.

Travels 2008

Just got back from 8 days of vacation and travel in Delhi and the region. We did a two day trip to Mathura, Agra and Fatehpur-Sikri. The region was unseasonably warm and we could not pack in too much despite travelling in an air-conditioned vehicle. The day temperatures were about 36 C and the night temperatures were also high, and even the mornings were warm and humid. Mathura was interesting and we visited the Bange-Behari temple, which I am told is one of the most important temples in the region. And the Nidhivan which is where Krishna is supposed to be dancing every night with his 16,020 Gopikas. Later we visited the Janmabhoomi. It seemed like we were visiting a prison because of the number of metal detectors and frisking we had to endure. As you know this is right next to a fort which is also a mosque. I do not know if the mosque is a place of worship. In any case, despite all the propaganda in our newspapers and electronic media, I did not sense any kind of tension in the air. The next day was the visit to the Taj. After reading the morning's tragic headlines (see my earlier post on `Death in America') we did get to the Taj by 8:15 and inside the complex by 8:30 (lucky as the gates were closed off by 9:00 for a visiting dignitary and we were told would reopen only at 13:00). And what a sight. Did not imagine its grandeur and stateliness, dimensions and yes, symmetry. It is also very simple: sounds contradictory but it is the simplicity and gives the grace. It looks good as new. This is what was most surprising. I did not expect a monument which is I believe 360 years old to look this new. As Aparna said of herself, "this is my first wonder of the world." Yes, mine too. And the first time. After spending a good hour and a half in the complex we then left for Fatehpur-Sikri. It is also very impressive and I visite my first Dargah as well, that of Salim Chisti. It was quite touching to see the faith of so many who come here to make a secret wish. Of course I am tired of talking about India's multi-religious society and and how it is syncretic, blah, blah, blah! Why is it so surprising? After all no matter what the religion is, the people of the country eat the same food, breathe the same air, drink the same water, spend the same money, travel by the same train. But that is another story. After a nice meal at the nearby Hotel Goverdhan which is owned by the father of one of Anita's students at Ramaiah Institute, we got a tour of this lovely little hotel with about 20 rooms, extremely clean, spacious and comfortable, went back to Mathura and rested for a while and got back home by 22:15. A lovely little holiday indeed.

Physics Nobel Prizes: 2008

It was great to hear that Yochiro Nambu has finally be recognized by the Nobel committee. I learnt yesterday that he is now 87 years of age, and the work that has been recognized is about five decades old. It is very hard to imagine how he did the work when there was practically no framework, and nothing to go by. The idea of spontaneous symmetry breaking which was known in palable condensed matter systems was applied in particle physics at that time! To view pions as the bosons associated with a spontaneously broken (approximate) symmetry is now something that is taken for granted. It must have been out of the world at that time.

The second half is shared by Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa for their work on quark mixing that predicted the existence of the third generation (5th and 6th flavours) of quarks. I believe the mathematics was straightforward, but what a leap of faith! What an audacious idea! At a time when the fourth quark was only hypothesized (and needed for consistency), to say that there should be a fifth and a sixth!

Monday, October 13, 2008

`Death of an American Dream': Karthik Rajaram and family, in memoriam

Last week I looked at the headlines in the newspaper at the Indian Oil Guest House in Mathura at 7 am, while on holiday enroute to the Taj Mahal. There was a headline `Death of an American Dream'. I thought that it must be an article on people losing their homes in the USA. But to my horror it was about a mass murder cum suicide in the USA. Continuing to read with suspension of disbelief, I saw the unmistakable name Karthik Rajaram, classmate from B. Tech.. Of course the name may not have immediately rung a bell but for some emails on a newsgroup on which I get mail. The horror of it all: to take three kids, wife and mother-in-law with him. The next day an article in the HT even gave his roll number 80076. Yes, we have already gone for a memorial service for Ajay Tambe, 80001. While there are no words to express this horror, I must take a stand on the issue of taking so many with him. There can be no justification. Because if there is, there will be more to come. My first reaction was anger at killing so many innocents, the next of great sadness that such a thing could happen. There are no more words.