Balasubramanian Ananthanarayan, a Professor at the Indian Institute of Science and Chairman of the Centre for High Energy Physics, is one of the most prominent researchers in the field of elementary particle physics and field theory. He is currently working on improving the predictions of low energy and developing an effective theory of the standard model, and also on searches for physics beyond the standard model.
“Curiosity about the integrity of the theories we have and to test them at the extremes of precision and logical consistency, is the main motivation in this exciting field,” says Dr. Ananthanarayan. The beauty and simplicity of ideas and the possibility of transcending man-made phenomena is what attracted him to this field. For years, among other topics, he has been involved in developing the theory of unitarity bounds to obtain precise information on form factors (which are the basic observables in the forces and confinement of particles in Physics), which is a crucial test of the theory of strong interactions. He has collaborated with Dr. Irinel Caprini from Bucharest on this subject along with co-workers at IISc. He has also been working extensively on collider physics in the recent years. Recall that the Higgs boson and its properties are sought after by most physicists all over the world. This is because it was the missing key in standard physics which can explain all the fundamental particles and forces. The project of collider physics is basically for the intense research on this particle, besides trying to discover new particles.
Dr. Ananthanarayan completed his bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in 1985. After this, he decided to change tracks and went on to pursue a Master of Science in Physics at the University of Delaware, Newark, USA. Then he completed his PhD in Physics in the same university in 1991, under the supervision of Prof. Qaisar Shafi.
Dr. Ananthanarayan recollects the interesting experiences he had changing his subject of study to physics. “Undoubtedly a very risky decision to have taken, I did set about it quite methodically. I registered for 3 courses of the M.Sc. in Physics program and went through the course work meticulously,” says Dr. Ananthanarayan. There was no internet those days, so he had to write to some US universities for their course booklets. “I basically drew mental Venn diagrams and isolated those courses which defined a basic minimum. Many long hours were spent in the IIT Madras library looking up textbooks spelt out in those course booklets and simply sitting down and working out missing steps and learning the basics. I must also emphasize that one great skill I did learn from the B. Tech. at IIT Madras was problem solving, a skill that is useful whether one goes in physics, managements, finance, computer science, IAS or what have you,” adds Dr. Ananthanarayan.
He believes that anyone can identify their weaknesses and work on them by putting themselves in a structured routine and emerge as a better student, if not as an expert. He presents his story as an example to all those who are thinking twice about taking a risk in their careers and says, “The moral of this story is that if this worked for me, it will work for anyone. Such professional physicists, for that matter scientists and engineers, are the need of the hour for the country.”
Dr. Ananthanarayan has worked as a post-doctoral fellow at three institutions, namely, Physical Reseach Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India; University of Lausanne, Switzerland and University of Bern, Switzerland. After this, he joined IISc as an Assistant Professor. He was awarded the Fellowship of the Homi Bhabha Fellowships Council in November 2009 - 2011. He has now received the prestigious “Rustum Choksi Award for Excellence in Research for the year 2014” from the IISc Court. On receiving the award, he modestly says, “The recognition of academic excellence by my employer, the leading institution in the country, and recognition of this by the Institute Management and senior colleagues is the main value of this award.”
Dr. Ananthanarayan wishes to dedicate his achievements to all his elders who have acted as a strong support system in his life. “Acknowledgements are also due, to the kind advice, help and encouragement of my teachers , Profs. V. Balakrishnan, G. Rangarajan and the late Prof. S. Swaminathan. Prof. M. S. Ananth -- who was to later become director of IIT Madras -- was also very encouraging of my decision and was great to talk to,” he says Prof. Alladi Sitaram, a retired mathematician from the Indian Statistical Institute is another of Dr Ananthanarayan’s role models.
Dr. Ananthanarayan has published a number of papers on his work over the years, as well as general-interest science articles. IISc conducts a training program, called 'Outreach' project, every summer for promising students from India and abroad, selected through a rigorous competitive process. Dr. Ananthanarayan used to work with students over the summer break as a part of this project. To aspiring students, he wishes to give this piece of advice: “We must work very hard, think hard and also learn a lot of lateral skills. Computer skills are a must today irrespective of what one may want to do, along with mathematics.”
Chairman & Professor, Centre for High Energy Physics
Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012, India