Renowned Physicist (1931-2018)

One of the most well-known names in the world of physics, Dr. Ennackal Chandy George Sudarshan was born in Pallam, Kerala, on 16 September 1931. He had his collegiate education at the CMS
College in Kottayam in Kerala and completed his Masters with honours from the Madras Christian College, University of Madras. He initially taught at the Tata Institute of Funda- mental Research (TIFR) where he had the opportunity of rubbing shoulders with the eminent nuclear scientist Homi Bhabha. He obtained his doctorate from the University of Rochester in New York, and later moved to the Harvard University. During a long and eventful career he contributed extensively to various spheres of physics, most significant among them being the V-A Theory by Sudarshan and Marshak. George’s collaboration with another physicist yielded the ‘Sudarshan-Glauber representation’ which explored the quantum representation of coherent light. Ironically, Glauber won the Nobel Prize for this theory but Sudarshan’s claims were ignored. Incidentally, Dr. Sudarshan was nominated for the Nobel Prize as many as nine times, but
was passed over every time. His main areas of interest included elementary particle physics, quantum optics, quantum information, open quantum system and Lindbad equation, open-statistics theorem, quantum computation, quantum field theory quantum zero effect, optical coherence and classical research. George was also passionately interested in some of the most fundamental problems that theoretical physics was confronted with, and his advanced research in the field resulted in the formulation of the V-A theory dealing with the weak nuclear force. He had earlier analysed the phenomenon while pursuing his PhD for thesis, supervised by renowned physicist Robert Marshak.

George Sudarshan’s most significant contribution was in the sphere of quantum optics where he identified the existence of tachyons – particles that travel faster than light. During his long and illustrious innings Sudarshan has been a teacher at TIFR, University of Rochester, Syracuse University and Harvard. He was also associated with the Indian Institute of Mathematical Science, Chennai, where he was a Director for a five year term, dividing his time between India and the US. During his tenure he was instrumental in turning the institution into a centre of excellence. He also set up the Centre for Theoretical Studies at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. However his longest tenure was at the University of Austin in Texas, where he worked for four decades and was a Chairman Emeritus at the time of his demise. The physics wizard also nursed an abiding interest in philosophy and keenly explored the relationship between east and west, philosophy and religion, and also had confabulated with the eminent philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthy, revealing his erudition and deep knowledge of Vedanta philosophy. He was briefly associated with another godman, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as well. Dr Sudarshan was also associated with the Meenakshi Temple in Houston, and served as its Honorary Council member too.

At his passing away, the University of Austin, Texas observed that it mourned the passing of George Sudarshan, titan of 20th century physics. The late physicist mentored hundreds of students and always took his wards seriously, and always encouraged them to air their views. He was a regular invitee to conferences around the world and his endearing wit and profound knowledge ensured that he was an asset at seminars attended by scientists from several continents. Dr. George Sudarshan was the recipient of several awards and honours including the Padma Bhushan in 1976, the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in India in 2007. In 1970 he also won the Sir C.V. Raman Award instituted in honour of the Nobel Prize winner. A gifted orator and a prolific writer, George Sudarshan also authored a number of books in collaboration with fellow scientists Doubt and Certainty with Tony Rothman and Classical dynamics with N. Mukunda were outstanding works. Dr. Sudarshan passed away at Austin in Texas on the 13 May 2018 at the age of 86, leaving behind a large fraternity of mourners from the world of science the world over.

C.V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.