Indian Scientist: Dr. Jayant Narlikar
Jayant Vishnu Narlikar was born in Kolhapur, in the state of Maharashtra, India on July 19, 1938. His father, Vishnu Vasudeva Narlikar was an eminent mathematician and general relativist. He was Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics at the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. His mother, Sumati Vishnu Narlikar (nee’ Krishna Shankar Huzurbazar) was a sanskrit scholar. Jayant grew up in an academic and scholarly environment at home with a liking for both mathematics and sanskrit. He went to the University Children’s School in the B.H.U. campus and invariably topped in all examinations including the matriculation one. He continued this tradition till the Bachelor of Science degree examination at B.H.U. in 1957.
After graduation he went to Cambridge University, U.K. for higher studies in mathematics. He joined the Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge in 1957 and obtained his Cambridge degrees B.A., in 1960, M.A., in 1964 and Ph.D. in 1963. While at Cambridge, he became Wrangler (in 1959) and achieved distinction at the Part III of the Mathematical Tripos along with the Tyson medal in astronomy in the following year. As a research student he was the W.A. Meak Research Scholar of the University of Cambridge and won the coveted Smith’s Prize in 1962. Later on he went on to win the prestigious Adams Prize at Cambridge in 1967. In 1976 he received the Sc.D. degree of Cambridge University.
In 1966, Jayant Narlikar married Mangala Sadashiv Rajwade who has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Mumbai University. They have three daughters, Geeta, Girija and Leelavati.
Narlikar did his Ph.D. under the inspiring guidance of Fred Hoyle. In 1963, he went to King’s College, Cambridge as Berry Ramsey Fellow (1963-69), later to become a Senior Research Fellow (1969-72). He was also the founder staff member of the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy which was established in Cambridge in 1966 by Fred Hoyle. He held this position till his return to India in 1972 to take up Professorship at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. At the TIFR he was in charge of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group, which he developed into a strong centre for astrophysics. He became Senior Professor in 1983, and upon leaving the TIFR in 1989, he held the position of an Honorary Professor there for three years.
In 1988 the University Grants Commission set up the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) at Pune. At the invitation of the U.G.C. Chairman, Professor Yash Pal, Narlikar became the Founder-Director of IUCAA in 1988, first in an honorary capacity and then as a full-time Director since 1989. Through his efforts, aided by many colleagues he has been able to bring to IUCAA international stature as a research centre as well as a place for pedagogical activities.
Narlikar has made important contributions to theoretical physics, astrophysics and cosmology. He is considered a leading expert and defender of the steady state cosmology against the more popular big bang cosmology. His work on conformal gravity theory with Fred Hoyle demonstrated how a synthesis could be achieved between Einstein’s general theory of relativity and Mach’s principle.
Honours and Awards
Jayant Narlikar has been honoured by several awards for his research, including the S.S. Bhatnagar award for physical sciences (1978), the F.I.E. Foundation’s Rashtrabhushan award (1981), the B.M. Birla award (1993), etc. He is Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy, the Indian Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences of India, the Cambridge Philosophical Society and the Third World Academy of Sciences. He has honorary doctorates from the Burdwan University and the Banaras Hindu University. He was decorated Padmabhushan by the President of India in 1965.
Apart from his research work, Jayant Narlikar has established a name in the field of science popularization. He has used the print and electronic media for this purpose, with English, Hindi and Marathi as languages for communication. For his contributions to science popularization efforts he has received the Indira Gandhi Award of the Indian National Science Academy (1990) and the Kalinga Award of UNESCO (1996).