With 10 hours devoted to research every day, and 18 “major” papers being accepted for publication in 2008 in leading international journals, he thinks he’ll break his own record this year. “I really want to create something in my field beyond my capability,” he says. “Unless we have a finite set of people who stretch their limits, we can’t achieve anything.”
That’s what China is doing, and he doesn’t know why we don’t do it in India. “We are a bunch of lazy people; we don’t want to work,” he says. Of course Rao doesn’t suffer from the same malaise. When I ask how long he intends to continue research, he says: “till my last day”.
One of his friends and long-term research collaborators in Cambridge was physicist Sir Nevill Francis Mott, a student of Nobel laureate Lord Ernest Rutherford. Mott died in 1996 at the age of 90, publishing a paper in that year. Not only that, says Rao, after retiring at 65, Mott entered a completely new area of research and eventually won a Nobel for that in 1977.
I ask him when India can expect one, given that his name has been in circulation recently. “I don’t know, I am not waiting for it, but if I get, I won’t be shocked,” he says, as a matter of fact. There has not been a Nobel Prize in his area of work and the person driving it is George Whitesides of Harvard University. But Rao also is a front-runner for a new prize instituted this year for nanoscience by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and California-based Kavli Foundation—the $1 million (about Rs3.9 crore) Kavli Prize.