Monday, October 11, 2010

Limitless Ladder: Part 2. The Chemistry between CNR and Chemistry

"A Life in Chemistry," is the subtitle of CNR's autobiography. And he makes it amply clear that he would like his book to be largely about his career in science -- a 55-year long love affair with chemistry. Being no chemist, I have no way of approaching it other than through his publication record.

[Interestingly, CNR himself doesn't dwell too much on the deep chemical questions that occupied his mind at different stages in his career. The number of publications is mentioned as a shorthand for the kind of productive work he did. For example, here's how he describes his post-doctoral stint at Berkeley: "My research was progressing very well in Berkeley and I had a credible list of publications (totaling around 30)."]

If doing science is important, getting it published is equally important to CNR. As he puts it in the section on his grad school days at Purdue:

Prof. [Herbert C.] Brown used to day, "If it is worth doing, it must be worth publishing." [Michael] Faraday had said much the same many years earlier. In science, we "work, finish, publish." These statements have guided me all through my professional life. [p.30]

And he gets back to this theme -- the importance of publishing -- again on p.184:

Some scientists are conservative about publishing while others are prolific. While there is no simple rule about how much to publish or not to publish, there is no denying the fact that, as Benjamin Franklin as well as Faraday put it, the main activity of scientists is to 'work, finish and publish.' I am not ashamed of publishing. I have known great scientists who have published several hundred papers. Both Raman and Faraday published over 450 papers. I have also known extraordinary men who have published very few papers. I have known theoretitians, like Nevill Mott, who have published consistently and constantly for several decades. [p.184]

* * *

CNR's publication record is truly awesome. Here's a quick summary:

  • ISI Web of Knowledge lists over 1481 of his papers. And this was about a week ago! [Sure enough, the number today is 1482]

  • His papers have been cited over 39,600 times; i.e., over 26 citations per paper.

  • He has 17 papers with more than 200 citations each, 68 papers with more than 100 citations each.

  • His h-index is 88; i.e., 88 papers of his have been cited at least 88 times.

The best part of his record, at least to me, is that his record is just getting better with every passing decade. And this current decade is his best ever!

Figure: Year-wise publication record of CNR [Source: ISI Web of Knowledge]

  • Since the beginning of 2000, he has been publishing over 45 papers a year.

  • Nine of his 17 papers with 200+ citations -- and 23 of his 68 papers with 100+ citations -- were published during this decade.

  • Since 2004, his papers have been accumulting over 2000 citations annually.

CNR's science has led to many, many recognitions. Here's an excerpt from Prof. Rama Rao's review of Limitless Ladder:

[Prof. C.N.R. Rao] is among the world's most decorated scientists: fellowships of all Indian Science Academies, the Royal Society (London), the National Academy of Sciences (USA), the Royal Society of Canada as well as French, Spanish, Brazilian, Japan and Pontifical Academies, the first India Science Prize and several other Indian and international prizes. Space does not allow listing of all his accomplishments and honours. He is the premier Indian scientist, the unparalleled doyen of modern Indian science.

And honorary doctorates have been conferred on CNR by over 50 universities worldwide. [BTW, his website has a wealth of details.]

Looking back at his life's work, CNR is moved to express his deep sense of satisfaction. Here's the last paragraph from Limitless Ladder:

I end by recalling how satisfying my life has been. I have had a wonderful profession matched by an equally good family life. I have enjoyed my life as a scientist. I cannot think of a better way to live and I am getting to be happier as I am getting older. I have no regrets and would gladly do it all over again. ... [p.173]