Friday, May 02, 2008

A profile of Prof. H.N. Ramachandra Rao

Deccan Herald's K. Jayalakshmi has penned a this profile of Prof. H.N. Ramachandra Rao who has a 75 year long association with IISc, starting here as a student and retiring as a professor. Some excerpts:

[IISc] began working with a modest three departments, that stressed on applied work. The success of Government Dichromate Factory, Government Porcelain Factory (now BHEL) or the Sandal Oil Factory was directly traceable to research work at IISc. The electro technics department that later became electrical engineering, was responsible for setting up of shortwave radio stations at Delhi, Bombay and Madras.

Whether it was helping the Government Acetone Factory with technique for production of acetone from alcohol using javari, controlling spike disease in sandalwood, or investigation of potable water and sewage facilities at Bangalore, Ahmedabad or Jamshedpur, IISc was at the forefront. [...]

Under the first Indian director C V Raman, he remembers an interesting issue not known by many, perhaps. “Raman wanted to convert the institute into an institute of physics! He would often ignore the governing council committee suggestions and even change them. Council members Meghnad Saha, Chandavarkar and N S Subba Rao met the viceroy urging that Raman be removed. It was Lord Rutherford, who then advised that Raman be made a professor of physics and allowed to continue at the institute if he accepted. He agreed! And Ghosh became director.” [...]

The number of students in the departments were few and the teacher student ratio was 1:3. The students were mostly top rank holders from various universities. “They represented the cultural mix of India. In fact we had so many messes then, one for Parsi food, another for Bengali, and so on. The decision to merge them all saw an agitation!”

Students had full freedom to work. There was no attendance or strict working hours. “During day time they would be at MG Road or Brigade Road and work late into the night at the department. It was wonderful.”

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On a totally unrelated note, let me point you all to Divya Gandhi's short report on how the OBC quota will be implemented at IISc.