Prestigious Einstein Prize for Indian American professor Abhay Ashtekar
Chicago: Over four decades after he began his scientific engagement with gravitational science, Professor Abhay Ashtekar is set to receive the prestigious Einstein Prize conferred by the American Physical Society (APS). The prize for 2018, which carries an award of $10,000, is scheduled to be announced on October 23. Its citation reads: “For numerous and seminal contributions to general relativity, including the theory of black holes, canonical quantum gravity, and quantum cosmology.”
Ashtekar is professor of physics, Evan Pugh Professor, Holder, Eberly Chair, and director of the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos at the Pennsylvania State University. “The prize is special because is it the highest honour bestowed by APS in the broad area of gravitational science. The first Einstein prize was awarded jointly to Peter Bergmann and John Wheeler, who introduced general relativity to American universities by creating research groups.
Ashtekar’s passion for physical sciences started while he was in high school in India. “At first I knew only Marathi literature —that is my mother tongue, and was the medium of instruction until I was 11. Then was exposed Hindi and English literature and realised how deeply literature is tied to specific cultures. What is considered great in one language or context could well be mediocre in another. At the same time, I learned Newton’s laws and universality of gravity — what makes the apple fall on earth also makes the planets go around the sun. This was stunning by itself,” he said.
What he found most remarkable was that, unlike art and literature, which are “so tied to human conditions”, Newton’s laws transcend both. “It was striking to me that the same Newton’s laws are taught and admired in India as in China, Japan and the West.”
After receiving his Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Chicago, Ashtekar went on to hold influential positions in France, Canada and India. His biography on the National Academy of Sciences, to which he was elected a member in 2016, describes him as someone “best known for initiating the Loop Quantum Gravity programme by introducing new variables to simplify Einstein’s equations, for analyzing the very early universe using Loop Quantum Cosmology. (IANS)