Dr Bikash Sinha – My Memories

I returned from the USA after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in 1986 to Kolkata. My research work was on Nuclear Fusion and it was carried out at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory(LBL) using the fastest computers of the world at that time(CRAY-1, CRAY-2) set up as part of the Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center(MFECC) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory(LLNL).

I joined Saha Institute of Nuclear PhysicsISINP), Kolkata at its newly built campus in Salt Lake., where one of the two nuclear fusion projects was started in the early 1980s.
On the same campus, we had one more research lab – Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre(VECC) – a unit of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre(BARC). It was an interesting coincidence since LBL was set up by Ernest Lawrence after his invention of the Cyclotron in the Physics Dept of Univ of California, Berkeley, and if I remember it was invented in room 326 of Le Conte Hall. I had the privilege of teaching in that historic room!

Another coincidence was the fact that the first cyclotron of India(and possibly Asia) was built by Dr B D Nagchaudhuri (who did his Ph.D. at Berkeley under Lawrence) at SINP in its Rajabazar campus.

After joining SINP, I had my first public speech on my research work at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science(IACS), Kolkata. I received good feedback about talk and some of the scientists came to know about me and my work.

A bit later (most probably in 1987), I was invited to give a talk on a Data Acquisition System at VECC during an International Conference. Dr Bikash Sinha was Director of VECC and he was present during the talk. A day or two later, I was invited to be part of a small private dinner gathering by Dr Bikash Sinha. of about 7-8 senior scientists. I was almost half the age of most of them. Dr Sinha probably liked my work and wanted to have more interaction.

In 1990, my name was forwarded for the most accelerated promotion at SINP. There was a bit of controversy about my promotion as I was focused on making sure that the Nuclear Fusion reactor(the first one in India) became operational and did not focus on trying to publish papers. Dr Sinha chaired the final promotion committee. After my presentation and subsequent discussions, there was some internal discussion in the committee and Dr Sinha very strongly recommended my name for promotion appreciating my work.
Sometime in 1992, he also started holding the position of Director, SINP and my interaction increased. Around 1991, I improved the performance of SINP Tokamak(a nuclear fusion reactor) and I was invited to give a talk at the SINP during one of the Institutional level talks about my work. I gave details of my work along with my plans etc. During the Q&A session, I was asked questions about how many papers you have published. I responded by saying that my focus is on achieving nuclear fusion and if I can achieve it even without publishing any papers, I would be very satisfied. With our scientific community obsessed with the number of publications and not the goal-oriented research, this created a lot of controversy in the institute – especially since my way of working was very unconventional and my focus was always on solving problems. Some people went and complained to Dr Sinha that I do not want to publish papers! He dropped by my lab and asked me about it. I explained to him the context in which I had said and he understood it completely!
One more time, he dropped into my lab where Tokamak was set up, and was discussing the work going on on the machine. He was aware of some issues with the Air conditioning system and asked me about it. I told him – “Air conditioner works perfectly in winter!”. It took him some time to understand the sarcasm in my statement and burst into laughter after 20-30 seconds!

In 1995, I moved to Institute for Plasma Research(IPR), Gandhinagar to work on the new Super Conducting Tokamak being planned there. In a few months time after I improved, the existing machine ADITYA Tokamak, I was made Project leader of the reactor.

Around 1996-97, Dr Sinha came to IPR for a meeting. In the afternoon, I got a request that he wanted to meet me. I rushed to meet him in the meeting room. The minute he saw me, he came out of the meeting room and asked me to show him around. He mentioned that he was getting bored in the meeting and he would love to see the scientific work! As I took him around and showed him the various work, we were doing, he spent nearly one hour with me going into details of everything.

I believe that was the last meeting that I had with him and it felt very sad to hear about his sad demise on Aug 11, 2023! He was a towering personality in Indian Science and would be missed badly.

Author: Prabhat Ranjan

Prof. Prabhat Ranjan is Vice Chancellor, D Y Patil International University, Akurdi, Pune. He was heading India's Technology Think Tank, TIFAC(tifac.org.in) as its Executive Director since April 2013 to April 2018. Earlier he was Professor at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute for Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar (DA-IICT) since 2002. He was educated in Netarhat School(near Ranchi), IIT Kharagpur and Delhi University. He received his Ph D from University of California, Berkeley where he carried our research on “Nuclear Fusion” at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory during 1983-86. He immediately returned to India after this and carried out research in Nuclear Fusion area at Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Calcutta and Institute for Plasma Research(IPR), Gandhinagar. He played a major role in India’s Nuclear Fusion program and was Project Leader of the largest operational Indian Fusion Reactor, ADITYA, at Institute for Plasma Research from 1996-2002. His current interests include applications of Wireless Sensor Network to Wildlife, Planetary Exploration (Chandrayaan mission), Nuclear Fusion, Healthcare, Agriculture etc. He has received National Science Talent Search Award, IBM Faculty Innovation Grant and HP Innovate 2009 award, NPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Award 2012, Bihar Gaurav Samman 2012 etc. In March 2022, he was also honored with EduStar India’s Most Impactful Vice Chancellor Award for 2021-22. He has been recognized by outlook among few visionaries, who can lead India towards 5 Trillion Dollar Economy. He has been also honoured with Maharashtra Ratna Gaurav Puraskar by Shalini Foundation in 2024. He is also recognized among the top “100 Great IITians : Dedicated to the Service of the Nation”.

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