When Niels Bohr came to Mylapore

The Bohrs in Mylapore -- pic courtesy Alladi Krishasami

Bohr in Mylapore: courtesy Alladi Krishnasami

In the summer of 1958, Alladi Ramakrishnan returned to his elegant bungalow, Ekamra Nivas, in Madras after an unpaid sabbatical in the United States. The young Reader from the University of Madras had spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, at the invitation of its director, J Robert Oppenheimer, remembered as the father of the atomic bomb.

The Princeton institute was founded in 1930 to enable research with no immediate view to real-world applications. Albert Einstein was one of the first faculty hires at this haven for top European theoretical physicists and mathematicians fleeing fascism. There, Ramakrishnan first heard the luminaries of modern physics speak. In particular, he was fired up by the seminars, which he described in his memoir as “the essence of intellectual activity, where there is as much desire to imbibe as there is to impart, where opportunities are provided for a clash of intellects which would produce creative ideas”.

Upon his return, he wanted to create the same electrifying experience for his students at the University of Madras, but officials showed little interest. So he started an advanced lecture series titled, The Theoretical Physics Seminar, at his home.

That eventually led to the founding of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Taramani, Madras.

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