Science & Technology
Date: Monday , November 01, 1999
At the beginning of this century, an Indian told us why the sky was blue. Dr. C.V. Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930 for his work on the defraction of light. Technically speaking, the 20th century was a huge success. Indians, domestically and abroad, proved themselves to be some of the finest scientific minds that the world has seen. Raman's nephew, Subrahmanyan Chandrashekar, notched up another Nobel for the family in 1983, for his work on the life cycle of stars. Har Gobind Khorana scored a victory for medicine and won the award for his interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis. Satyendra Nath Bose worked with Albert Einstein to give us the Bose-Einstein statistics. Homi Bhabha, often cited as the father of nuclear energy in India, established the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR), to further enhance the contributions of Indians to the theoretical aspects of science.
The list is impressive. But India proved it could go beyond chalkboard diagrams and complicated, intangible theories to excel at technology, to apply scientific theory for a particular purpose. As remarkable as the technologies themselves was India's ingenuity in applying them. In 1991, the US State department refused to sell India any computer capable of performing more than 900 million operations a second. But the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) responded with the powerful Param series. The Param-10000 - probably the most powerful machine of its kind in the developing world, with applications in areas as diverse as engineering, industry, business, medicine, and astrophysics - met India's high-end computing needs, and made possible the most controversial application of an already disputed technology, India's nuclear weapons program.
The remote deserts of Rajasthan drew global attention with the Pokharan blasts that made India the world's sixth nuclear power. Lauded by overwhelming domestic support, they brought the country under heavy international criticism. Supporters hailed them as a demonstration of India's technological prowess, but the tests were done under a shroud of impeccable secrecy. The orbit of American satellites was calculated, and work schedules were engineered to avoid detection. Technologies to deliver powerful payloads were developed as the Sanksritic Agni, Prithvi, and Shakti missiles. India's success in missile technologies was closely linked to its successful rocket technologies.
Dr. Vikram A. Sarabhai, founder of the Indian space program, paved the way for a host of successful space expeditions. In May this year, India put three satellites into orbit with copybook precision. The cost of the Indian satellite was recovered by allowing a German and Korean satellite to ride piggyback on the Indian launch vehicle. This propelled the country into the global satellite launch market.
US ivy leagues have their match in the IITs. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) made its presence felt internationally, as graduates from the top schools went to fuel the booming technological economy of Silicon Valley. Academics such as Raj Reddy, who was assigned co-chairman of the US President's Technology Advisory Committee (PTAC), excelled in technologically creative avenues, like robotics and artificial intelligence. Amar Gopal Bose, a long time MIT associate, ushered in a new era of sound with the now famous speakers that bear his name. Take a walk into NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and you'll see a host of bright Indian scientists.
Whether it's forging new missile technologies, mapping lunar gravitational fields or tracking rogue protoplanets, the Indian techie has arrived. And it wouldn't be gross hyperbole to add that future technology will warrant the active participation of this breed of Indians.