Venkatraman Radhakrishnan (18 May 1929 – 3 March 2011) was an internationally renowned space scientist and member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He was Professor Emeritus of the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, India, where he had been Director from 1972 to 1994.
Professor Radhakrishnan was born in Tondaripet, a suburb of Madras to Nobel laureate physicist Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman and his wife Lokasundari Ammal . His earlier schooling was in Madras. He graduated from the Mysore University before joining the Department of Physics at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
He was married to Mrs. Francoise-Dominique Radhakrishnan They have a son Vivek Radhakrishnan who studied design under the direction of Hella Jongerius, from the Design Academy Eindhoven, Netherlands. In 2004, Vivek and his wife Namrata returned home to Bangalore to set up Kynkyny. The company has two facets, Kynkyny Art, a gallery for contemporary Indian art, and Kynkyny Home, a boutique for exclusive home furniture and products.
Prof. Radhakrishnan served on various committees in various capacities. He was the Vice President of the International Astronomical Union during 1988-1994. He served as the Chairman of Commission J ( Radio Astronomy) of the International Union of Radio Sciences (1981–1984).
Radhakrishnan was one of the most respected Radio Astronomers in the world during his time, in that he was associated in one capacity or other with the world’s biggest radio telescopes. He was the member of the Foreign Advisory Committee for the Netherlands Foundation for Radio Astronomy, Steering Committee of the Australia Telescope National Facility, CSIRO, Australia, Advisory Committee for the Green Bank Radio Telescope, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA He was also the Member of the Governing Council of the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. During the period of 1973–1981 he was a member of the Indian National Committee for Astronomy.
Radhakrishnan was selected to various scientific bodies, both national and international. He was a Foreign Fellow of both the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Science Academy. He was an Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society and a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore
He was an internationally acclaimed Astrophysicist and also renowned for his design and fabrication of ultralight aircraft and sailboats. Prof. V. Radhakrishnan had received his B.Sc.(Hon) from Mysore University. He started his research career as a research scholar at the Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Science Bangalore and thereafter was in the research faculties of various world famous institutes. He worked in the Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden as a Research Assistant during 1955-58. He was a Senior Research fellow of the California Institute of Technology, USA before joining the Radiophysics Division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Sydney, Australia initially as the Senior Research Scientist and later as the Principal Research Scientist. He returned to India in 1972 and took up the task of rebuilding the Raman Research Institute as its Director. During his tenure as the Director of the Raman Research Institute between 1972–1994 he built up an international reputation for work in the areas of pulsar astronomy, liquid crystals and other areas of frontline research in Astronomy. The University of Amsterdam conferred the most prestigious Doctor Honoris Causa degree on Prof. Radhakrishnan in 1996.
V. Radhakrishnan had been associated with the field of radio astronomy practically from the beginning of its phenomenal post- World War II growth in the 1950s. He was one of the persons who founded the science of observational astronomy in India. His career had been truly international, starting in Sweden in 1954 and proceeding via CalTech and CSIRO, Sydney to Bangalore where he spent the last thirty three years.
Starting with the electronics of receivers, he moved on to technically innovative and astronomically far-reaching studies of the polarization of the radio waves. These include the detection of radio waves from the Van Allen like belts surrounding Jupiter and the first determination of the true rotation of the core of Jupiter. He was also the first in systematic application of interferometry to polarized brightness distributions and an early study of the Zeeman Effect in the 21 cm line emitted by a hydrogen atom. His measurements of polarization of Vela Pulsar were decisive in establishing the picture of a magnetized rotating neutron star and led him to propose the paradigm of curvature radiation from polar caps of neutron stars which has dominated the subject of pulsar emission mechanisms since that time.
The period of his stay in Australia also marked his leadership of an extensive survey of the absorption and emission of 21 cm line radiation by neutral hydrogen which later helped to develop the realistic model of the interstellar medium. He also carried out systematic interferometric study of 21 cm absorption towards a large number of galactic and extragalactic sources. His detailed observational and theoretical work on different aspects of pulsars is truly pioneering in the field of Pulsar Astronomy.
According to his colleagues in different international institutes, each world-renowned for their contributions in the field of astronomy & astrophysics, although Prof. Radhakrishnan has a number of important discoveries to his credit, his main impact on astronomy had been in his effect in other people’s research through discussion of the astronomical and technical problems and practical assistance with the later. He was one of the most devoted and perceptive physicists only satisfied with deep understanding of any concept and his interest increases with the strangeness or significance of the phenomenon. He was uninterested in mundane repetitions of other people’s work and searches for new breakthroughs.
It was not only in the field of astronomy that Prof. Radhakrishnan kept his mark but also in the designing and fabricating hang-gliders, micro-light aircraft and sailboats. His original contributions in these fields were acknowledged by the Government of India by way of support from the Aeronautics Research Development Board, Ministry of Defence (for designing hang-gliders) and ISRO (for sailboats).
Professor Radhakrishnan published more than 80 papers in research journalsand also proceedings of different various International Conferences. He also co-edited a book of conference-proceedings, “Supernovae : their Progenitors and Remnants” (1985).He had been the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy.
It is to be noted that Prof. Radhakrishnan’s style of doing science won him a valued place in the astronomical community. It started by raising a few penetrating questions, which were analysed in informal but deep discussion, short of formalism but full of physical insights. By his choice, his name rarely appeared in the final publication. His often unconventional views on other matters relating to the pursuit of science, especially radioastronomy, were expressed to his colleagues but rarely published.
Prof. Radhakrishnan’s contribution to science in general and astronomy in particular was exceptional. His observations and theoretical insights helped the community in unraveling many mysteries surrounding pulsars, interstellar clouds, galaxy structures and various other celestial bodies.
He worked tirelessly in making the Raman Research Institute a world renowned center of excellence in astronomy research. The institute became well known due to his efforts to sustain a unique free and open working atmosphere with emphasis on fostering young talents in an informal and friendly setting and giving it all facilities and encouragement. He sought to lower barriers between theory and experiment, scientific and technical staff, between physicists and astronomers or staff members and students. This approach, unprecedented not only in the country but perhaps in the rest of the world as well, required his personal attention to every detail in the running of the institute. He was instrumental and closely involved with the construction of the 10.4 metre millimeter wave radio antenna in the Institutes which has been used to study various astrophysical phenomena producing original contributions in pulsar astronomy as well as recombination line studies of the interstellar medium.
He made important contributions in various other areas and was deep and profound in the human aspects of his personality. Deuterium abundance in the galaxy, Astrophysical Raman Masers, OH emission from clouds and later on building of the low frequency telescopes at Gauribidanur and Mauritius were some of the hallmarks of his career.
He was invited to deliver the prestigious Milne Lecture in Oxford in 1987, and also gave the extremely prestigious Jansky Lecture in 2000.
He was the member of International Astronomical Union (IAU) and served on many of its committees, including Division VI Commission 34 on Interstellar Matter, Division X Commission 40 on Radio Astronomy, Division XI Commission 44 Space & High Energy Astrophysics, Division VI Interstellar Matter, Division X Radio Astronomy, and Division IX Space & High Energy Astrophysics.
The famous scientist J.B.S. Haldane remarked upon him : ” Given good conditions anybody could turn out acceptable work; but the mark of a true scientist is that he can create the requisite conditions and make great discoveries. The scientific career of Prof. Radhakrishnan exemplifies the spirit of this statement.”
Radhakrishnan was unassuming, highly reticent about his own achievements, but with a quick and generous appreciation of good work in others. He was a source of inspiration to not merely the members of his institute but motivated his colleagues everywhere towards higher human values. Friends and family affectionately addressed him as ‘Rad’, who more than anything else was an inspirational man, who never gave up, even toward the end of his life.
He had an indigenously built Catamaran called “El da mer” dedicated to his French wife, in which he went circumventing globe twice. In one of the incident, he started sailing on 12 March 2008 from Goa, India to Salalah, Oman with Devvart Rana, Mahalaxmi Bhobe and Keith Dunstan. This leg of the trip which was meant to be 7-10 day long, ended up in 27 days due to sea conditions, with Omani Navy finally coming to rescue of this “Sailor-at-Heart” Scientist on 7 April 2008.