Looking up and down for answers

Bronze Figurines. Photo courtesy: Siddharth Kankaria

Prof Rohini M Godbole and Prof Sharada Srinivasan, two Bengaluru-based scientists, are among those conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri award announced on January 25, 2019, by the Government of India. Rohini Godbole is a professor at the Centre for High Energy Physics, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and Sharada Srinivasan is a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS).

Making sense of the universe

Prof Rohini is a particle physicist best known for her work on sparticles and supersymmetry theory. According to the Standard Model of particle physics, everything around us is made up of fundamental particles, like leptons, bosons and quarks. The supersymmetry theory states that for each of these particles, there exists a ‘sister’ particle or sparticle, that we are yet to discover. She has published numerous research papers and has authored a book on this subject.

Rohini’s work on high energy photons could form the basis for the next generation of particle colliders, used to study the fabric and composition of the universe. She has contributed immensely towards the design and implementation of two particle colliders, the Large Hadron Collider and the Next Linear Collider, at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

She is a part of the International Detector Advisory Group for the International Linear Collider (ILC) at CERN, which monitors the design and working of the ILC detector. She is a member of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, USA, and a recipient of many national and international awards, besides being the fellow of all three premier science academies — Indian Academy of Science (IASc), Indian National Science Academy (INSA) and the National Academy of Sciences, India (NASI) — in India.

Rohini is also the chairperson of the ‘Panel for Women in Science’ initiative of the Indian Academy of Sciences. She is very vocal about gender equality in scientific careers and has authored a report on women scientists in India as part of the ‘Women in Science and Technology in Asia’ published by the Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia (AASSA).

She has jointly edited the book Lilavati’s Daughters, a biographical essay collection on Indian women scientists, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences. She is also a renowned science communicator who enjoys talking about physics and delivering talks to students, researchers and scientists. 

Tracing humankind’s history

Prof Sharada is an archaeologist who specialises in the scientific study of art, archaeology, archaeometallurgy, and culture. Her significant contributions include archaeometric characterisation of bronzes using lead isotope analysis and archaeometallurgical studies on ancient mining and metallurgy in southern India.

Analysis of the lead isotope ratio helps in fingerprinting sculptures and studying the metallurgical techniques used to make them. She has also studied in detail the ancient metallurgical practices of South India and those followed by some communities like the Kammalars of Kerala and the Kurumbas of Nilgiris. 

In one of her research works, Sharada has uncovered the use of sophisticated high-tin bronze metallurgy in the Iron Age artefacts found from the excavations at Adichanallur, Tamil Nadu, through scientific analysis.

These artefacts are ranked among the earliest and finest examples of such metallurgy, some of which are still followed in parts of Kerala. Her work has also provided evidence for skilled production of high-carbon steel by crucible processes from Mel-Siruvalur in Tamil Nadu.

Sharada’s research has uncovered highly skilled and sophisticated metallurgical techniques practised in southern India over thousands of years. It has also brought to light the need for furthering archaeological studies in this region and fostering interest in the discipline of scientific archaeology. She is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and the World Academy of Art and Science. 

(The writers are with Gubbi Labs, Bengaluru)

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