The indomitable spirit of educationist and scientist Yash Pal

The indomitable spirit of educationist and scientist Yash Pal

The indomitable spirit of educationist and scientist Yash Pal
Throughout his illustrious career as a scientist, administrator and science communicator, Yash Pal was known for his indomitable spirit, the first signs of which were visible when he was barely a 9 year kid.

He was born at Jhang (now in Pakistan) in November 1926 and spent his early childhood in Quetta in Balochistan that was hit by a massive earthquake in 1935. The temblor not only devastated the entire locality but buried young Yash and his brother under the debris. Both were dug out from the rubble of mud bricks before they were lost.

The near death experience failed to dampen the spirit of Yash Pal, who did his a large part of his schooling in Afghanistan, thanks to his father's job in the government. He was given a nickname of 'Mota Sir' (thick head) by his Pashtoon and Hazara friends because he was able to answer all the questions of his teachers.

The 90 year old scholar died at his home in Noida on Monday night. His death has been condoled by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and many others.

Yash Pal (who barely used his surname Singh) attended college in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad, Pakistan) and was doing his masters from East Punjab University, when he moved to Delhi during the turbulent days of partition, because the university's physics honours school was located in Delhi University campus.

In the second year of his M.Sc he responded to an advertisement from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, initiating a three decade long carrier in research on nuclear physics and cosmic rays.
In fact, the TIFR authorities had to bend the rules to allow an M.Sc final year student (position was for those who completed the M.Sc) to complete his dissertation at the Mumbai laboratory and continue work as a research student.

At TIFR he met Bernard Peters, a distinguished cosmic ray physicist and a student of Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the Manhattan Project that led to the creation of the atom bomb. The association helped Yash Pal in his research carrier on cosmic ray experiments using balloon flights.

In 1954 left TIFR to do his Ph D at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he fared poorly in the first qualifying examination that took place within two weeks of his arrival at the MIT.

However, Yash got a second opportunity and completed his doctoral work on the properties of sub-atomic particles that came out of the world's first accelerator Cosmotron.

He returned to TIFR, where he continued till 1970s when he was asked by Satish Dhawan to join the space programme.

Yash Pal set up the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad and played the central role in the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment that heralded television broadcasting in India.

Subsequently he worked for the Planning Commission, became the secretary of the Department of Science and Technology secretary and chairman, University Grants Commission.

In later part of his life, he became an excellent science communicator with the Turning point programme in Doordarshan and also fought a path-breaking court case against fake universities in Chhattishgarh as a result of which 112 fake universities had to close shop.
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