Today is the Jayanti of G.N. Ramachandran, another of the great Indian scientists of modern era, known for his discovery of the collagen structure.And apart from being a scientist of note, was an equally good Vedic scholar, studied the Upanishads in depth.
G.N. Ramachandran or GNR as he was known, was one of those who could effectively combine science with spirituality. His contributions in molecular biophysics, especially protein structure, were worthy of a Noble, which like most other Indian scientists was denied.
GNR set up two centers for molecular biophysics at IISc, and University of Madras, both of which are among the best in the world today. He was also deeply interested in Indian classical music and philosophy. Studied the Upanishads, interpreted their teachings.
He was born on Oct 8, 1922 at Ernakulam. Eldest son of G.R. Naryana Iyer and Lakshmi Ammal, his father was a maths professor at Maharajah's College. Much like the Travancore Maharaja, the Kochi Maharaja was an equally wise and enlightened ruler.
In a way Kerala was fortunate that both the major royal families- Travancore and Kochi, had the foresight to invest in education, set up excellent universities and colleges, laying the foundation. GNR excelled in Maths, and later joined St.Josephs. Trichy in 1939.
Once again GNR topped the Physics Honors course in the entire Madras Presidency. Though his father wanted him to join the Civil Services, he was not interested, and he later joined the Electrical Engg dept at IISc. He however later switched to his first love Physics there.
It could also be due to the fact that at that time, the Physics Dept in IISc was headed by the legendary C.V.Raman, whom GNR considered as one of his biggest influences. The other 2 scientists who influenced GNR were Linus Pauling and William Bragg.
Raman was particularly impressed by GNR's ability to solve the Raleigh-Jeans problem in optics, and the way he tackled it with rigorous proof. He recommended him for a scholarship, gave him an associate degree too. Raman wud be GNR's chief mentor.
"Raman had great respect for students who were better than him in mathematics. He gave me another problem to study the scattering of light by small particles, 3 or 4 times the wavelength of the radiation used."- G.N.Ramachandran
GNR got his MSc from Madras University in 1944, his thesis was on propagation of light through optically heterogeneous media. Even after PG, he still continued his work on PhD under Raman.
His doctoral research included photo-elasticity and thermo-optic behavior of different solids such as diamond, fused quartz. His research contained some of the earliest applications of X-Ray diffraction, and also coined the term topograph for such pictures.
He went to Cambridge in 1947, to purse his research at the Cavendish Laboratory, headed by William Bragg then. However he cud not directly work with Bragg and instead was assigned to Dr. Wooster. He also attended Dirac's lectures on Quantum Mechanics.
He also met one of his idols Linus Pauling at Cambridge, whom he particularly admired for his work on the polypeptides structure. Also GNR's ideas on Chemistry were to a great extent shaped by Pauling's works, and he even composed a Limerick on his idol.
Returning to India in 1949, GNR was appointed at Asst Professor of Physics at IISc, however his mentor Raman was no longer there. He had left IIsc and started his own Raman Research Institute. He also set up the X-Ray Diffraction Lab at IIsc, that became a major research center.
Starting in a single room and a lab at the AC College in Guindy, and just two members- GNR himself and Alladi Ramakrishnan for theoretical physics, the Dept of Physics grew rapidly uner GNR's supervision and care. Organized international conferences, bought in great scientists.
In 1952, GNR shifted to Madras University, on the request of it's VC , Dr. A. Lakshmanaswamy Mudaliar, a long time Raman associate, to head the newly formed Physics Dept there. Mudaliar actually wanted Raman to do so,but he recommended GNR instead.
GNR as head of Dept of Physics, Madras University,organized two international conferences in 1963, 1968, managed to get in the likes of Linus Pauling,Paul Florty and others. His efforts ensured that Madras Univ got global recognition.
Unfortunately with the retirement of Mudaliar, GNR did not have the support, and with the next VC Sundara Vadivelu playing dirty, he resigned from Madras University in 1970 and came back to his first love IISc, which was being headed by Satish Dhawan then.
Satish Dhawan, gave GNR the responsibility of setting up new Dept of Molecular Biophysics at IISc, in 1971. It soon became a major center of structural biology research. Again I really don't have that much knowledge to go indepth into GNR's actual work.
His major contribution would be the discovery of the triple helical structure of collagen, motivated by remarks of J.D.Bernal tat it's structure theory was not satisfactory. Ramachandran co-authored this paper with Gopinath Kartha in 1955, bringing out the theory.
He was equally fascinated by Fourier Transforms, applied them for developing the theory of Image Reconstruction from X-Ray Radiographs. In 1971 NGR alongwith A.V. Lakshminarayana published a seminal research paper on 3 D Image reconstruction.
His theory on 3 D Image reconstruction led to the development of CT Scan. In 1976 he came up with Boolean Algebra Vector Matrix Formulation based on Fundamental theory and Mathematical philosophy.
Death of his wife Rajalakshmi in 1998, devastated him emotionally, and his later years were spent grappling with depression, and psychiatric problems. Afflicted by Parkinson's disease, GNR passed away in Chennai on April 7, 2001. One of the greats of modern India was no more.
GNR was acclaimed as a scientist of Nobel Prize caliber by Linus Pauling, Francis Crick among others. Unfortunately forget Bharat Ratna, he was not even given a Padma Award, nor has his contribution been given due recognition, except in IISC.
G.N. Ramachandran was truly one of the great scientists of modern India, on par with the likes of Raman, J.C.Bose, S.N.Bose, Bhatnagar, Sarabhai, Bhabha. A scientists who deserved the Nobel, much like Yellapragada, SN Bose but never got it. On his Jayanti #Naman to a great soul.
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