Love Letters from Grampa

Thanks to the greatest invention of humankind, I came across the work of one grandpa through his blog “The Zen of Zero,” a couple of months ago. Who is he?

During 1938, my neurons were activated, so that I could temporarily host another version of the multi-billion-year-old, still living, DNA molecule. After earning a bachelor’s in engineering physics, a master’s in nuclear physics, and a doctorate in aerospace engineering (with minors in plasma physics and applied math), I taught at four universities and at a graduate center in the western U.S. Earlier, in the 1960s, I had hoped to participate in space physics, but by the time I was trained, the political goal of reaching the Moon was achieved, NASA’s funding was cut, and as a result, most of my quarter-century of research was in environmental sciences (resulting in at least 100 scientific reports, ~50 open-literature publications, 5-or-so book chapters, and my “editing” several books). After another round of politically expedient funding cuts, I took an early-retirement offer (when I was 56), and subsequently, during “retirement”, I’ve been working harder than I ever did before, trying to answer a four-year-old’s question!

And the question was: “Grampa, how come you don’t believe in god?” He promised her that he will tell her when she’s older. The book Love Letters from Grampa — about Life, Liberty, and the Zen of Zero is how he is keeping his promise. (The book is available for download free.)

Every once in a while one comes across another mind that is just like one’s own but only much much wiser. I wrote and told “Grampa” that. I know how much I appreciate hearing from others who feel the same way as I do and therefore I always make sure that I write and tell someone with whom I agree that I appreciate his or her position. As I would have expected, “Grampa” wrote back a very kind email.

It’s good to read the Zen of Zero on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I would like to highlight this post titled “Some Contrasts” (May 10th, 2008) in which he contrasts two people — Indians, as it happens. One is Dr Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

One of the highlights – if not the highlight – of my ancient professional life was a half-hour meeting with the amazing Indian scientist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910–95), who subsequently was co-winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics. Almost 40 years ago, I was brash enough to request a meeting with him to get his comments on how I had extended and applied one of the mathematical methods he had developed and published many years earlier. I recall his initial comment: “I did that so long time ago it feels as though it were done by a different person.”

But he easily and quickly followed how (for my Ph.D. thesis, which took me years of hard work!) I had extended his analysis (for systems in thermodynamic equilibrium) to nonequilibrium cases. He then proceeded to show me that the essence of what I had done was really rather obvious. And I admit that, now, I know his feeling: it’s as if it were done by a different person. Yet, I still clearly recall how I felt when I first met him: his handshake was as gentle as a child’s; he might have weighed 110 pounds when he was soaking wet; I trembled in the presence of such a giant.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory is named after Chandrashekhar. “The Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world’s most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight-times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.” See images from Chandra here.

Go read the rest to find out who the other Indian is.

Author: Atanu Dey