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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 34  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 81  

A Tribute to Dr. P. K. Iyengar

Ex. BARC, India

Date of Web Publication17-Mar-2012

Correspondence Address:
M R Iyer
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How to cite this article:
Iyer M R. A Tribute to Dr. P. K. Iyengar. Radiat Prot Environ 2011;34:81

How to cite this URL:
Iyer M R. A Tribute to Dr. P. K. Iyengar. Radiat Prot Environ [serial online] 2011 [cited 2020 Sep 18];34:81. Available from: http://www.rpe.org.in/text.asp?2011/34/1/81/93971

Dr. Padmanabha Krishnagopala Iyengar passed away peacefully on December 21, 2011, removing from the Indian scene a champion of indigenization and self-reliance in atomic energy. After a brilliant academic career, Dr. P. K. Iyengar joined the Tata Institute of Fundamenal Research (TIFR) in 1952. Then came the watershed point in his career. He was deputed to the Chalk River laboratories during 1956-1958 in Canada and worked with Prof. Brokhouse, who was then a lone researcher working on neutron scattering, and both stuck the vibrant cord being young and fervent. They together produced some outstanding research papers, about five of them on neutron scattering. The field they worked was on the phenomenon of Raman scattering applied to neutrons and paved the way for breathtaking inroads into the study of molecular structures using neutron probes. Dr. Iyengar, after his return to India, set up a team which became a world renowned group in the field and designed and set up his own multiaxis neutron spectrometers at the Apsara and CIR reactors. It is significant to note that Dr. Brockhouse was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994 and part of the citation included the work done with Dr. Iyengar. Dr. Iyengar considers that Prof. Brockhouse has been responsible for inculcating the scientific sprit in him to a large extent. He was also greatly influenced by Dr. Bhabha on the intense feeling of bringing revolution in science by inbreeding nuclear science and technology in the country.

He was not content in confining himself to the field of neutron scattering and soon spread his wings in the field of reactor physics, reactor technology, and on to the physics and design of nuclear explosives, and excelled in every field he touched upon. He was Director, BARC, from 1984 to 1990 and the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, from 1990 to 1993.

The anecdote about the Tsunami safety came from Dr. P. K. Iyengar during one of our frequent intellectually stimulating sessions and showed how Tsunami was foreseen by our forefathers as early as in the seventies when not many had heard about the word itself. Today, anti-nuke activists are swearing by Tsunami, where were their concerns for the people in seventies? After the 2004 Tsunami, once he announced to me, "Hey, your Dr. Ganguly saved Kalpakkam!," and followed by this anecdote, Dr. Iyengar in his humorous vein said that the safety committee members even taunted Dr. Ganguly as to "Who is this Japanese girl: Tsunami?" It seems Dr. Ganguly, insisting on erecting key components on high pedestals, actually saved the Kalpakkam installations during the 2004 Tsunami.

His leadership led to the design and development of nuclear explosives to demonstrate the technological capability of Indian scientists in 1974. Someone asked him if the device does not go off, is he prepared to take the responsibility, and prompt came the sharp retort, "If it fails, it is physics that would fail." This needs strong will and strong senses of conviction which were characteristic of Dr. Iyengar. Dr. Iyengar was a doyen and a staunch protagonist of self-reliance in nuclear science and technology, who worked till the end for the cause of indigenization.

He was a staunch believer that nuclear physics needs to be revamped to understand phenomena such as cold fusion of which he remained a strong protagonist till the end. He had organized several groups to work on the newly discovered cold fusion in the nineties when he headed the atomic energy program often to the disdain of some. The teams he organized provided strong experimental proof of the phenomena which could lead to desktop nuclear power systems. It was frustrating for him that the current knowledge of nuclear physics was not sufficient to explain the phenomenon. He believed that today's nuclear reactor technology could be revolutionized by marrying cold fusion to produce neutrons and fission technology using that to derive power.

His mind always toyed with innovative ideas which others might think rather outstretched, such as the possible use of detrude reactor fuel to enable additional neutron production in reactors to improve the performance. He believed strongly in basic physics bringing about revolution in nuclear technology and was ahead of his times in thinking. His firm conviction was that technology divorced from basic science cannot produce results.

Many of his latest stances on import of nuclear reactors arose due to his strong conviction that there are external forces trying to put curbs on the intrinsic ability of the country in innovative science. Only time will prove or disprove this. He strongly felt that erecting geographic barriers is impediment to the progress of science and technology and that free flow of knowledge in the world is very important for technology as exemplified by the American test case since all leaders of science in America were immigrants and he drove home the point that science cannot thrive under restrictive regimes. He was convinced that restrictive regimes would fail since human knowledge cannot be safeguarded.


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