Guest Column

Trilochan Pradhan: A Worthy Heir To Pathani Samanta

By
Lambodar Prasad Singh

A prominent Indian physicist, a brilliant teacher, a renowned educationist, the first director of Institute of Physics (IOP) (1974-89), Bhubaneswar, vice chancellor of Utkal University (1989-91), a leading public intellectual of Odisha, Prof Trilochan Pradhan passed away in the early hours of December 4.

Prof Pradhan earned distinction at national and international levels as a particle physicist for his works on Quantum Electrodynamics and Current Algebra. He also made significant contributions to the field of Plasma Physics. His works on illusive magnetic monopoles and spin forces were characteristic of his unconventional ideas and intuitions.

Prof Pradhan’s scientific insights and research prowess were honed in the enlightened atmosphere of Chicago University, USA, under the tutelage of Physics greats like Enrico Fermi, Murray Gell-Mann, Gregor Wentzel, and Marvin L Goldberger. He went to Chicago in 1953 with a government of India scholarship and earned his PhD under the supervision of M L Goldberger. He attended the Quantum Mechanics classes by Fermi and Nuclear Physics by Maria Mayer. He was awarded PhD in 1956. Immediately after completing his doctoral work he worked for a year with famous astrophysicist S Chandrasekhar in Chicago. Subsequently, he had a one-year stint of post-doctoral assignment in famous Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, during 1957-1958.

On his return to India in 1958, he joined Ravenshaw College and served there till 1962 as a Lecturer. He then moved to Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP), Calcutta, as an Associate Professor. During his stay in Physics Department, Ravenshaw College, he along with young colleagues Bibhuti Bhushan Deo and Shiba Prasad Mishra developed a vibrant atmosphere of teaching and research in modern physics that inspired many young bright students to take up a career in research and in subsequent years they earned laurels as scientists for themselves and the institutions they managed. Prof Mamata Satapathy, whom he taught at BSc and MSc levels in Ravenshaw College, earned her Ph.D as the first Odia woman physics – doctorate under the guidance of Prof Pradhan in SINP.

Prof Pradhan rose to the position of Professor and Head, Theory Division, in SINP and stayed there till 1974 when he joined as the first Director of IOP, Bhubaneswar, established by Odisha government as the brainchild of the then Education Minister  Banamali Patnaik. He built the Institute of Physics from scratch. His vision and efforts resulted in having a beautiful campus for the institute, taking it into the fold of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India, in 1985 and elevating it to a research institute of international importance. The present institute building was inaugurated by  Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, in 1981. The visit of Prof Abdus Salam in 1979 to the institute as a part of Government of India felicitation for being awarded Nobel Prize for Physics for that year is a significant event in the annals of the institute. Such events bear testimony of the national importance of the institute.

Prof Pradhan’s rich contributions to science and society had their early promise in his brilliant academic career. After completing his primary education in his village school, he studied upto Class 7 in Khandapada ME School and then matriculated from Nayagarh High School in 1945. He then sailed down the stream of Mahanadi from his village Ghanashalia near Kantilo on the banks of Mahanadi to Cuttack to study in Ravenshaw College. There he studied under legendary physics teachers like Raibahadur Narayan Mishra, Prof KSR Murthy, Dr Brahmananda Mishra, Dr Golak Banerjee and Dr Braja Behari Patnaik. He completed his bachelors’s degree with Physics Honours and was awarded Mayurbhanj Gold Medal as Best Graduate of Utkal University in 1949. He then moved to Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, and obtained his MSc degree in Physics by securing the first position in the university. His brilliant career helped him to earn a Government of India scholarship to pursue doctoral research in the famous Chicago University.

His research experience in diverse areas of physics find expression in his books “Photon” and “Quantum Mechanics”. He was also appointed as Chairman, Higher Education Task Force, by the Odisha government for suggesting policy steps for improvement of higher education in the state.

For all his outstanding contributions to science and society he was awarded with Kalinga Ratna (2018), Kalinga Prize (2014), Padma Bhusan (1990), and UGC Meghnad Saha Award (1980).

With all his attainments and awards, he was a deeply simple person. He was a man of few words, clean thoughts and neat habits. He was a lover of beauty and cleanliness. His words, deeds, thoughts and writings bear indelible stamp of these qualities. Needless to state, behind all his attainments lie the love, support and inspiration of his wife, Sanjukta Pradhan, a lady of uncommon grace and affection.

Born to Ahalya Devi and Rama Chandra Dakhinaray of village Ghanashalia on January 3, 1929, in the erstwhile princely state of Khandapada, Prof Pradhan was a worthy heir to the legacy of Pathani Samanta.

The physics community of the country and his numerous students and admirers would sorely miss him.

Lambodar Prasad Singh

Former Professor of Physics, Utkal University, & writer

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