Making far out the norm: Or how to nurture loonshots

by Ashutosh Jogalekar What makes a revolutionary scientific or technological breakthrough by an individual, an organization or even a country possible? In his thought provoking book “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases and Transform Industries”, physicist and biotechnology entrepreneur Safi Bahcall dwells on the ideas, dynamics and human factors…

Spooky factions at a distance

by Ashutosh Jogalekar For me, a highlight of an otherwise ill-spent youth was reading mathematician John Casti’s fantastic book “Paradigms Lost“. The book came out in the late 1980s and was gifted to my father who was a professor of economics by an adoring student. Its sheer range and humor had me gripped from the…

Mathematics, and the excellence of the life it brings

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Mathematics and music have a pristine, otherworldly beauty that is very unlike that found in other human endeavors. Both of them seem to exhibit an internal structure, a unique concatenation of qualities that lives in a world of their own, independent of their creators. But mathematics might be so completely unique in…

Computer Simulations And The Universe

by Ashutosh Jogalekar There is a sense in certain quarters that both experimental and theoretical fundamental physics are at an impasse. Other branches of physics like condensed matter physics and fluid dynamics are thriving, but since the composition and existence of the fundamental basis of matter, the origins of the universe and the unity of…

Victor Weisskopf and the joy of scientific insight

by Ashutosh Jogalekar Victor Weisskopf (Viki to his friends) emigrated to the United States in the 1930s as part of the windfall of Jewish European emigre physicists which the country inherited thanks to Adolf Hitler. In many ways Weisskopf’s story was typical of his generation’s: born to well-to-do parents in Vienna at the turn of…

On Nobel Prizes, diversity and tool-driven scientific revolutions

by Ashutosh Jogalekar The Nobel Prizes in science will be announced this week. For more than a century the prizes have recognized high achievement in physics, chemistry and medicine. Some scientists crave the prizes so much that they get obsessed with them. A prominent, world-famous chemist once had lunch with my graduate school advisor. After…

The wisdom of John Wheeler and Oliver Sacks

by Ashutosh Jogalekar A rare and happy coincidence today: The birthdays of both John Archibald Wheeler and Oliver Sacks. Wheeler was one of the most prominent physicists of the twentieth century. Sacks was one of the most prominent medical writers of his time. Both of them were great explorers, the first of the universe beyond…

The birth of a new theory: Richard Feynman and his adversaries

by Ashutosh Jogalekar A new theory seldom comes into the world like a fully formed, beautiful infant, ready to be coddled and embraced by its parents, grandparents and relatives. Rather, most new theories make their mark kicking and screaming while their fathers and grandfathers try to disown, ignore or sometimes even hurt them before accepting…