In 2008, while Nature India was analysing the contribution of the eastern part of India to basic and applied science in this country, a name came up pretty regularly during interviews with scientists from the region. The name was that of Ashoke Sen. The physicist, an alumnus of east India’s Oxford — Presidency College — does not live or work in the east. In fact, his workplace for long years has been up north at the Harish Chandra Institute in Allahabad. But almost everyone in West Bengal talks of him reverentially. He was the scientist with the highest number of publications in this country. And one sticking on to the ‘string theory’ to unravel newer facets of it with every publication.
This week, the east was celebrating as much as the north of India. The reason: Ashoke Sen was awarded the maiden Fundamental Physics Prize instituted by Russian billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Borisovich Milner. Sen has been picked up by Milner’s not-for-profit foundation for ‘uncovering striking evidence of strong-weak duality in certain supersymmetric string theories and gauge theories’, opening the path to the realization that all string theories are different limits of the same underlying theory.
The Indian scientist has received a prize money of three million US dollars — almost thrice the amount that a Nobel prize winner gets. He is with eight such awardees (seven from America and one from France) on in the inaugural edition of the prize list.
It is a glory for physics — traditionally a stronghold for science in India — as also for basic science research.
Sen has has shown characteristic equanimity after he heard of the award. Though some reports suggest the prize money did create some excitement in the family. After all, it was equal to both the Nobel prize and Templeton prize put together — the most lucrative academic prize in the world.
Congratulations to Ashoke Sen and more strength to string theory!