India’s million-dollar physicist
Ashoke Sen is a shy, reclusive Indian particle physicist working from a non-descript laboratory in the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in the not-so-happening town of Allahabad in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Yet, today he is one of the richest professors in the world, having been conferred the award which has prize money almost three times that of a Nobel Prize in Physics.
At his current monthly salary of about 150,000 rupees it would have taken him about 83 years of continuous work to earn as much as that.
The new prize was set up by the Russian internet entrepreneur, Yuri Milner – some are calling it the “Russian Nobel Prize”…In its inaugural year, it has also been awarded to eight others. Prof Sen is the only Indian to bag the award along with scientists working in the US and Russia…
Prof Sen works in an esoteric branch of physics called “string theory”, which he has been refining for the last two decades…It is a complex mathematical theory that hopes to explain almost everything we know about the matter and energy in the universe.
He describes the string theory as being based “on the idea that the elementary constituents of matter are not point particles, but one dimensional objects or strings. This theory automatically combines quantum mechanics, and general relativity – Einstein’s theory of gravity. It also has the potential for explaining the other known forces of nature – strong, weak and electromagnetic forces”…
Prof Sen’s wife Sumathi Rao is also a physicist who works at the same institute with him. They have no children.
The professor, who is fond of walking, says he has no hobby other than cooking and he likes to make tasty fried fish for his friends and family.
For somebody working on the frontiers of knowledge, Prof Sen admits he has “absolutely no religious inclinations”, though he respects all faiths…
Prof Sen, son of a physics teacher, was educated in the University of Calcutta before proceeding to the Stony Brook University in America.
Unlike many others, he chose to return and work in India.
As he said in the interview, “In theoretical physics one can in principle work from any place as long as one has a computer and internet connection.” Working in Allahabad had no disadvantages.
His mind works just as well as it might elsewhere. Perhaps better.