“Quasi-crystals : Art meets Science” – the title of the lecture by Prof. S. Ranganathan read in the umpteen mails sent to all the students. Apart from the research enthused people in the institute, very few would have given the mail even a brief thought before deleting it from their already inbox. This was evident from the composition of the audience that turned up for the lecture – professors, plenty of post-graduates and a very rare species of some select under-graduates. By 6:15, CLT was half-full and abuzz with hushed murmuring and chatting, with students sharing jokes and professors exchanging their erudite viewpoints, when Professor LSG walked in and immediately occupied the podium. He welcomed the speaker, Professor Ranganathan, and everyone else present.
“This lecture is part of our attempt to revive an old lecture series : The Joy of Science.” He then requested Professor B.S Murthy to enlighten the audience about the lecturer and welcome him onstage to commence the lecture. Professor Murthy, who happened to be an ex-student of Prof. Ranganathan himself, was very warm in his welcome address.
“I met him 25 years ago in IISc and it was love at first sight. I have never seen a speaker like him.”
Indeed, Prof. Murthy’s overture proved to be right as Prof. Ranganathan enchanted the audience with his powerful voice and exemplary oration. He began his talk by quoting Steve Jobs.
“Technology alone is not enough. Only when it is married to liberal arts and humanities does the heart begin to sing” – that statement was precisely the theme of his discourse. He talked about Dan Schechtman, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of quasi-crystals. A lot of emphasis was given to the elusive Nobel Prize and he jokingly mentioned that the subtitle of the lecture should be “How to win a Nobel?” He informed the listeners about the genesis of the Nobel and talked briefly about many notable laureates like C.V Raman, Linus Pauling, Kroto, Smalley and Curl to name a few. “As a scientist, publishing your work and getting due appreciation for it is very important”. He outlined three essential steps to ensure this – recognize your discovery, give a name to it and publish it in a high profile scientific journal. He went one step further to say that anyone among the audience could win the Nobel Prize. Generally, a feeling of impossibility is associated with the Nobel but that is not so. Those who win the prize are normal human beings just like all of us.
The audience became more and more involved as Prof. Ranganathan highlighted the beauty and importance of art in science. He mentioned geometry from Greece, tilings from Islam, Fibonacci numbers, the Divine Proportion and even showed a painting of Raphael. He praised the beauty and perfection of symmetrical objects and emphasized on inculcating an artistic perspective to science.
“Science is exciting, science is joyful. With the inclusion of art and aesthetics, it becomes more exciting, more joyful.”
Prof. Ranganathan then moved on to more scientific aspects of the lecture as he spoke passionately about quasi-crystals. He described their discovery as a revolution linking mathematics, physics, chemistry, metallurgy, art, architecture and life as well. Such was the completeness of this unique crystal that it was propelling a paradigm shift with the redefinition of the term ‘crystal.’ He highlighted the history behind quasi-crystals and their evolution. It is basically a very exquisite crystal which defies the traditional laws of crystallography. Unlike any normal crystal which has two, three, four or six rotational axes of symmetry, a quasi-crystal has five symmetrical axes. This seemingly insignificant difference in number has had a tangible and revolutionary impact on science and the field of crystallography is going through a phase of re-building and reformation.
“People say that knowledge is very important. That’s not true. Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
With this, Prof. Ranganathan ended his lecture to a tumultuous applause and the stage was declared open for questions. The lecture had been extremely informative and inspiring and everyone left CLT with a satisfied smile on their faces of having witnessed a phenomenal speaker in action.