Sunday, January 7, 2018

Dr Baldev Raj, Obituary

Dr Baldev Raj

(April 9, 1947-Jan 6, 2018 )

Dr Baldev Raj, Director of National Institute of Advanced Studies, (NIAS) Bengaluru and former Director of Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research, (IGCAR), Kalpakkam sadly passed away in Pune on the morning of Jan 6, 2018, where he had gone to attend a meeting at the Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET), Pune. Our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends and colleagues of Dr Baldev Raj.

The vast contribution of Baldev Raj to the Indian Fast Breeder Program in general and to Radiometallurgy, non-destructive testing, strategic materials etc. are well known (  )and are already documented (see for example: ).

He was richly recognised for the same by the Government of India with a Padmashri and numerous National and International apex bodies in Science and Technology.

I would like here to briefly highlight a few other aspects of his personality and work which are less documented.

Baldev Raj was greatly interested in India’s culture and heritage. As a Materials Scientist he contributed by studying among other things the near perfect casting technology involved in Chola Bronzes of Thanjavur (Where Gods Come Alive - Bronze Icons of South India by Baldev Raj, C Rajagopalan, C V Sundaram, Vigyan Prasar, 2000, ). Under the inspiration of Profs T R Anantharaman, C V Sundaram, S Ranganathan, A K Biswas a new field called Archaeo-Metallurgy came into being in India, which tried to reconstruct our history of minerals, metals and materials by applying modern scientific analysis to ancient artifacts and Baldev Raj participated in it enthusiastically ( ).

He was aware of the fact that native intelligence and genius had no correlation with class background and in fact the nation loses a lot of potential talent because the bright children of the poor do not get enough opportunities or encouragement to flower. He started a vigorous program in Coimbatore to identify such children train a bunch of dedicated teachers to help them out and create opportunities for them to interact with the nation’s top scientists, educationists, social scientists, journalists etc. while he was an advisor to a group of educational institutions there. I had the good fortune of interacting with nearly a hundred such brilliant pre-teens to teens in Coimbatore when he had invited me to deliver some lectures at PSG Institute of Technology and Applied Research in 2014. I was amazed at their energy, enthusiasm and chutzpah. More over the twinkle in Baldev Raj’s eyes as they spoke was unforgettable.

One of the lesser known aspects of Baldev Raj’s leadership at Kalpakkam was how he dealt with the unprecedented danger and destruction caused by the Tsunami in December 2004. It remains a case study in disaster management and I wish it were properly recorded for the lessons to be learnt. ( )

He was articulate and accessible to journalists and was a great believer in effective science and technology communication. I visited the Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam twice in 2006 and in 2011 and as Director of IGCAR, Baldev Raj was more than happy to share the progress in the prestigious Fast Breeder Program.

He had a broad vision towards humanities and social sciences unlike most scientists and he showed that effectively when he became the director of NIAS in 2014. NIAS was conceived by JRD Tata in 1988 as an Institute of Advanced Studies with a multidisciplinary ambience, where the future leaders of India can come for broadening their vision. It has had the service of such distinguished personalities as Raja Ramanna, Roddam Narasimha, K Kasturirangan, V S Ramamurthy and now Baldev Raj as Directors.

He ran a tight ship at NIAS and at the same time successfully broadened financial support for research at NIAS from not only Tata Trusts and various government departments like Science & Technology, Atomic Energy, Railways, Space, Renewable Energy etc but also corporates like TCS, Titan etc.

He advocated passionately a number of multi-disciplinary studies at NIAS on energy, strategic studies, inequality studies, consciousness studies, education, heritage conservation, man-animal interactions, risk communication in science and technology etc. (Business India, April 27-May 10, 2015, ‘CSR funds give new hope to research’ )

He helped in creating a vibrant atmosphere of discussion without intellectual silos at NIAS. He was a good people manager and cared for every aspect of the institute from its conscientious gardener to the needs of young and old researchers. He will be missed by a large community of scientists and academics.

Shivanand Kanavi

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