Director's note (Oct, 2012)
The last five years have seen ICTS grow from a fledgling institution to a global centre of activity in various areas of science. The theme of the Centre, as conceived in its inception, was epitomized by the title of its formal inaugural event “Science without boundaries”. This conference, which marked the unveiling of the foundation `stone' was held on December 28, 2009, discussed science as a mélange of creative ideas from classical and modern disciplines, while emphasizing the need to remain strong in each of these areas. At the ICTS, we plan to realize this ideal by establishing in-house research areas and carrying out collaborative visitor driven programs.
The in-house research areas in ICTS are growing in disciplines like statistical physics and complex systems, physics of gravity waves and numerical relativity, string theory and quantum gravity, and cross-disciplinary biology. We have succeeded in attracting some of the best available young talent in these areas; they include P. Ajith, Pallab Basu, Abhishek Dhar, Arvind Kumar and Suvrat Raju in Faculty positions and Samriddhi Ray in a five-year Junior Faculty position. The choice of these areas is dictated not only by the fact that they are probing fundamental questions at the frontiers of science, but also that potentially excellent scientists, working in these areas, are excited to be part of the inter-disciplinary and vibrant environment of ICTS.
With the faculty in place, ICTS plans to formally initiate a vigorous Ph.D. students' program from the next academic year. ICTS students will all be stationed in Bangalore and their course requirements for a degree from TIFR will be fulfilled by arrangements with various institutions in Bangalore. A strong post-doctoral program is also being developed on a priority basis at ICTS.
The visitor driven activities are centered on organization of Programs, which is an essential component of the mandate of ICTS. Many of the programs include workshops and conferences. A primary goal here is to provide a platform and resources for researchers to congregate over extended periods of time. ICTS encourages cross-disciplinary collaborations and interactions between theorists and experimentalists, and fosters research areas of importance to India. As an example of this, the program “Scientific Discovery through Intensive Data Exploration” explored the interplay between data, theories and models in various disciplines like computer science, mathematics, high-energy physics, astronomy, materials science and earth sciences. The program also had two panel discussions “Development and Deployment of Infrastructure for Scientific Computing in India,” and “Computational Genomics”. They brought to focus various issues concerning existing infrastructure for computational sciences in India.
In order to focus intensely on exciting and important current research topics ICTS has established three named lecture series in honor of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Srinivasa Ramanujan and Alan Turing. Distinguished leaders from various areas of science are invited to deliver these sets of lectures; each set of lectures begins with a colloquium for a general scientific audience and is followed by more specialized talks. There is usually also a short workshop organized around the theme of these lectures. There have so far been eight sets of Chandrasekhar lectures covering a range of topics that include the birth of the universe, black holes, fluid turbulence, cold atoms and random matrix theory. The enormous success of this series, which is concerned primarily with topics in the physical sciences, encouraged us to initiate the Ramanujan lectures for mathematics and the Turing lectures for the areas of biology and engineering. While the first set of Ramanujan lectures discussed the generalized Ramanujan conjectures and applications, the first set of Turing lectures will be in the area of cross-disciplinary biology. Recently, we celebrated the 100th birth anniversary of Alan Turing with the ICTS Turing Centenary Lecture, 'The Architecture of Biological Complexity'.
Over the next one and a half years, ICTS plans to hold Programs with international collaborations on several areas dealing with complex systems. The first of these, to be jointly held with ICTP (Trieste, Italy) involves a joint school with an embedded conference on cross-disciplinary biology. Biology, in a strict sense, is the most complex system to have evolved on planet Earth, and not surprisingly, very different disciplines, such as networks and control systems in electrical engineering, artificial intelligence in computer science and mathematics, and the more traditional interface areas of physics and chemistry, approach this system in their unique ingenious ways. The idea of the ICTS-ICTP program is to create awareness in India about such multi-disciplinary quantitative approaches to a variety of questions in biology. Two other upcoming international collaborations, dealing with other areas of complexity, are: (a) ‘Fundamental ideas on equilibration in complex systems’, to be organized jointly by ICTS and Brandeis University next year in Bangalore and (b) a collaboration between the Mathematics and Climate Research Network (MCRN) and ICTS / TIFR-CAM through the SAVI program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) of USA.
Another central activity of ICTS is Outreach, a crucial component of which consists of organizing Public Lectures by outstanding scientists. There have been seventeen Public Lectures to date on diverse topics, including The Role of Theory in Science, The Origin of Life, P vs. NP problem, Black Holes and the structure of Space-Time, The Universe Unraveled, Structure and Randomness in the Prime numbers, The Ramanujan Conjecture and so on.
As part of its continuing effort to interface with the public, ICTS has agreed to be the Indian participant for international activities in 2013 under the umbrella of the international program “Mathematics of Planet Earth”. Under this banner, besides organizing some programs in mathematics, ICTS and TIFR-CAM are planning to create an exhibition that illustrates the ubiquitous role played by mathematics in the natural and social sciences.
Besides its regular scientific activities, ICTS provides a platform for new science initiatives in India. Thus, ICTS is working closely with LIGO-India that proposes to install a gravity wave detector in India that can form a component of long baseline worldwide linked gravity wave detectors. We believe that gravitational wave astronomy is at an exciting stage where it is on the verge of opening a new window into our universe beyond the electro-magnetic spectrum. ICTS has also initiated the Indian Open Light path Exchange Facility at Bangalore (BIxLight) for the Data Intensive Sciences. BIxLight was conceived to provide Indian researchers an opportunity to share and access large scientific data with the global scientific community through the GLORIAD (Global Optical Ring Network for Advanced Applications Development) network. This is a collaboration of ICTS with TIFR-CAM, IISc, JNCASR, Strand Life Sciences in Bangalore, the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai and the NSF supported GLORIAD of USA. This high-speed 1 Gbps network link was lit on June 9, 2012 and is currently being used by scientists working in biology and in the earth sciences.
Although ICTS has already become a vibrant centre of activity in its distributed existence, work on building its own spacious Campus has begun. The firm of Venkatramanan and Associates from Bangalore has created the architectural plan of the ICTS campus, in close consultation with the academic members of ICTS and the project management group from the Department of Atomic Energy. The campus is planned to be self-contained and includes academic, housing and recreational facilities. The architectural design provides space for maximum academic interactions. It contains lecture halls with enough capacity for meetings with hundred plus participants, an auditorium, recreation spaces and comfortable living quarters for staff and visitors. The construction company has been identified and construction will begin shortly.
The range of activities reported here at once underlines and justifies the need for an institution like ICTS. This has been further corroborated by the overwhelming participation and support it has received from the science community in India and abroad. All this, combined with the outstanding new Faculty who have joined us, and the new and modern campus which is coming up in a couple of years, promise a great future for ICTS.
An effort of this magnitude would have been impossible to undertake and carry on without help, encouragement and contribution from many Institutions and individuals. We would like to express our sincere thanks to IISc for offering ICTS a temporary home in the IISc campus and the use of the TIFR Centre Building in its campus. We greatly appreciate the support and partnership of the Physics Department of IISc in various activities of the ICTS. We are grateful to NCBS of TIFR for their invaluable help and advice in various matters and to TIFR-CAM for partnering with us in various initiatives in the Mathematical Sciences.
It has only been a short five years since the idea of ICTS began taking a concrete shape. We have traveled a long way since then. The path has not been smooth, often not even visible. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado said, “Traveller, there is no road, the road is made by walking.” We are treading and creating our road, encountering sharp falls and steep climbs, as in any unknown terrain. This, however, has not deterred us from pursuing our mission. Indeed, our resolve only gets strengthened as the months pass by, and we will remain on course to our destination.
Spenta R. Wadia
23rd October, 2012