"In our acquisition of knowledge of the universe (whether mathematical or otherwise) that which renovates the quest is nothing more or less than complete innocence..... It alone can unite humility with boldness so as to allow us to penetrate to the heart of things ......"
---- Alexander Grothendieck (From "Reaping and Sowing”)
Grothendieck, in his wonderfully lyrical passage, had in mind the individual scientist and his or her, often, lonely quest. But I like to believe that, in essence, it also applies to the spirit of a scientific institution. What is it that gives a certain scientific environment that intangible something which allows new paths to be charted, enables new breakthroughs (“to penetrate to the heart of things”)? I like to believe that, beyond all the basic infrastructure, research support and other such essentials (not to underplay their importance), something more must be present in the air. And perhaps one element of this something is innocence.
As an institution in its childhood, at ICTS there is a notion of playfulness and, perhaps, naivety in our approach to all matters. We have a brand new campus like a new toy in the hands of our youthful faculty and students as well as enthusiastic admin staff - who are all eager to try new things, to do things differently. In short, to create a different ethos. After all, doing science is fun and we shouldn’t lose sight of that (or horror, destroy it!) while we put in place institutional structures. It has been a real pleasure to work in this last year with all the members of the ICTS extended family in a spirit of camaraderie as we gradually made more and more of our campus functional and welcomed scientists to our first in-house programs.
And how fitting it was with this spirit when we learnt that seven of our family, including even a beginning graduate student, had participated in one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries in recent times - the LIGO detection of gravitational waves emitted from the merger of a pair of giant black holes over a billion years ago. The vibrations from that event lingered long in the air at ICTS - we all partook a little from the thrill of gazing at the “Universe in a New Light”.
Our programs with their visitors (some from as far away as Chile or Colombia) rejuvenated us too with the scientific excitement they shared, whether it was about single molecule diodes, time’s arrow, computational and biological complexity or Ramanujan’s mathematics. With twenty two programs and discussion meetings having 1300 plus participants (including around 250 from abroad) in the last year, it was exhilarating to feel the energy of these activities course through the institute - the hubbub in the cafeteria at mealtimes, the small groups huddled around corridor blackboards.
As the new academic year begins we look forward to hosting more of the Indian and world scientific community on our campus for one or other of our activities. Do come to ICTS and `Discover in India’. Our flagship lecture series are to be now renovated and substantially extended as the ICTS Infosys Chandrasekhar/Ramanujan/Turing Lectures thanks to generous support from the Infosys Foundation. Emboldened by the success of our Einstein lectures, marking the centenary of general relativity, we embark this year on “Kaapi with Kuriosity” - a science lecture series for schoolchildren and the public in Bangalore city, in association with the Planetarium and the VITM. Our Resource Development and Societal Engagement Wing aims to create more such partnerships between ICTS and the broader society we are embedded in. Through the “Friends of ICTS” program we invite everyone to get involved in our efforts and share the excitement of our journey.
And as for our own researchers, I am confident that their sense of play uniting “humility with boldness” will allow them to delve even deeper into the workings of the universe, in the days to come. Watch this page.