How I got into Nuclear Fusion Research
This story goes back to 1981, when I had completed my Masters in Physics from Delhi University and was proceeding to USA to do PhD. I did specialization in Astrophysics and General Theory of Relativity during my MSc. During summer of 1981, I had worked with Prof J V Narlikar on Black Holes at TIFR as part of NCERT National Science Talent Search Summer Camp.
While applying for PhD to US Universities, I had mentioned in my Statement of Purpose (SOP) that I would want to continue my research work in Astrophysics Area. I got admission on the basis of that and was lucky to get admitted to UC Berkeley along with a Teaching Assistantship to support my studies.
Somehow I could get Passport and VISA for travel to USA. Cost of travel to USA was about Rs 6000. I was flying to San Francisco from Delhi with a night halt at Narita Airport, Tokyo. Last 2-3 days before journey were very hectic and flight was around 4 AM from Delhi. Many relatives and friends had come to see me off and possibly there were 20-30 of them. We all gathered at JNU campus as it was close to airport and one of my uncles was studying there. Since there was no space for all of us to sit at one place, we all sat on the boundary wall of JNU and were talking.
One of my maternal uncle, who had paid half of my travel cost, had also some to see me off. He suddenly asked me about the kind of research work I was going to do in USA. At that particular moment suddenly some thoughts flashed through my mind. I said to myself – “what would be the use of research in Astrophysics to India in near term? “. I answered to my uncle that either I would work in Nuclear Fusion or Space Sciences. Before that moment I had never thought of any such possibilities and never even bothered to check about what kind of work(if at all) was being done in India along those lines! In a fraction of seconds my plan had changed!
After going to Berkeley, we had to do one year of course work in common subjects. After this we could take up subjects based on our research needs. During first year, I periodically attended Astrophysics seminar etc but tried to find out about Space Science Research as well as Nuclear Fusion. I found out that there was a separate Space Sciences Lab. At Lawrence Berkeley Lab(LBL), there was a “Magnetic Fusion Energy” group working on Nuclear Fusion with major facility of Neutral beam for heating plasma. In my second year, I started to take Plasma Physics Courses and from 1983 joined LBL to carry out Nuclear Fusion Research. I eventually completed my PhD by designing a new magnetic confinement system in 1986.
I immediately returned to India with one year temporary position at Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata. Luckily Nuclear Fusion work had started around that time in India. Major effort was at Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar, which was set up specifically for Nuclear Fusion research. A smaller program was started at Kolkata. I landed up working at both the places and make major contribution to the growth of Nuclear Fusion research in India till 2002.
So a moment of reflection about my purpose, while going out of India, changed my life and possibly I became the first person from India to do PhD in Nuclear Fusion !
As part of Eureka Program on Rajya Sabha TV, I had mentioned this. See https://youtu.be/dyDGutm8ptY