Interview with Dr R. Sujatha Winner 2004 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for Mathematical Sciences
On behalf of Adbhut.com, Dinker Charak interviewed Dr Sujatha via email. We thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule and talking to us.
Dr R. Sujatha was born in Bangalore, Karnataka. She has done her pre-doctoral studies at St. Joseph’s college, Bangalore, (B.Sc) and Annamalai Unviversity, Chidambaram, her doctoral work at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (Bombay) and post-doctoral work at Regensburg University, Regensburg. Winner of the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar in 2004 for Mathematical Sciences (one of seven streams the award covers), she is currently working in Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.
She enjoys reading books on history and non-fiction, and classical literature and is interested in music and travelling.
What is your current topic of research? Can you briefly describe the subject for us?
I am working in two slightly different areas; one is Iwasawa theory which is at the interface of number theory and algebra; the other is Motivic cohomology which is a comparitively younger subject in pure research.
What is the importance of the knowledge derived from this research?
Most of the research in abstract pure mathematics is done for the sheer beauty and inner structure one uncovers as one tries to find solutions to problems. Iwasawa theory is one of the main tools which has proved successful in attacking the Birch-Swinnerton Dyer conjecture, which is one of the Clay Millennium problems. But I do want to stress that pure mathematical research is quite different from other streams of science.
Often, there are many indirect discoveries and invention when researching a problem. Has research in your field led to an accidental/indirect discovery or invention or advancements?
Well, the study of certain objects that occurs in Iwasawa theory has thrown up interesting connections between number theory and noncommutative algebraic structures. It is often interesting when two apparently unrelated streams come together to yield concrete results; in this case some structure theoretic results.
For what exact research/find were you granted the SSB award?
It is for the whole body of work so far; the citation reads “for contibutions made in the area of Witt groups of varieties and Iwasawa theory of p-adic representations”.
What drove you to this field of research?
I always enjoyed abstract thinking and scoring well in mathematics consistently did help in this decision.
Which philosopher(s), scientist(s) and author(s) have inspired you and how?
I try to draw inspiration from the Gita, especially in its exhortation to work throwing in body and soul into it, yet (trying to….) remaining unattached to the fruits of the action.
As for Scientists, there is a long list; both old and contemporary… Some of my colleagues, my advisor and teachers and also some collaborators inspired me and continue to do so with their energy and enthusiasm and dedication to mathematical research.
Any story (funny or inspirational) from your life that you would like to share with us?
About India and Science
Are you happy with the R&D done in India? If yes, what are the scopes of improvement? If not, what needs to be done? How can an ordinary citizen be of more help?
I really wish the university system went through a thorough overhaul and they were transformed into places conducive for research. Before such lofty dreams though, there are more basic things to be improved; starting with better infrastructure and buildings.
How can the common citizen help? Well, I don’t know–the common citizen in India is weighed down by the daily struggle of existence. But I do wish there were more Indians (here and abroad) who believed in philanthropy and in “giving back to society”. Also, the media could try to bring back some of the prestige and respect that was once given to academics and intellectual activities. Unfortunately, in the country now, it is easier to find sponsors for remixes of trash rather than research! Also, the Industry should step in more aggressively.
“Why spend money in R&D? Let others do the research and we can follow. Why not use the money in R&D and spend it on poor!” People often say this. What is your reaction to this?
I think there is enough money to go around in the country for R&D and the poor. It is up to the politicians and the government to implement a correct usage of funds.
There is a huge disconnect between India’s scientific past and scientific present. Is that an issue? If yes, how do you think it can be confronted?
Disconnect in what sense? I think in some ways there are more Indians exposed to different kinds of research in the Sciences now than before. There may not be many doing “cutting edge” research but that is related to other things.
Are you happy with state of awareness about India’s current scientific achievements? If not, how do you think it can be made better?
Well, I believe in working quietly and making a difference, rather than making a big noise over something of little value. So let us continue to achieve quietly and then the world will take notice.
Cover pic of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar stamp from Wikipedia.