George Sudarshan: Unjustly ignored by Nobel Committee
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 19 May 2018 9 Comments

In addition to racial prejudice, even sheer plagiarism can lead the Nobel Committee to ill-conceived decisions, as illustrated by the life of Professor E.C. George Sudarshan, the great India-born theoretical physicist, who breathed his last on May 14 at his Texas residence in the United States. Sudarshan had published his theory, known as “Sudarshan-Glauber Representation” in the 1963 issue of Physical Review Letters, a prestigious science journal of theoretical Physics. Yet, Glauber was awarded the Nobel in 2005. It should have been jointly given to both. Sudarshan was ignored: a clear case of racial prejudice.


More importantly, the comments of Sudarshan, as follows, show that Glauber’s work, which was recognised, was nothing but scientific plagiarism. Sudarshan is on record to have said “We should have shared the prize,” “Glauber had built his work upon my work in quantum theory of optical coherence. It is professional thievery.” Sudarshan had published his theory in a 1963 issue of Physical Review Letters; Glauber’s work was in the same issue, but the work for which he was awarded the Nobel came a bit later.


In the complex world of quantum physics, it is now called the “P-representation”, whereas earlier it was called the Sudarshan representation and Sudarshan-Glauber representation. Petitions were sent by two different sets of people to the Nobel Committee to review the 2005 Nobel prize. “I can’t think of a reason for not awarding the prize,” said Sudarshan, the man also credited with theorising tachyons — particles that travel faster than the speed of light.


The crux of the idea questions the very theory of relativity which Albert Einstein propounded E=mc2. Einstein believed that nothing travelled faster than light. Accepting Sudarshan’s tachyons would have meant demolition of the very theory of Einstein, and that would have been unthinkable for the entrenched “scientists” in the Nobel Committee.


Sudarshan added: “Glauber’s work was about photon correlations, not on the quantum theory of coherence. His first paper did not formulate the theory. My paper, published in the February 1963 issue did. It is correct to say that he lifted my diagonal representation and called it P-representation in his subsequent paper.”


The Nobel Committee had received Sudarshan’s petition, but its official stand was that it does not review its decisions. The proceedings are also classified for 50 years. “Letters sent to the Nobel Committee gives them a chance to correct their errors,” said Sudarshan, but added, “I don’t think they will review this case. In any case I don’t do research for a Nobel, I do it because I enjoy the process.”


That was the unique Sudarshan for whom science was passion, not recognition. Unlike many others, even overseas, who manipulate things behind the stage to win awards, and so many Indian “scientists” here who run after the Padma Awards and fall flat at the feet of the white man to get dubious “Awards”.


This would seem a case of two scientists publishing similar work at almost the same time as happened with the discovery of the Calculus in the late 17th century when Sir Isaac Newton, a British, and Gottfried Liebniz, a German, were at loggerheads. The credit went only to Newton. Sudarshan received the prestigious Paul Dirac medal, named after Paul Dirac, one of the greatest Physicists of the 20th century. The convention has it that Nobel Laureates do not receive it, but, invariably those who win the Paul Dirac medal are the natural winners of the Nobel. Here again, Sudarshan was discriminated against. 


“When I lecture about coherence, I only talk about my diagonal representation, and not the P-representation,” said Sudarshan. “This is just like the way I would refer to my sons by the name I gave them.”. That was the inimitable Sudarshan, who converted to Hinduism later in his life and became a firm believer in the Vedas.


There is a parallel here between Sudarshan and Einstein. After winning the Nobel, in Physics, the latter paid a visit to Shantiniketan to meet Gurudev. During their long conversations, Einstein frankly admitted that several years of his research was “just a waste”. To the surprised Tagore, who said that he had explained the universe, the simple answer of Einstein was, “I cannot read Sanskrit”. This baffled Tagore further, who queried, “What has Sanskrit to do with your relativity theory”? Einstein answered, “I could not read the Rig Veda”. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it?


Born into an orthodox Christian family, to E.I. Chandy and Achamma of Kottayam, Kerala, on September 16, 1931, Sudarshan had studied in the famous CMS College, Kottayam, and later migrated to Madras Christian College, Tambaram. Post-graduating from the University of Madras, he later moved to the University of Rochester, New York to work under the direction of the famous American physicist, Robert Marshak. Together, they founded the V-A theory of the weak force, which eventually paved the way for “electron weak” theory. He also had a brief stint working with the late Homi Bhabha, who looked down upon physicists but made an exception in the case of Sudarshan and took him into the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai. 


Sudarshan was a complete human being – science, philosophy, spirituality, all transcended into an aesthetics of its own in his hands. So admirably put in words by what Einstein once said, “Where science ends, religion begins”, coming as they are from someone who started a scientist’s life as an atheist, then turned agnostic, and at end truly religious - with the hallmark statement “God does not play dice”.


The author is former Professor, National Science Foundation, The Royal Society, Belgium, and currently Senior Fellow, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, The Federal Republic of Germany

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