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Ashoka University Hosts Prof. Varun Sahni’s Prestigious Vaidya-Raychaudhuri Endowment Award Lecture

The Vaidya-Raychaudhuri Endowment Award was instituted as a tribute to Indian relativists, P. C. Vaidya and A. K. Raychaudhuri. It is given in recognition of the contributions made both in research and teaching of General Relativity and its applications to astrophysics and cosmology

In the realm of academia, anticipation hung thick in the air as the prestigious Vaidya-Raychaudhuri Endowment Award found its deserving recipient in Prof. Varun Sahni. The award, bestowed by the Indian Association for General Relativity and Gravitation (IAGRG), marked a crowning achievement in the distinguished career of Prof. Sahni.

Ashoka University, known for its interdisciplinary approach and commitment to nurturing a culture of intellectual curiosity, played a pivotal role in bringing together professors and students from diverse backgrounds on the evening of October 26, 2023. Hosting the prestigious Vaidya-Raychaudhuri Endowment Award lecture underscored the university’s dedication to being a hub for scholarly discourse and scientific advancements.

The evening at Ashoka commenced with a warm welcome from Prof. Suratna Das (Assistant Professor of Physics, Ashoka University), setting the stage for a night of profound insights and scholarly celebration. The diverse crowd, consisting of professors and students from far and wide, filled the atmosphere with excitement and intellectual curiosity.

Representing the IAGRG, Prof. Anjan Ananda Sen shared a brief history of the organisation, tracing its roots back to 1969 with luminaries like VV Narlikar and AK Raychaudhuri. He highlighted the IAGRG’s commitment to promoting General Relativity through initiatives such as summer schools in Bangalore funded by the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, the VV Narlikar Aaward for Ph.D. theses, and the Vaidya-Raychaudhuri Lecture Award.

The spotlight then turned to Prof. Somak Raychaudhary, Vice-Chancellor, Ashoka University, who, with an air of camaraderie, introduced Prof. Varun Sahni. A journey through the annals of Cold War history revealed the parallel development of General Relativity in Princeton and Moscow, with Prof. Sahni contributing to the latter. From Moscow to the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Physics, his trajectory was marked by a commitment to understanding the universe’s vastness.

Prof. Sahni, described affectionately by Somak as a “Rockstar,” is not just a scholar but a multifaceted personality. As anecdotes flowed, it was revealed that Varun and Somak had shared stages in academia and theatrical performances, showcasing Varun’s prowess as a shooter and a fantastic guitarist. His long association with the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) has left an indelible mark on the scientific community.

The crowning moment came as Somak awarded Prof. Sahni the Vaidya-Raychaudhuri Endowment Award, recognising his outstanding contributions to the field. In his trademark wit, Prof. Sahni quipped about the perils of knowing someone from a young age, hinting at the mischievous escapades of youth.

As the stage was set, Prof. Sahni delved into the technicalities of his work. He unveiled the universe’s composition—dark energy, dark matter, and ordinary matter—revealing that a staggering 96% of the cosmos remains shrouded in darkness. He elucidated the cosmic web with engaging visuals, drawing parallels to the caustic distribution of diffracted water in a swimming pool.

The mysteries of dark matter took centre stage as Prof. Sahni explored its role in accelerating structure formation and the enigma of its extension around galaxies. With an interactive approach, he posed essential questions to the audience, challenging their understanding of dark energy, dark matter, and the cosmos.

In the grand tapestry of the cosmos, Prof. Varun Sahni’s award lecture was not just a moment of personal triumph but a beacon illuminating the vast unknowns of the universe. As the audience dispersed, the lingering excitement and intellectual enthusiasm served as a testament to the transformative power of knowledge and the enduring legacy of scientific inquiry.

(Written by Kushal Jain (ASP’24), Ashoka University)

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