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Legendary people’s scientist Venkatavaradhan no more

Mumbai: The legendary people’s scientist, Dr V S Venkatavaradhan, who spoke on complex science subjects with ease with commoners and celebrities alike, is no more.

With excellent communication skills, he mesmerised audiences with his talks.

A scientist by training, a science communicator by passion, and poet at heart, he was the Carl Sagan of India.

He was 85.

He is survived by wife Shakunthala, daughter Aruna and son Sunder.

Dr Venkatavaradhan (September 1, 1938 – October 26, 2023) has friends and admirers across the globe.

Dr Venkatavaradhan passed away in Salem in Tamil Nadu.

When he was the Director of Nehru Planetarium of Mumbai – he emerged as one of the most popular figures in the financial capital of India.

Dr VSV, as he was often popularly called, continued his academic pursuits as Professor Emeritus at the Sona College of Engineering, Salem.

He was a passionate science communicator, who popularized visual astronomy by scripting and producing nineteen major sky-shows at the Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai, where he served as the director from 1979 to 1997. He wrote newspaper articles and appeared in programmes of Doordarshan and All India Radio popularising science subjects.

During his career as an astrophysicist, Dr Venkatavardan carried out research in Geophysics, Cosmic Rays, Meteorites, Moon, and Planetary Physics.

“He had also worked closely with NASA, being a co-investigator involved in researching Moon rock samples brought back from the Apollo missions. He also played a leading part in researching Solar and Galactic Cosmic ray experiments in the NASA space shuttle Skylab missions,” said Suhas Naik-Satam, General Secretary of National Centre for Science Communicators, Former Programme Coordinator, Nehru Planetarium.

“He was my guru, my mentor…communicating concepts of planetary physics, cosmic rays, quarks, bosons and matters much more esoteric, in simple and easy to understand terms, is a talent that very few physicists possess. Dr. Venkatavaradan is one of these rare breeds of science communicators,” he added.

After receiving his M.Sc. in Physics from the Madras University, he joined Atomic Energy Training School in 1961 (6th Batch). He later joined the Tata Institute Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Bombay in 1962 and went on to receive his Ph.D. in 1970 under Prof. Devendra Lal from the University of Bombay, with his thesis titled Isotopic changes induced by Cosmic Rays in Interplanetary matter.

“He was a man among millions. He loved children. Inner happiness flowed from this people’s scientist in the presence of kids,” said eminent conservationist Bittu Sahgal, the Editor of Sanctuary Asia.

“With the admirable mix of science and aesthetics, he rode like a colossus in the enchanting space of planetary sciences, as Carl Sagan of India. For me I cherish the private personal encounters I had with him, intellectually intoxicating and invigorating at once,” added veteran science communicator AP Jayaraman.

Dr Venkatavaradan also took time out to produce a film entitled Exploring The Universe – The Planetarium Way. He also penned the scripts and commentaries for a number of science films produced by Films Division of India. He also gave over 70 radio talks and features on science and participated in about 40 television programmes on science.

He has to his name more than fifty research papers in Geophysics, Space Science and Astrophysics and more than a thousand popular articles on various aspects of science in leading newspapers and magazines.

(Published 27 October 2023, 03:02 IST)

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