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Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Kolkata

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Follow Your Own Intuition........
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The most exciting thing to him at VECC is the student seminars. He would love to be a school teacher if he was not a scientist. He was fond of literature in his early days. He dislikes to attend a formal farewell party. Today is his last day at VECC officially............ Dr. Santanu Pal shares his thought with Tilak Ghosh and Mishreyee Bhattacharya.
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“If someone is ambitious and want to do science in a complete fashion, from the design of a new instrument to build it, and use it in an experiment, one should certainly consider joining VECC. The Centre has a very supportive environment in recent years for doing basic research, funding is not a constraint at all. One can easily find an engineer to discuss about his design or a scientist next door to her/his office to discuss innovative ideas” said Dr Santanu Pal, in an informal chat when we asked the question , if he thinks that young researcher should choose VECC to pursue their science career. Dr. Pal, Head of the Theoretical Physics Division of our centre, is officially retiring from VECC on 31st May.

Dr. Santanu Pal had a knack, from the childhood, of knowing how things work. “Once I made a dynamo. To test it, I plugged it into the switch board and then you know what happened…..the main fuse of electrical connections got tripped off. I had to lie to my mother to explain the reason behind the blackout” recalls Santanu-da, the fun story of his childhood. While explaining to us why he became a theoretician rather than an experimentalist Santanu da said, “It seemed to me that the theoretical laws are more fundamental, it is always exciting to understand how things work.” He also mentioned the impact of his university Professor Tapen Roy, who taught him quantum mechanics, to become theoretical physicist. Tapen Roy, who was a student of S.N. Bose and Paul Dirac, also encouraged Santanu-da to join Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC).

It was mid seventies. Bohr and Mottelson got the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei. Low energy nuclear physics was really booming while particle physics was really on the cross roads. So it was an obvious choice for a young researcher like Santanu Pal to pursue nuclear theory to start his career. “I had also an option to join Laser Physics Division at BARC in Mumbai. Getting accommodation in the departmental housing at BARC was really tough in those days. Many of my friends used to live in several guest houses near the BARC campus. VECC K130 Cyclotron was coming up at Kolkata. So, I preferred to come back to Kolkata, close to my home.”

“What role does nuclear theory play at VECC? Do you think that the theoretician and experimenters interact well enough at VECC?”, we asked to Santanu-da.

“The theoretician who works in the field of High Energy Physics may have certain overlap with the experiments carried out by their experimentalists colleagues, however in the low energy side, the interaction are not really enough” admits Santanu-da. "The main reason behind this is that, at the early stage of the operation of K130 cyclotron, many experiments were irradiation type of experiments, or the experimentalists didn’t require strong support from the theory group. However, recent experiments to study nuclear structure or giant dipole resonance with the help of large detector array at VECC give the opportunity to the experimenters to work with their theoretician colleagues more closely. When the Superconducting Cyclotron at our campus will be operational, surely experimenters will collaborate with theoreticians in a more fruitful way”, believes Santanu Pal.

The most memorable day to his tenure in VECC was the visit of Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam, whom he met once again during his visit to ICTP, Trieste, after four years.

“There is no worst memory at VECC, I am fortunate! However, many times I was disappointed when I found that people misinterpreted rules which were actually meant to do good” lamented Santanu-da.

“Do you find any change in the environment since you came to the Centre?” we wanted to know from him.

“Surely, there is a change for the betterment in general. In the early days, emphasis was on the developmental side as the centre was busy in building a new machine. Carrying out research in those days was treated as a hobby, writing paper was not considered to be a great job! The scene changed a lot since mid eighties. Collaboration culture of doing science at international level gave the centre a global view. Mindset of people was opened up and research atmosphere was widened much more. Now, while preparing the list of publications for the performance relative intensive scheme (PRIS), you will find that number of publications of VECC is really comparable or better than any premier basic research institute in our country”.

“Do you have any suggestions for young scientists?” was our final question to him.

“Follow your own intuition…..”