Rohini Godbole talks about why it is a good time to be a particle physicist

One would not be too off the mark when describing High Energy physicist Rohini M. Godbole as being extremely energetic. And while explaining the intricacies of gluons and the importance of the elusive Higgs-Boson particle, one is compelled to believe her when she says, “Physics is fun.”

An authority

For someone who has spent around 35 years formulating pages-long equations to describe particles that exist for a mere fraction of a second (“mere fraction” translates to less than one trillion trillionth of a second), she has left an indelible mark on particle physics.

Encapsulated in her diminutive frame is a list of achievements that few physicists can boast of.

Apart from the numerous papers submitted, which make her an authority on Sparticles and Supersymmetry (she has even written a book on it), Rohini is also part of a 10-member International Detector Advisory Group for the International Linear Collider in the European research lab, CERN. This, in effect, means that she is in a panel that decides the specifications of the next big collider.

Foray into science

Science for Rohini began in standard seven , when her all-girls school in Pune started teaching physical sciences instead of home science. Thanks to the encouragement of her teachers at school, Rohini realised that “science was fun”.

A series of scholarships ensured she went to the best schools in the country and abroad.

After completing her Ph. D in the U.S., she returned to India to pursue particle physics, and in 1996, she joined the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) as professor, where she has been staying ever since.

The campus

“The first time I came to IISc., I told myself I would be coming back here often,” the physicist says. However, she laments that while the campus has remained the same, the area around it has changed.

“I used to cycle from the IISc. quarters to my office. I'd even take the cycle to Malleswaram market to buy groceries.

With the traffic now, it is impossible to do that,” she says.

Women in science

From being an adviser in various scientific commissions to being a member of the Panel for Women in Science of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Rohini juggles many hats. It is in this capacity that she was involved in books such as Leelavati's Daughters chronicling the journey of Indian women scientists.

Disadvantages

She recalls that when she began her foray into particle physics, there was probably one other woman in the field. Now the count is more than 10.

Even though the situation is improving for women, she says that they have certain disadvantages in the scientific community here.

“Women have to be really lucky to be a good scientist, a mother, and look after the family.”

Social reasons

The lack of women scientists, she says, is because of social reasons — marriage and accommodating the husband and children's schedule, among others.

Confident that the yet-to-be-found Higgs-Boson particle may be found within two years, Rohini says that this is a good time to be a particle physicist.

And India, she says, will hold a proud position.

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Up CloseApril 13, 2011