As Head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, Prof. Rao was pivotal in the creation of 5 IISERS

Veteran chemist Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao “stands out among Indian scientists” as being the most academically prolific, and “few can match his accomplishments”, according to P. Balaram, director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). Besides his pioneering work in solid-state chemistry, Professor Rao, who has been chosen for the Bharat Ratna, deserves “the greatest credit for being a remarkable institution builder”, Professor Balaram told The Hindu on Saturday.

As professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, in the early 1960s, Prof. Rao contributed to the institute’s stature as an important centre of research and created one of the best chemistry departments in the country, Prof. Balaram said. Later, as director of the IISc (1984-94) Prof. Rao “transformed the outlook of the institute” and introduced a large number of faculty, both junior and senior. IISc’s Solid-State and Structural Chemistry Unit owes to Prof. Rao’s vision, and the Supercomputer Education and Research Centre was strengthened by him, said Prof. Balaram.

As Head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India, Prof. Rao was pivotal in the creation of five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs). Bangalore’s Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), which he built, completes 25 years this year.

Prof. Rao was one of the first Indian scientists to work with solid-state chemistry in a systematic and serious way in the 1970s — before the area became fashionable. “Very little work had been done in the fields of high temperature superconductivity and few had even heard of giant magnetoresistance.” The Bharat Ratna “is richly deserved and the scientific community had been expecting this for quite a while”, Prof. Balaram said.

Roddam Narasimha, Honorary Professor at JNCASR, has known Prof. Rao since high-school. He says: “[Prof. Rao’s] passion and energy for doing science is unparalleled whether in India or internationally.” The Bharat Ratna is an acknowledgment of his contributions to material science, nanomaterials and chemical physics.

“[Prof. Rao] was, in fact, one of the first to see the potentials of nanoscience. But the Bharat Ratna is also a recognition of his work outside his own field of research. Science education — whether at the higher- or school level — is particularly important to him, and he has created world-class institutes across the country.”

Fellow Kannadiga and former hostel-mate U.R. Rao, himself a famed space scientist and former ISRO chairman, said, “I am proud of [the award going to C.N.R. Rao]. It is nice to see him get the Bharat Ratna; he is an internationally-acclaimed scientist and deserves it. It does Kannadigas proud.”

U.R. Rao warmly recalled that he and Prof. C.N.R. Rao were at Benares Hindu University for their M.Sc during 1951-53, he for Physics and Prof. C.N.R. Rao for Chemistry. “We are good friends and we were in the same hostel in Benares and would often meet, as we now do occasionally.”

ISRO Chairman and Secretary, Department of Space, K. Radhakrishnan, termed it a great honour and recognition for science and technology in the country. “Prof. C.N.R. Rao is one of our greatest scientists. He has pursued research in cutting-edge areas of science and also nurtured scientific talent. He has been rightly honoured.”

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