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Felicitation of Padma Awardees Prof. Deepak Dhar and Prof. K.N. Ganesh

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Prof. K.N. Ganesh (left) and Prof. Deepak Dhar
Prof. K.N. Ganesh (left) and Prof. Deepak Dhar

On Feb 4, 2023,  the IISER Pune community felicitated Prof. Deepak Dhar and Prof. K.N. Ganesh who are among the list of Padma awardees announced recently by the Government of India on the eve of the 2023 Republic Day. 

The felicitation event began with a welcome address by the Director Prof. Jayant Udgaonkar followed by short talks by both the awardees. Prof. Richa Rikhy anchored the event. Prof. Apratim Chatterji introduced Prof. Deepak Dhar and spoke about his academic background and noted the impact of Prof. Dhar's work on the field of statistical physics and his contribution as mentor to several students who are now leading physicists. 

In his talk, Prof. Deepak Dhar gave a personal account of his journey as a scientist. He spoke about early influences that cultivated his interest in science including the learning environment provided by his parents at home. He noted his selection into the National Science Talent Search Scholarship as an important event in his early scientific career. When he joined CalTech for PhD, he had the opportunity of meeting and discussing work with several legendary figures including Prof. Feynman by whose approach and way of thinking Prof. Dhar was inspired by. Prof. Dhar's thesis advisor Prof. Jon Mathews encouraged him to work independently while also supporting and guiding him.

As a doctoral student, Prof. Dhar began to work on a fractal lattice and introduced the notion of an effective dimension, now called the spectral dimension. He joined Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) Mumbai in 1978. With a colleague Mustansir Barma who had similar interests in statistical physics, Prof. Dhar began to work on percolation problems. In 1989, they proposed a variation of the sandpile model described by theoretical physicist Per Bak. This directed version from Prof. Dhar was much easier to analyse and solve. Prof. Dhar describes this as his best known work that works as a prototype of self-organised critical systems. He then worked on understanding patterns formed in lattices when particles were added at the origin of the lattice. At the basic phenomenological level, this model captures the patterns involved in proportionate growth in biology. Prof. Dhar then studied the enumeration of connected clusters on a given lattice, and in recent years, Prof. Dhar's work has involved understanding behaviour of systems of particles with hard core interactions. 

Prof. Nirmalya Ballav introduced Prof. K.N. Ganesh and spoke about his contribution as founder director of two IISERs, that of IISER Pune and IISER Tirupati, and his scientific contributions in the area of peptide nucleic acids. Prof. Ganesh began his talk by remembering his undergraduate and masters' teachers from Central College, Bangalore, who inspired him and influenced his career choice. At Delhi University for his PhD, Prof. Ganesh experimented on shellac resin with its terpene components, and worked on their structure and stereochemistry. Here he also developed an appreciation for teamwork and research ethics and had a culturally enriching experience with his colleagues in the lab who introduced him to movies, ghazals, and cricket.

In 1977, on a Commonwealth Scholarship, he went to Cambridge University and registered for a second PhD degree, for the reason that it allowed him a longer stay in comparison to a postdoctoral position. This worked out in his favour since being a PhD student allowed him to indulge in the rich teaching and learning environment offered by the university through professors, many of whom were well established researchers and some of who had written classical textbooks in chemistry. For his PhD research, his task was to synthesise capped porphyrins in order to mimic the reaction centre of photosynthesis and through 2D NMR, which was an upcoming technique at that time, study their conformation and metal co-ordination.

Prof. Ganesh returned to India and joined Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad in 1981 where he initially studied micelles. Taking a departure from his research direction so far, he began to learn how to make synthetic DNA starting with a short stay at Mike Gait’s laboratory in MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. With this new expertise that he acquired and a few components from MRC, when he returned to CCMB, Prof. Ganesh built a semi-automated synthesizer and went on to set-up the first DNA synthesis facility at CCMB for making oligonucleotides. 

After he moved to CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, Prof. Ganesh worked on peptide nucleic acids, which also developed with the idea of making DNA analogues that could go inside the cells. After trying out several types of modifications, the team identified analogues which had the desired features. This became the basis of much of Prof. Ganesh's work in the coming years with further modifications of PNAs leading up to bi-modal PNAs that can simultaneously bind two different complementary DNA strands. The team is now looking forward to study biological applications of the bi-modal PNAs.

Both Prof. Dhar and Prof. Ganesh gave the audience glimpses of milestones on their personal front through photographs taken with family members and acknowledged the support they received from colleagues, students, postdocs, and family through their scientific journey.

Prof. Jayant Udgaonkar presented mementos to Prof. Deepak Dhar and Prof. K.N. Ganesh as a mark of the institute’s appreciation for their achievements and for the recognition they received through the Padma awards. 

The IISER Pune community congratulates Prof. Dhar and Prof. K.N. Ganesh on this special occasion!