The idea of ICTS naturally grew out of a strongly felt need in the Indian scientific community to enhance the research and education eco-system of Indian science. There is a need in India today, to create an institution where researchers from India and from abroad can meet and interact for critical periods of time, in a relaxed and conducive atmosphere. These periods depend on the type of activity at ICTS that can range from rapid response short duration workshops to programs lasting many months. Visits to ICTS can be even sabbaticals in which faculty members can bring along their students and post-docs.
The idea is to provide a facility that will enhance the creative process and lend a hand to the solution of some of the profound scientific problems of our times. As past experience has shown, major breakthroughs do occur when problems are seen in a different light; and at times when there is a heterosis (or hybrid vigor) when different core disciplines are brought to bear on a given problem.This is natural because as we all know, it is the limitation of the human mind that caused the division of scientific activity that we call mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology! For these reasons, ICTS envisages running at least two parallel programs in nearby disciplines. Currently there is an enormous amount of work going on at the interface of physics, biology, mathematics and computer science in different combinations.
Besides its focus on being a facility to enhance research in the basic sciences, ICTS would like to contribute to the creation of scientific human resources. We plan to have programs for school and college teachers, to facilitate the development of educational material and also to employ modern technology in the dissemination of educational material. We are also exploring the idea where students under guidance grapple with solutions of real-life mathematical problems from diverse areas of science and technology.
ICTS is also aware of the importance of the interface of pure research, and applied science and technology, and of the importance of discussions of science and technology policy. All these diverse groups will be able to meet and interact at ICTS.
While it is true that ICTS is a science centre, it will also make an effort to integrate science into the larger fabric of human activity and knowledge. Hence we hope to invite people from the arts, humanities and civic society to give talks, spend time with us and enrich us.
As you will see in this report, ICTS started functioning from September 2007 and had a very active start. Between September 2007 and September 2009 it has organized 20 programs over more than 330 program days. Over 1000 people participated in these programs and close to half of this number were from outside India. 17 more programs are planned for the near future up to August 2010.
The programs range over many subjects: physics, astrophysics, cosmology, mathematics, computer science and their many branches.
We have had public lectures from a galaxy of speakers like Juan Maldacena, Lyman Page, Joe Silk and others. In addition, ICTS has initiated a series of lectures titled the “Subramanyan Chandrasekhar Lectures”. Eminent academicians deliver these lectures on important new developments in their areas of specialty. The first lecture in any series is aimed at a general scientific audience, while the remaining is aimed at specialists. The first lecture series, “Extremal Black Holes in Strings Theory”, was given by Ashoke Sen, in August 2009. The second series will be given by Andrew Strominger in January 2010. Future Chandrasekhar lecturers will include Dam Tranh Son and other eminent scientists. Several academic members from various institutions in India are adjunct faculty members of ICTS. There is a large program committee of very active members who oversee the program proposals. The adjunct faculty, the program committee, and the future core faculty of ICTS will serve to catalyze a productive academic atmosphere.
Now a Word About How ICTS Happened
The genesis of ICTS owes itself to institutions like the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ASICTP) in Trieste, the KITP in Santa Barbara and the Newton Institute in Cambridge. Each of these institutions has overlapping but somewhat different missions. The ICTP was originally created by Salam to help bring developing-world scientists and students up-to-date in various areas of physics and mathematics. ICTP also organizes high-level research workshops and has a successful diploma program for bright students from developing countries. The KITP and the Newton Institute aim to promote scientific excellence and productivity at the highest level. At KITP educational and outreach activities also go side by side with the scientific programs.
Scientists from India have been regular visitors to these institutions and they and their students have benefited enormously from these institutions. The Indian science community has by now critical numbers in various areas to benefit from and most importantly also sustain a centre inspired by these institutions, but planned according to its resources and needs.
About two decades ago T.V. Ramakrishnan and I had suggested to the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India to set up a centre to organize regular schools and workshops in variousareas in India. This did not materialize at the time, but about a decade ago there was a resurgence of this idea, with the difference that it was now felt that one should develop a national facility along the lines of ASICTP, KITP and the Newton Institute.
The first blueprint of this centre appeared in the course of a long conversation that I had with David Gross in October 2004, at Santa Barbara. The idea of the centre then evolved in discussions with colleagues both within and outside TIFR. It received a strong recommendation from the international visiting committee that reviewed the Department of Theoretical Physics of TIFR in September 2006. Edouard Brezin chaired the committee and members were M. Peskin, J. Polchinski, T.V. Ramakrishnan and A. Ukawa. The visiting committee, chaired by Michael Atiyah, that reviewed the School of Mathematics of TIFR also made a strong recommendation for an interactive program for physicists and mathematicians.
On 13 October 2006, on behalf of the TIFR community, I was asked to make a presentation to the Council of Management of TIFR, outlining the concept of a ‘National Centre for Theoretical Sciences’. The Council endorsed the idea of the Centre. On 2 August 2007, the Council of Management of TIFR recommended the setting up of a Centre with the name, “International Centre for Theoretical Sciences of TIFR”, at a suitable location in India. Subsequently, in 2009, the permanent campus and infrastructure of ICTS was approved by the Council of Management of TIFR followed by the Atomic Energy Commission. In this context, I would like to thank Prof C.N.R. Rao, former AEC Chairman Dr Anil Kakodkar, the present AEC Chairman Dr S. Banerjee, and Director TIFR Mustansir Barma, who played a major role in helping ICTS to reach this stage.
Meanwhile, just as TIFR itself had started working in June 1945 without buildings of its own, ICTS programs also started in September 2007. ICTS programs and the ICTS logo were formally inaugurated by T. V. Ramakrishnan during the program, “Correlated Electrons and Frustrated Magnetism - 25 November - 4 December 2007, organized by K. Damle, S.K. Dhar, E.V. Sampathkumaran, T. Senthil and V. Tripathi.
Now a Word About Why We are Here in Bangalore
The simple answer is that at present there are, in my view, not many locations in India that have the academic eco-system (borrowing a term from Dr. Rama Rao) that can sustain ICTS. There was a sustained effort to find a suitable location that went on for close to two years. There was a confluence of circumstances which made Bangalore the appropriate location. The State Government of Karnataka allotted a site of about 18 acres in north Bangalore. In this effort we had the support of Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Dr. K. Kasturirangan and many others.
The year 2009 is the birth centenary year of Homi Bhabha. It is a befitting tribute to him that TIFR is taking several new steps during this centenary year: the setting up of a new campus in Hyderabad, partnering in the formation of a life sciences consortium in Bangalore, and now the ICTS in Bangalore.
This note would be incomplete without mention of the support, help and encouragement of many of my colleagues at TIFR Mumbai, NCBS, CAM, and IISc. I would especially like to thank NCBS and CAM for providing administrative and logistic support to ICTS. I thank TIFR for its support and guidance.
We look forward to more productive years ahead for ICTS.
- Spenta Wadia