Prof. C N R Rao
Dr Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao, Linus Pauling Research Professor and Honorary President of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore, is one of the most distinguished scientists of India today. He is the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India and was honoured with a National Research Professorship in May 2006. Professor Rao is a world-renowned authority in solid state and structural chemistry. He has made seminal contributions to chemical spectroscopy, molecular structure, surface chemistry, high temperature superconductivity. More recently, his interest has shifted to nano sciences and nano technology.
C N R Rao was born in Bangalore on June 30, 1934. He had his early schooling in Bangalore and in other towns of the erstwhile Mysore State. He obtained a B.Sc. degree from the University of Mysore in 1951 and M.Sc. from Banaras Hindu University in 1953. In 1954, he enrolled in the graduate programme of Purdue University, USA, where he worked under Professor R L Livingston for his PhD degree. He joined the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in 1959 as a Lecturer but moved to IIT, Kanpur in 1963, where he quickly rose to a Professorship and headed the Department of Chemistry and later became the Dean of Research. He returned to IISc in 1976 to set up the Solid State and Structural Chemistry Unit and the Materials Research Laboratory which he headed until 1984, when he became the Director of IISc. At his initiative, the Government of India established the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in 1989, the birth centenary year of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Professor Rao was the Founder-President of the Centre.
Professor Rao’s early work was on the application of spectroscopic methods to the study of molecular structure. He used electronic and vibrational spectroscopy to study many chemically significant problems – spectra-structural correlations, environmental effects, vibration analysis etc. In solid state and structural chemistry he focused his attention on the development of novel synthetic methods and structures, electron transport and magnetic properties and defects in ionic solids. He has probed the structure-property relations in complex solids using various modern tools of investigation. His work has led to the development of unified models for the behaviour of a variety of metal oxides and sulphides. Professor Rao has made in-depth studies of phase transitions of many inorganic and organic solids. These investigations have led to better understanding of structural phase transitions, while at the same time his theoretical investigations using Monte Carlo simulations involving cells of variable volume and shape have provided insights into their behaviour.
Professor Rao and his students have made extensive studies of the phenomena and properties exhibited by transition metal oxide systems, including high temperature superconductivity, colossal magnetoresistance and metal-insulation transitions. The first family of oxide superconductors that showed high temperature superconductivity was related to La2CuO4 belonging to the K2NiF4 family which was investigated extensively by Professor Rao. His research group was one of the first to identify the high temperature superconducting phase as Y Ba2Cu3O7.
Recently Professor Rao has shifted his interest to the area of nanoparticles. In his laboratory, a large variety of nanoparticles and nanoparticle assemblies have been synthesised and characterised and new phenomena have been discovered. He and his research group have found that nanoscale metal oxides and nitrides show magnetism at room temperature due to surface effects. He has been instrumental in getting the Government of India to launch the Nano Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI) under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology.
Professor Rao has the unique honour of being a Fellow/Member of all the major academies of the world including The Royal Society London, National Academy of Sciences, USA, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Sciences and the Japan Academy. He has been the President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (1985-87), the Third World Academy of Sciences (2000), the Indian National Science Academy (1985-86), and the Indian Academy of Sciences (1989-91). The number of national and international awards in science won by Professor Rao are too numerous to list. He is the recipient of the first India Science Award instituted by the Government of India in 2006. The Government of India decorated him with Padma Shri in 1974 and with Padma Vibhushan in 1985.
Professor Rao has been a great spokesman for research in basic sciences and a bitter critic of the current trend among the young to pursue lucrative careers in Information Technology and Biotechnology ignoring the basic sciences. He feels that the oft-quoted division of basic research and applied research is artificial. Research in basic sciences is at the core of all development and has to be encouraged if the country had to progress. He has spoken widely and forcefully to improve the lot of the scientists and the environment in the universities and research establishments to make science attractive to the younger generation. The competition has become fiercer and it is harder today to do good work and get international recognition than it was a few decades ago. His talk today touches upon the theme of ‘Doing Science in India’, an activity to which he dedicated his life fifty years ago and to which he remains committed to this day.