Team SKA benefits from the expertise of hundreds of scientists, from early career researchers to senior experts at some of the world’s most respected institutions. Among them is Prof. Yashwant Gupta, director of India’s National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) in Pune, part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and a member of the SKA Board of Directors.
A pulsar specialist and 2007 recipient of India’s prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology, Yashwant led the SKA’s Telescope Manager consortium through the crucial design phase and to the successful conclusion of its work in July 2018. We spoke to him to find out more about his journey to the SKA, and how his childhood hobby became a successful career.
Growing up in India, did you always want to be an astrophysicist?
When I was in high school, I got interested in astronomy thanks to the astronomy hobby club in my school, and some encouragement from my father. From then on my interest in astronomy kept growing, but it remained as my favourite hobby. It was not until I completed my undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering that I decided to make the shift towards a career in radio astronomy and astrophysics as a graduate student.
“The SKA is truly a next generation facility that promises to revolutionise many aspects of astrophysics.”
I found myself in the midst of the excitement of building one of the largest low frequency radio telescopes in the world. Here my combination of training in electronics and astronomy played a major facilitating role, and soon I became the chief scientist and the dean of the GMRT Observatory. This led to my current role as the director of NCRA.
“Youngsters aspiring to be professional astrophysicists need to have a broad based approach to the subject – a background in instrumentation, software and big data is invaluable.”
The proudest moment of my career was probably being awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 2007, which is perhaps the most prestigious science award in India. This was in recognition of my leadership role in getting GMRT fully functional around 2002 to 2003 – overcoming some stiff technical challenges – and shortly after that making some interesting first pulsar discoveries with GMRT, in addition to other areas of research that I contributed to in those years.
Youngsters aspiring to be professional astrophysicists need to have a broad based approach to the subject. It is not enough to have good skills only in physics – having a background in instrumentation, software, big data and related techniques and technologies is invaluable, especially if one wants to become a good experimental astrophysicist.
A wider approach to multi-wavelength (and multi-messenger) astrophysics is also needed, as is the ability to work in large international teams. Of course, it goes without saying that the ability to work hard in a focused manner are skills that are still needed, even today!
Your work must be quite intense, with lots of travelling. Do you have any hobbies that help you to relax?
Nowadays, I don’t get too much time to indulge in hobbies! Music, long walks, time with friends and family are things that help me unwind.
Learn more about Yashwant’s role as TM consortium lead, and discover the SKA’s other engineering elements, on the SKA engineering design website.
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