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We are just a (very small) dot…

Didier Queloz – Nobel Prize winner, physics, 2019 – https://lnkd.in/gqzZtTdB

That’s him in the picture below, pointing to a very small dot…which is we, the earth, in the solar system. Not in an imposing position, are we?

An engrossing 2 hours of a lecture from a Nobel Prize winner at, of all places, the Music Academy, Chennai. yesterday.

The topic (in brief): The origin of life on earth & life outside earth.

Organized by IIT Madras as part of the Subra Suresh lecture series, this was the first time in my life I was in the same room as a Nobel Prize winner, so I really did not know what to expect. And when I realized that almost 50% of the audience were school students (many in their 6th or 7th grades, and the kid sitting next to me a wonky looking fifth grader), my expectation canvas became decidedly vague.

It turned out to be one of the most engrossing two hours I spent in a long time – a highly focussed lecture on the best guesses about the origin of life, from one of the brightest minds in the topic, delivered in way that made reasonable sense even to laymen.

I had recently finished reading the late Stephen Hawking’s book Brief Answers to the Big Questions. While it was a fascinating read, I was a bit disappointed to see Hawking kind of pushing for humans to create settlements on other planets like Mars (he was on the global panel with folks like Elon Musk for this initiative). To me, it was nonsensical – why bother to create a new livable planet (just think about THAT for a few moments) while all we have to do is to do a better job of maintaining our beautiful existing one, and when it could be a hundred thousand years before we are hit by an asteroid or something. From his answers, I felt Dieder also perhaps felt the same way. When a Nobel Prize winner’s thoughts are in alignment with those of a vagabond, it is not altogether a bad day (for the latter, that is).

The Q&A session was an awakening for me. Three out of the six questions were from school students, probably in their seventh or eighth grades – and all were girls (boys, we have not completely lost it yet, put up at least a semblance of fight). When middle school students have the confidence to ask detailed questions to a Nobel Laureate, with one of those questions even making him think for a fraction of a second, you are not living in a bad place.

Thanks to Indian Institute of Technology, Madras & Mahesh Panchagnula for organizing such a valuable event! And to Kris Gopalakrishnan and Subra Suresh for making this happen and taking time to be present at the event.

I’m hoping that IITM will make the video of this lecture available online sometime.

See my LinkedIn post on this topic


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