Undergraduate Institution and Major: Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India -- Physics
Graduate Education: Syracuse University, PhD
1. What inspired you to go into teaching?
Bad teachers I encountered in my college years. When I started teaching at UCSD in 1995, I promised myself that no matter what, I would never be one of those. So far this has worked out.
2. Who is someone that motivated you? Why?
Thousands of years ago the Indian sage-philosophers wrote a beautiful poem called the Song of Creation in the Rig Veda. In this hymn the sages looked up at the sky and speculated on how our universe came into being. Having read this ancient Sanskrit text as a teenager, I decided that I would use modern scientific tools to help answer their wonderment about the origin of our universe. One by one, I am succeeding in answering these questions.
3. If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or deceased, it would it be and why?
Leonardo da Vinci the painter, sculptor, anatomist and an extraordinary inventor and scientist. He is my hero and model for the inter-disciplinary and the all-round development and understanding we all must strive towards for a purposeful life. Pursuing this fantasy, the dinner with him would be over some hot Indian curry (I cook) and a renaissance style Tuscan salad (he brings). The discussion would include how the US should reduce its rapidly increasing financial deficit.
4. What is your favorite book?
Too many to mention. These days I don’t have time to read a book that I can’t finish on a 20 hour plane ride from San Diego to Geneva, Switzerland. Because of my little daughter Meera, I discovered Dr. Seuss’s books. They are wonderfully written. I still enjoy them although Meera has grown out of them. To the UCSD students I recommend a book by Thomas Friedman called “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century”. This book should motivate them to prepare towards the reality and challenges from all over the world that face them.
5. Tell me the worst excuse you have ever gotten from a student.
I mostly teach science and engineering majors. They are very good and extremely motivated and understand what they have to do to succeed. I have a lot of respect for them and I know they work very hard while juggling a complicated personal schedule. In the fifteen years of teaching at UCSD, I don’t recall any (hilarious) excuses.
6. What could a student do to impress you?
I want to see that students don’t just memorize the text material. Physics is all about learning problem solving skills. I am very happy when students stop me during lectures and problem solving sessions and ask about what they have not understood. Sometimes they have a more elegant method to understand the logic or solve a problem than what I discussed. This impresses me immensely!
7. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Besides playing tennis (challenge rounds with students) and experimenting with cooking all kinds of cuisine, I like to sleep a lot since I shuttle so much between Europe and the US for research reasons. I am constantly jet-lagged!