Professor Yash Pal dies at 90: Renowned academic, 'poet of science' was committed to the cause of education

One of India's most respected scientists Yash Pal passed away on Tuesday in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, according to media reports. He was 90.

A scientist and educator of international fame, Pal received the Padma Bhushan in 1976 and the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, in 2013. In his illustrious career, Pal made significant academic contributions towards the study of cosmic rays, high-energy physics, and astrophysics, among others. He also served as the Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi from 2007 to 2012.

"He was a poet of science," professor Apoorvanand, who had worked with Pal twice, told Outlook in an interview. "His sheer enthusiasm and joy of science, space and the ability of Indians to things on their own was something extraordinary that we don't find today."

Born in 1926 in Jhang district of British India, now in Pakistan, Pal started his career at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, as a member of the Cosmic Rays group. He went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States for his PhD with specialisation in high-energy physics, astrophysics, communication, science policy and space technology. After his degree, he returned to TIFR, where he remained until 1983.

When Government of India set up the Department of Space in 1972 to have its own space programme, Pal took charge as the first director of the newly set up Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad in 1973. He, however, continued to be part of TIFR's faculty through his tenure in Ahmedabad.

 Professor Yash Pal dies at 90: Renowned academic, poet of science was committed to the cause of education

File image of Yash Pal. YouTube screengrab

Pal also represented the government and other agencies in scientific endeavors across the world in different capacities. He was appointed as the Secretary General of the Second United Nations Conference on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (1981–82), Chief Consultant of the Planning Commission (1983–84), Secretary of Department of Science and Technology (1984–1986), and Chairman of University Grants Commission (1986–91) among several other positions.

However, Pal is best known for pioneering work in science communication in India and bringing popular science into the living room. His regular appearances on the Doordarshan programme Turning Point in the 1990s where he explained complex phenomena in everyday language, and his columns in several newspapers where he answered questions asked by readers, made him a household name to many.

He was also on the advisory board of several other television series like Bharat Ki ChaapTur-Rum-Tu and Race to Save the Planet, apart from hosting programmes on special occasions like solar eclipses and passing of comets.

Education was close to Pal's heart. He was the chairman of an MHRD-appointed committee, popularly known as the Yash Pal committee, aimed at reducing the burden on school children while improving the quality of education.

Later, when the National Council of Educational Research and Training embarked on the exercise of drawing up the National Curriculum Framework, Pal was asked to chair its Steering Committee.

Apoorvanand told Outlook that Pal's report titled 'Learning without burden' was a seminal work, and that he always asked politicians to find ways to reduce the burden on students.  "Bacchon ko samajh ka chaska lagne do," (children should get the flavour of learning) Pal used to say."

He also led a study that produced a report titled "Real Education for the Real India", and was appointed as chairman of the committee to advise on "Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education " in 2008.

Pal was also awarded the Firodia Award (2009), Yashwantrao Chavan National Award (2010), Asiatic Society Vidyasagar Gold Plaque (2010) and Vigyan Mani Award of the Punjab University.

In October 2011, he was awarded the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for excellence in public administration, academics and management, fields that aptly sum up his contribution to public life.

Updated Date: Jul 25, 2017 13:27:37 IST