4 awards, pavilion of its own — India dazzles at world’s largest astronomy meet in South Korea

Bengaluru: Indian physicists and astronomers put on a glittering show at the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU’s) first physical event since 2018 in South Korea.

The IAU’s General Assembly, the world’s largest astronomy meet, took place in Busan between 2 and 11 August. Not only was there a pavilion showcasing Indian space projects at the event, but the presentation of awards for PhD theses saw Indian scholars, including one from a university in Oslo, bag four prizes.

This is the first time that Indian PhD students have won prizes at the IAU General Assembly, held every three years. Three Indians won the ‘PhD at-large’ prize while the fourth got the ‘Division E (Sun and Heliosphere)’ PhD prize. The event was delayed by
a year owing to the Covid pandemic.

“I was surprised as well as extremely pleased,” Prantika Bhowmik told ThePrint about winning the PhD at-large prize for the year 2019. “It is, in a way, the highest recognition any young astronomer can hope to get from the international research community just after finishing their PhD.”

The IAU PhD Prizes were first instituted in 2016. There are ten categories of prizes, ranging from fundamental astronomy, bioastronomy, high energy phenomena to astrophysics education.

At every award ceremony, the PhD at-large prize in astrophysics, which is independent of these divisions, is also given out.

Prizes for each category are selected by a panel of experts within the topics of research. Thesis topics for the award are solicited using an online application form that candidates fill out about their work, and have representatives from their institute provide references.

All four Indian recipients also presented their thesis work in the form of oral presentations.

All prizes won by the Indian scholars were for topics related to solar research. Gopal Hazra of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, won the PhD at-large prize for the year 2018 for his work related to understanding the behaviour of solar magnetic field and meridional (north-to-south) flow of plasma over its surface using 3D models.
Prantika Bhowmik, formerly associated with the Center of Excellence in Space Sciences at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, won the PhD at-large prize in 2019 for her work on computational models that future solar activity.
Reetika Joshi of Kumaun University and Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences, Nainital, won the same award for the year 2021 for her work on the observation of plasma jets and other kinds of energy flares in the sun’s chromosphere (atmospheric layer above visible surface).
The same year, Souvik Bose, who did his M.Tech from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bengaluru and PhD from the University of Oslo, won the Division E Sun and Heliosphere PhD prize for his work on spicules or tiny jets that are releasing energy all over the sun and energise the outer atmospheric layers.

Telescopes, science missions showcased at India pavilion

At the IAU General Assembly, the Astronomical Society of India (ASI) hosted an India pavilion showcasing major astronomy facilities of the country for the first time in its 50-year history, said Dibyendu Nandi, chairperson of the ASI’s public outreach and education committee, in a press release.

Indian astronomical facilities like the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (Pune), the Indian Astronomical Observatory (Hanle), the Devasthal Optical Telescope (Nainital), and the Kodaikanal and Udaipur solar observatories were showcased at the Indian pavilion.

Science missions like Chandrayaan, AstroSAT, and Aditya-L1 were also on display, as well as India’s contribution to mega physics projects like Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (spread over the US, Italy, and India), the upcoming Thirty Meter Telescope (Hawaii), and upcoming Square Kilometre Array (in Australia and South Africa).

(Edited by Tony Rai)


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