Ramaswami (Raju) S. Raghavan



Ramaswamy (Raju) Raghavan, professor of physics in the College of Science passed away October 20, 2011. He was the beloved husband, brother, uncle, teacher, colleague, and friend of many from all around the world.

Ramaswamy S (Raju) Raghavan started his research career in nuclear physics as a graduate student at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India and continued his studies at Purdue University, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1964 with post‐parity beta decay experiments under Rolf Steffen. He then spent several years at the Technical University Munich in the institutes of Paul Kienle and Rudolf Moessbauer. He returned to the U. S. in 1972 and spent the next 32 years at Bell Laboratories, where he became Distinguished Member in 1989. He had a unique career there as one of the few who pursued nuclear and neutrino interests far from the main Bell Labs interests in solid state physics, and was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1984. When the basic research programs in Bell Labs were terminated in 2004 he moved to Virginia Tech where he was Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute for Particle, Nuclear and Astronomical Sciences.

His main interest at Bell Labs began with studies of hyperfine interactions of nuclei with radioactivity as well as pulsed nuclear beams from the Rutgers‐Bell tandem accelerator (as an associate of the Rutgers Graduate Faculty), discovering numerous isomeric nuclei and applying them for solid state physics as well as measurements of nuclear moments. However he soon turned his attention to low energy neutrino science which became and continues to be his lifelong passion and developed several “ultra” technologies for frontier astroparticle physics experiments. He founded the Borexino Experiment in the Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy in 1988 which successfully measured the 7Be solar neutrinos (indeed with 5% precision) as well detecting geophysical neutrinos from the earth’s crust. He invented a unique direct counting technique for the spectroscopy of the fundamental proton‐proton solar neutrinos which is being developed (as the LENS experiment) at Virginia Tech. He has served in the committees of most of the international conferences of Hyperfine Physics as well as low energy Neutrino Science.

“Dr. Raghavan is no doubt one of the distinguished scientists and leaders in the world neutrino physics community ” according to Atsuto Suzuki, Director General The High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Japan (KEK). Allesandro Bettini, Director of the Canfranc Laboratory in Spain noted “Raju is one of the most creative physicists I ever met. His ideas are out of the mainstream. His thinking is unconventional, something that is unfortunately becoming rarer and rarer.” Art McDonald, Director of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada, also commented that “Raju Raghavan is internationally recognized as a leader of the field of neutrino physics and an innovator whose ideas and development work have resulted in many contributions to the field.”

“Raju was truly passionate about physics, and especially neutrino physics,” said Beate Schmittmann, professor of physics and head of the physics department. “He generated an immense range of creative and innovative ideas, many of which were far ahead of the times.”

His wisdom and passion for life and science has inspired many young people, both here at Virginia Tech, as well as India, his spiritual home, where he was most recently advising senior Indian government and laboratory directors on their new INO project, and exploring possibilities for collaborating on the LENS project – an experiment he dedicated the last several years to advance – with real success at Virginia Tech.

Share a Memory of or Thoughts on Raju

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Srinivasa Raghavan (A man of thousand ideas)

I knew him as Srinivasa Raghavan from 1958 when he joined TIFR, Bombay. Although I did not keep continuous contact with him for many years, he started visiting me in Madras University regularly in late 70's. He used to tell me about his ambition of mapping out the complete spectrum of the solar neutrinos including the lowest energies. He had a hunch that a lot of physics (of the Sun as well as of the neutrino) is hidden in the low-energy part.

He continued to visit me at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (Madras, now Chennai) and talked to us about his newest ideas in neutrino physics which were always very stimulating. He was a staunch supporter of India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) and became one of the prime movers of the project.

But here I will restrict myself to two of his recent interests. One is the recoilless emission and recoilless resonant absorption of neutrinos (Mossbauer effect on neutrinos). I still remember vividly a hectic week at Chennai when Raghavan visited us and goaded by him we feverishly argued and worked on one of his ideas, namely a monochromatic directed beam of neutrinos by combining recoilless emission with the idea of neutrino helicity. Ultimately it did not work, although, in the process I learnt the correct way of characterizing the neutrino helicity in general (it is recorded elsewhere). However the Mossbauer neutrinos was dear to his heart and we had discussions with many experimental physicists on how to push it. This idea of Raghavan's is bound to revolutionize neutrino physics one day.

The other dream of Raghavan was the Indo-US LENS Project and we worked ceaselessly in the last two years to initiate this project. I took him to meet leaders of science establishments in India to discuss it with them. Their response was very positive and the LENS Collaboration was being formed.

Raghavan was scheduled to address many meetings in India in December 2011 and January 2012 but he was snatched away just at that critical juncture. This is a very serious loss to Science in India. But we must push on with his dream. Realization of the Indo-US LENS project will be the best tribute that his friends and colleagues in USA and India can pay to his memory

-. G Rajasekaran (Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai,India)

For years I had lunch at the physics table with Raju and heard many discussions, including neutrino physics, astrophysics, often other local topics. There were a range of people there, in astrophysics, space physics and a few mathematics people from the other end of the Labs. It had a mix of personalities, some forceful and some less so. Raju's positive attitude towards topics, especially good physics, was always stimulating. One striking comment on cold fusion, from one of many skeptics at the table: " I'll see it if I believe it." After these pleasant lunch discussions, people were recharged afterwards for the rest of the day. It was a wonderful time. Raju filled us in on some of his neutrino progress, the complicated politics of it, and I was happy to see his Borexino prototype appear on the front cover of Science. In times of pressure at the Labs he always stood up passionately for good work. This was inspirational.
-Jeffrey Lagarias

Raju was for me the highlight of the Bell Labs experience. His sparkle, his curiosity, and his congeniality transformed lunch into a cultural experience we all looked forward to. His quiet creativity was powerful -- magically enabling seemingly impossible experiments. Not afraid of following an idea where it may lead, he was among the few who successfully pursued unorthodox experiments at the Labs. But it is the memory of his kindness that will forever remain.
-Tony Tyson

Raju’s work as a graduate student at Purdue, his work at Bartol, Bonn, and later.

I was a grad student at Purdue in the group of the late R. M. Steffen, roughly corresponding to Raju’s time at Purdue. Thus I was in a position to see Raju’s early work on hyperfine interactions, and to contribute to the (no doubt) exhaustive collection of slides of his life. Sandip Pakvasa was also part of this group of Indian students.

The days prior to Raju’s getting his PhD at Purdue were heady ones indeed for working in Steffen’s lab. Steffen was nothing if not a gourmet, and I recall Rolf talking Raju into the fact that the skin of Peking duck was not meat, but the border between the meat of the duck and the rest of the universe! Raju gave a little of what was in store for the world in his thesis on the study of beta decay from allowed nuclei. He then went to Bartol Research Foundation of the Franklin Institute, where he joined the group of Dr. Franz Metzger, studying the lifetimes of radioactive nuclei using the technique of resonance fluorescence.

Meanwhile, I had gotten my PhD at Purdue, and after a short time as a postdoc in Rolf Steffen’s group, went to the group of Dr. Erwin Bodenstedt at the University of Bonn, Germany, where Raju joined us after a short time. It was here that he married Pramila, his wife of many years and a physicist in her own right.

We had arrived in Bonn in September of 1966, and Raju arrived in January of 1967. He quickly adjusted to Bodenstedt’s group, and not least to life in the Gästehaus der Universität in Ippendorf. This was run by Frau Gauerke, a benevolent despot who took Raju under her wing, to the extent of doing his dishes and his laundry . . . until he married Pramila. Then, she averred, he was now a married man, and “the wife would do these things for him.”

My interaction with Raju was limited to lessons in German at the local Berlitz-Schule. This was in the form of Herr Genau, the local operative of the “Deutsch für Ausländer” course. (Of course Frau Gauerke mixed herself into this as well. In a discussion about flowers, she had noticed that Raju was agreeing with everything she said, said [in German]: “Und du? Du bist eine Blume!” [You’re a flower!] To which Raju [who had in fact been agreeing without understanding] having gotten the word “Blume,” which means “flower” in German, rejoined, “Ja, Tulpen!” [tulips], to the general merriment of those standing around.) Shortly thereafter he departed for Munich.

Fast forward to his days at Bell Labs, in 1971 or so. We had heard of his return to Bell, and were anxious to see him and to see how in particular married life was agreeing with them. We found Pramila to be a charming spouse, and on our departure she presented our daughter Renee with a sari, with a doll showing just how it was to be worn.

Fast forward again to the summer of 2011. We had invited him to our Celebration of the Numbers (aka 50th Anniversary Party). He called to say that he would be in Italy as the time of our gathering, but he thought that we might “get together in the fall some time.” Of course, we never did.

-Robert Rasera, University of Maryland Baltimore County

My wife, Betty, and I are sorry that we cannot be present for this celebration of Raju Raghavan’s life. However, I did want to contribute a few memories that you might read or just post. Raju was a good friend and I very much appreciate your honoring his memory in this way. Len Feldman

Raju Raghavan had a love of all physics and become excited at physics breakthroughs wherever they occurred. One of the “breakthroughs” we lived through together was the 1989 announcement of cold fusion.

Excitement filled the entire physics community and it was hard for Ragu and me to resist being part of the moment. Indeed that was one of his many characteristics as a scientist—to be where the action was. And for a few weeks at least the excitement was in cold fusion. So we decided to do an experiment together. We were a good team. I am a materials physicist and knew how to load up palladium with deuterium and confirm the material, and Ragu was a fine and experienced nuclear physicist and knew how to detect neutrons. Indeed the entire community agreed that it was the detection of neutrons that was going to be the “smoking gun” to confirm the Pons Fleischman announcement of “limitless energy”. We went to work together. A temporary chemistry-like lab was quickly set up and filled with the correct apparatus to reproduce the electrochemistry set-up AND seek the accompanying neutrons. Two incidents stick in my mind from that fine collaboration.

As in most new experiments, we had a variety of false positives that thrilled for the moment. In the environment that surrounded the announcement you can imagine that one did not know if the finding was correct, and we focused on each hint of confirmation! I remember one example vividly. I happened to have a medical stress test about that time, one of those where radioactive thallium is injected and blood flow monitored. After the test I returned to the lab at a critical moment and the detectors went to full scale. Exciting, but we quickly determined the nature of the source.

A second memory was an example of Ragu’s quick thinking in times of crisis. Basically we were asked to justify why Bell Labs should be putting resources into a science project that had little to do with the Bell Labs mission. Of course there were many such on-going projects. But cold fusion had such hype, that our effort stood out in the Labs and thus was questioned. The question was a stumper. But Raju quickly came to the rescue. He pointed out that electrochemistry and electroplating were important parts of ATT/Western Electric manufacturing and the cold fusion result indicated that we didn’t really understand electrochemistry. Thus our experiment might, in the long run, help underpin the fundamental aspects of a major manufacturing process. Undoubtedly fast thinking!

Finally Raju and I published a fine negative result—no neutrons!—a good quantitative limit (Phys. Rev. C 40, R1559).

Raju and I had adjacent offices in the 1E-4 wing of Murray Hill. Inevitably we chatted and he was my peep-hole into what was going on in the worlds of nuclear physics, particle physics, astrophysics and an entire realm not in my daily activities. He was a font of information on nuclear detection which overlapped my applied activities, and was always a fine and generous source of ideas.

Perhaps there is no better way of learning the qualities of a colleague than a direct and close collaboration as we had in cold fusion. I learned that Raju was a wonderful physicist, a delightful collaborator and an outstanding gentleman.

-Len Feldman

For about a decade the greatest happiness I had at Bell Labs was to eat lunch almost every day at the partly-accurately named "Astronomy Table," a Stammtisch with planetary scientists, astrophysicists, a few mathematicians and computer programmers, visiting postdocs, former departmental colleagues. Raju was one of the regulars, and his curiosity and friendliness, coupled with his intellect and wide-ranging knowledge, made lunch a delight. The discussion would shift from current scientific topics (gravitational lenses, the Jupiter probe, cold fusion, neutrino detection) to local politics to the travels of Marco Polo to literature and back: one could never predict what would be talked about next. Raju knew an amazing amount about all these things, and knew how to keep a conversation going without himself doing much of the talking. He had a knack for finding out what newcomers knew about, for drawing them out, for keeping everything interesting. He hated illogic and inefficiency and injustice, but was tolerant of ignorance. I once said that I was reading a translation of the Ramayana, but as I did not know how to pronounce the title right, he at first did not know what I was talking about. When we straightened that out he taught me how to say it right (stress on the second syllable) and the next day loaned me his copy of a better translation. I revered him as a distinguished scientist, as an educator, as a kind human being, as an utterly congenial lunch companion. Every time I saw him, and especially when I saw his broad forehead and strong-looking arms, I marveled at how much he seemed to embody both the moral and physical attributes of Ganesha, the Hindu god of learning. I last saw him in December 2006 on a visit to Blacksburg, and was struck then by how much I missed his presence at lunch. If I, a relative stranger, felt this way, how much greater the sorrow his closer friends and family must feel.
-Jim Reeds

Several years, I remember Raju, that you told me how it was important to first feel the solar neutrino with my heart before organizing an experiment around with Indium, Ytterbium or Gadolinium to detect the invisible and almost evanescent energy of these tens of billions of neutrinos from the sun passing through our thumb every second... I remember, how you would have been proud to be the first to publish in all scholar textbooks the actual solar neutrino spectrum. I remember the strength and the beauty of all the dreams we had together building, simulating and testing solar neutrino detectors within the LENS project. I remember that you told me that every 30 years the Indium solar neutrino project stands out from its ashes as a phoenix; let's hope that in the next 30 years the Indium solar neutrino detector will be carried on with a little help from you...
-Olivier Besida

I first met Raju when he arrived as a graduate student at Purdue in 1962 a few month after I did. We became very close friends with similar interests and suffered thru departmental exams etc together. We even shared an apartment for a semester where we found that the best division of labor was that they cooked and I did the dishes! There was a period when I lost contact with him when he and Pramilla were in Germany but we resumed contact once he was at Bell Labs. We shared interests in weak interactions and especially neutrinos. We used to have heated and long arguments about a variety of wide ranging subjects , and they were always stimulating and provocative. We eneded up collaborating, proposing the idea of the BOREX detector for solar neutrinos which eventually became BOREXINO. I am going to miss him terribly and miss that booming voice and arguments late into night.
-Sandip Pakvasa

Raghavan's passing away was a shock to me and i have not yet recovered fully. I feel i have lost a part of myself. I have been in almost continuous contact with him for the last two years. About a week before he passed away he was on phone for a very long discussion with me and on 20 October i had sent him three email messages; normally he was very prompt in replying, but this time no reply came until the next day when i learnt of his passing away. I have known him as Srinivasa Raghavan from the time he joined TIFR in 1958. Although i had lost contact with him for a while, he started visiting me at Madras University from late 70's. He told me at that time that he wanted to measure the complete energy spectrum of the solar neutrinos and his passionate interest in the problem of solar neutrinos and neutrinos in general continued over three decades. During every visit (first to Madras University and later to IMSc) he discussed with us his newest ideas on neutrinos which were always very stimulating. Raghavan has been a supporter of INO from the very beginning; infact he is one of the initiators and a prime promoter of this project. But i will restrict myself to two of his special interests that occupied his mind in recent times. One is the recoilless emission and absorption of monoenergetic neutrinos (Mossbaer effect for neutrinos). I still remember a few hectic days that we spent at IMSc, goaded on by Raghavan into thinking of a directed monoenergetic neutrino beam. Finally it proved to be impossible and in the process, i learnt something new about the correct way of dealing with the chirality of the neutrno (which is recorded elsewhere). However his Mossbauer effect on neutrinos is still possible and we had dedicated discussions with experimental physicists on how to push it. One day this idea of Raghavan's is bound to revolutionize neutrino physics. His most recent passion was LENS and until his last day he was thinking of ways of how to initiate a major Indo-US collaborative LENS project. For the last two years i spent considerable time and energy on this. I took him to meet leaders of Indian scientific establishments for discussions. This was very successful and we had just reached the point when a collaboration was being formed, but he has been snatched away. I strongly believe that we must not give up. We must continue his legacy. Raghavan's dream of Indo-US LENS project must be realized. This will be the fittest tribute that his friends and colleagues from India and US can pay to his memory.
-G Rajasekaran

It is hard to believe that Raghavan is no more. Man of many ideas, Raghavan was a regular visitor to IMSc and we always looked forward to his visits. His enthusiasm was infectuous. He was one of the first persons to encourage setting up of Neutrino Observatory in India and continued to take deep interest in the progress of the project. In the last couple of years he was pushing for setting up his favourite project, LENS, in India. He had even visited and identified the location for the project in South India. We hope that his collaborators will take this project forward to realise his dream.
-M.V.N. Murthy, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai,India

I was shocked to hear of Raju's death from Gianpaolo Bellini in Milano at the ISAPP SC meeting on October 21. Unfortunately I was not able to accept his invitation to the SNAC meeting in Virginia, due to prior commitments. Raju's wit and enthusiasm for physics will be missed by many of us.
-Jose W. F. Valle

His passion was physics. But he was also a true a renaissance man;brilliant in so many ways, yet full of charm, humor. A true "rasika" of classical music, classic languages, international travel. Pramila, we both know how unique he was in every way. Raju would probably laugh if I got sentimental. ndc@post.harvard.edu

Dear friends, I met Raju for the first time when he came to Bonn in the 70th as a postdoc to work with us in the field of hyperfine interactions. He was such a nice person, full of brillant ideas and always very moderate in all his achievements. He was admired for his expertise by all students, always helpful when needed. A great personality and an excellent scientist. His death is a big loss and I feel very sad that he is no longer with us. I shall never forget him. K.-H. Speidel
-Karl-Heinz Speidel, Bonn University, Helmholtz-Institut für Strahlen- und Kernphysik, Germany

A sad note to write. Raju was asset in our department. Apart from the distinguished scientist he was, he was also a most compassionate human being as well as mentor and advocate to our students (graduate and undergraduate alike. I will miss him and I know he will be missed by many on many levels.
-Chris Thomas

I am very sorry to hear the sad news
-Safwan Jaradat / MST@edu

I still very well remember the times when Raju and his wife, Pramila, worked on hyperfine interactions at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen in Garching. Every day after lunch we used to meet in our coffee room to have intensive discussions and Raju playing a dominant role. He often promoted unconventional ideas which caused us to think in new directions. He was always interested not only in physics but also in other areas, in particular literature and music. I also very well remember the summer of 1971 when Raju and Pramila and several other members of our institute went to Verona (Italy) to visit the Aida festival. I always enjoyed discussions with Raju, in particular on neutrino physics. I will miss him very much.
-Dr. Walter Potzel

I am very sorry to hear the sad news. Raju Raghavan generated many original and creative ideas in neutrino physics. He will be missed!
-Baha Balantekin

As a scientist using nuclear solid state techniques (hyperfine interaction techniques) for studying solid state physics problems I have always wondered to read several research work carried out by great stalwarts like Dr. Raghavan. All the work carried out by Raghavan using PAC (Electric field gradients in metals, relationship between ionic and electronic EFG) and Mossbauer techniques would remain in the history of physics until the existence of the earth. His diversified interest in physics ranging from solid state physics, nuclear physics and astrophysics was really amazing. He has been recognized internationally as a mentor and leader of the research in Neutrino physics. It is very rare to see such a great physicist who was with us and contributed quite a lot for the physics. I feel extremely sorry to hear his untimely death. It is a great loss for the entire scientific community and I pray to God for his great soul to rest in peace.
-Dr. Ramanujan Govindaraj, MSG, IGCAR, India

Dear Family Members, I am very much grieved to know about this sad demise of Prof. Raju Raghavan. Prof. Raju was my research collaborator during 2004-05. Although I never met him personally, yet we exchanged several mails regarding our work during our collaboration. He was a great researcher, leader, helper and guide that I learned about during our work. Prof. Raju is a Big name in Physics and I wish it will remain for ever. May God bless the family with a lot of strength to bear the greatest loss of life. Regards, Bhag C. Chauhan
-Dr. Bhag C. Chauhan

I knew Raju during his Bell Labs years, and I've never met anyone who had as much fun doing science (and good science, too) as he did. He will be missed, not only for the things he did, but for all the things he was willing to talk about, joke about, and tell stories about.
-Greg Kochanski

I first met Raghavan, during one of his visits to India from Bell Labs. Since then I have met him several times at our Institute. It was a pleasure talking to him about the elusive neutrinos and successful efforts of humans to touch them occasionally . Rajaji (Prof G Rajasekharan), my senior colleague told me of Raghavan's ideas on neutrino study, which needed some working knowledge of quantum chemistry/solid state physics. We decided to talk to Raghavan and do something about it. Unfortunately it never happened. Another instance I remember was Phil Anderson (a Nobel Laureate, ex-Bell Labs colleague of Raghavan) telling me how proud Phil was about Bell Labs nurturing basic science those days, as exemplified by its support to neutrino physics through people like Raghavan. My heartfelt condolences to Raghavan's family, colleagues and close ones. We all miss him.
-G Baskaran, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, India

I have a very strong memory of Raju, though we have not met for quite some time now. His wife, Primila was my graduate school mate at MIT, where we shared the same Thesis Adviser and worked in the same Nuclear Physics laboratory. This meant that I was privileged to meet Raju on several social occasions when he was visiting Primila. I remember Raju as a very confident, knowledgeable, and innovative physicist.He was very much at home talking about nuclear physics, but his real passion was always neutrino and neutrino physics-an area in which he worked longest and achieved a great deal. I was always struck by Raju's tireless focus and commitment to his profession as a physicist. At this time of mourning, my deep condolences naturally go his wife Primila and the rest of his family. David October 28, 2011
-David Yeboah-Amankwah

Dear Raju, I remember with emotion our last meeting above Kyoto, visiting the Toji. You were convincingly arguing the beauty of neutrinos in that beautiful environment. Your name will be forever associated to the measurement of solar neutrinos, through your pioneering paper on Indium detection, and your fundamental contributions to Borexino and LENS. I am very sad to realize I will not be able to talk to you any more. You have been a stimulating figure and encouraged me to explore science outside of the beaten paths. Your example and work will continue to inspire me, and I am sure this is the case for every one who has been lucky to approach you. Thank you, Professor Raghavan! Charling Tao Center of Particle Physics, Marseille, France, and, Director of Tsinghua Center for Astrophysics, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.
-Charling Tao