Last week, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 with one half to Rainer Weiss, LIGO/VIRGO collaborator, and the other half jointly to Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne, LIGO/VIRGO collaborators, for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.
This was a ground-breaking discovery, more so that it took hundred years to prove. This discovery was the result of over hundred years’ of blood, sweat, and tears. Thousands of researchers invested their time and efforts into this discovery. One such contributor was Dr. Karan Jani, a postdoctoral research fellow at the center of Relativistic astrophysics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a resident fellow at the LIGO Observatory. About two months ago, I had attended a talk by Jani and hadn’t known much about him. The talk was about the Kathak of Cosmic Black Holes, and it was one of the most cogent talks I had ever listened to. Comparing the combination of black holes to the Indian classical dance form Kathak and meticulously scrutinizing over every detail of the gravitational waves discovery made the presentation all the more entertaining. It was like I had been transported to space with Jani, and he explained the fascinating underpinnings of our galaxy like a tour guide. I enjoyed how he broke down the complex physics behind gravitational waves with a simple metaphor to dancing and managed to explain the nitty-gritties.
Intrigued by Jani’s enthusiasm and passion for the subject, I conducted a thorough investigation on him and I was amazed by his accomplishments. However, what intrigued me most about him was how he became an astrophysicist. Jani was born in Gujarat and studied at Shreyas Vidyalaya in Vadodara. As a child, he wasn’t a science enthusiast as he never truly comprehended the vastness of the subject. Coming from a small-town from Gujarat, he knew that he had to take science only to meet society’s expectations. However, his interest in space augmented when he started learning about infinity while studying a chapter on the Universe. From that moment onwards, he vowed to learn more about the Universe. Unfortunately, he was met with a lot of skepticism from his family, relatives, friends, and strangers! At that time, studying the sciences was looked down upon; only engineering and medicine held any real value. He decided that he would continue his education in the US so that he could pursue his passion for astrophysics. People believed that this field didn’t have any potential and he wouldn’t become successful, but he proved them wrong with style!
Jani surely left a mark on the world by becoming a part of a global team of researchers that helped discover the existence of gravitational waves. Because of his contributions, Karan was named a recipient of the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics awarded by Stephen Hawking. Moreover, as if becoming the top 30 under 30 scientists to change the world wasn’t enough, he went on to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss gravitational waves and the greater role of expanding his research in India. With the new LIGO observatory being built in India to help enhance the network of gravitational wave detectors worldwide, Jani said he would love to help out. He also said that he would love to come back and nurture students’ interests in research and astronomy:
There is such a huge student-base in India which wants to engage in research. We have to tap and nurture their interest, instead of losing them to mediocre MBA/engineering college programmes.
Jani’s story is quite inspirational for an aspiring astrophysicist like me. Knowing that he fought the odds and achieved unremarkable feats proved to me that pursuing your passion can lead to many successes. Moreover, living in India, I understand his struggles and eagerness to pursue his passions in the US, but the fact that he fought through it all and proved everyone wrong demonstrated that when there is a will, there is a way. What I also love is that he dreams for India – He would love come back to India and help India develop in the research sector. To him, it’s more than just getting awards. He really wants to make an impact in the world, and his perseverance and determination sing through in his every action. He is as good as my role model.