India loses its pioneer in black hole research work

Wed 18 Jan 2017

Professor C.V. Vishveshwara (77), who did pioneering work on black holes, passed away in Bengaluru on Monday night. In the 1970s, while at the University of Maryland, he was among the first to study “black holes” even before they had been so named. His calculations gave a graphic form to the signal that would be emitted by two merging black holes – this was the waveform detected in 2015 by the LIGO collaboration, and contained the so-called “quasi normal modes” – a ringdown stage that sounds like a bell’s ringing sound that is fading out.

Known to all as ‘Vishu’, he had a great sense of humour. In 2015, at a conference here to commemorate the detection of gravitational waves, he jokingly said that he should now probably be known as Quasimodo (after having first discovered the quasi normal modes). Inspired by his father C.K. Venkata Ramayya who was a writer and Padmashri awardee, Prof. Vishveshwara also drew cartoons, many of which have been published in physics conference proceedings.

“Though I have many wonderful memories of the 1979 Einstein symposium [held at Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad] the best one was Vishu’s lecture entitled ‘Black Holes for Bedtime.’ To me it was a magical experience; an exotic cocktail of science, art, humour and caricature,” says Prof. Bala Iyer, a long-time collaborator of Prof. Vishveshwara, who is now at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences here.

Prof. Vishveshwara was the founding director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium in Bengaluru. He has written several books including Einstein’s Enigma, or Black Holes in My Bubble Bath .

Prof. Vishveshwara is survived by wife, Prof. Saraswathi, and daughters Smitha and Namitha who are both scientists.


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