Friday, December 26, 2014

Name-Dropping - Repeat Telecast


I now narrate an absolutely true story (really!):

1992: Midway through the 10-year Rule as Director of IIT KGP of Prof KL who also happened to be a Physicist-Material Scientist of world renown...

A month after he took over, he transformed the ground floor of our Department and converted it into a gold-plated hi-tech Microscience Lab and recruited a dozen or so Research Scholars and co-workers in his Lab. The place started humming with unusual activity. He got installed the then latest Nobel-winning Scanning Tunneling Microscope whose output photographs I displayed, by the way, in my B Tech Class which converted the Pussy Cat from Chemical Engg to Pure Physics:

One fine noon, there was a phone call for me from our HoD, Prof KVR, asking if he could meet me urgently in my celebrated Room C-239. I replied I could as well go over to his office, but he was particular that, since the work was not 'official' but 'personal', it was his turn to come to me, as per protocol. 

I said welcome.

In a few minutes, he arrived, closed the door, drew a chair close me so that his back would face DB (who was blowing smoke rings and searching for a poker to hit with his sledge-hammer called S-W Transformation) and said sotto voce tremulously that his honor, if not job, was in jeopardy. 

I asked him what such a serious matter could be. He replied that he just then got a call from the HoD of Material Science that he was forwarding an RS of the Diro, KL, with a crystal whose optic axis needs to be determined experimentally. 

HoD, Mat Science, thus washed his hands off the matter since KVR, on his own proclamation, was the local authority in Dielectrics, so the baby was squarely in KVR's lap. KVR couldn't back out (his honor was at stake). Nor could he fail (his job was at stake, as per his hallucinations). And he confessed that he never had to locate optic axes of any crystal in his life. He brought his crystal samples from MIT a couple of decades ago; and...that was it!

I told him not to worry but simply send the RS of KL to me with the crystal. At that time crystal optics was at my finger tips. And my UG training at AU made me fearless of labs.

In a few minutes, Ms M (KL's RS) arrived in my room smiles all over. The smiles, I thought, were of mutual recognition: she and her would-be (who sat in my M Sc class a couple of years back and whose Hall Day Group Photo was still in my album) were attending my Lectures on History of Science & Technology sitting side-by-side. 

Little did I know!

I asked her to hand me the crystal. She said she would fetch it whenever I was free. I asked her to bring it that Wednesday afternoon when the Second Year Lab would be free.

Come Wednesday afternoon, Ms M was accompanied by a total stranger, Ms P, who fished out the 25-paise-shaped crystal from her money purse and handed it to me. 

I kept quiet and got down to business.

I pondered over the issue during the interval: since they were asking for 'the' optic axis, it should be a uniaxial crystal. And if I was lucky, the optic axis could be either normal to its surface or lying on its surface...most cuts are like that, perhaps. This could be decided in a few minutes. If so, the matter is simple. I could locate its optic axis by sandwiching it between two Polaroid sheets and rotating them suitably.

I was lucky: the axis was on its surface. 

Those days, Polaroid sheets didn't come with their Pass Axes drawn on them. So, a supplementary experiment was required to determine them. The only recourse is to Brewster's Law. I knew where exactly a glass slab was (I was the Second Year Lab-in-Charge some years ago).

Shining Sodium light on the glass slab via the Polaroid, and rotating it viewing the reflected beam till it disappears, the thing was done in 10 minutes.

I asked them to give me a ball pen and lightly drew its blessed optic axis on the surface of the crystal. 

And pocketed the crystal...

And asked them to tell me the whole story. 

It turned out that neither the crystal nor the problem belonged to Ms M of the Diro's Lab...but to Ms P who was an M Tech student in the ECE Dept and was a close friend of Ms M in the Ladies' Hostel, doing her project.


Felt sorry for KVR.

I wanted to teach them a lesson, but not a stern one. I told them to go to Prof KVR next day and tell him the truth. Then and then only he would give back their crystal to them. 

They agreed. 

I knew KVR would be furious with the girls. So, meanwhile, I met him and handed him the cute crystal with its optic axis drawn on it and asked him to return the crystal to the girls but not to report the matter to the Diro till I submitted to him the: 

'Detailed Write-up of the Experimental Procedure' 

Which, of course, I never did!

...Posted by Ishani


No comments: