Friday, November 05, 2010

A Pakistani astrophysicist is surfing gravitational waves...

Saleem Ali has an article in the Express Tribune on a Pakistani Parsi physicist (quantum astrophysicist), Nergis Mavalvala, working at MIT on gravitational waves. I went to a Parsi school (BVS Parsi School) in Karachi and so naturally I have a deep fondness for the Parsi community and also for the fascinating history of Zoroastrianism. What's fantastic is that Nergis has recently been awarded the Mac Arthur Fellowship! Woo Hoo!

Here she is talking about black holes and the detection of gravitational waves:



And from Saleem Ali's article:

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview a promising young physicist of Pakistani origin who, too, has abandoned her land of birth to seek a life of intellectual freedom elsewhere. Dr Nergis Mavalvala is a tenured professor of physics at MIT and was recently awarded the MacArthur Fellowship — one of the highest honours in American scholarship comprising an individual prize of half a million dollars. She is the third Pakistani American to receive this honour — historian Ayesha Jalal and artist Shahzia Sikander being the other two.
Born to a Parsi family in Karachi, Dr Mavalvala fondly remembers her schooling at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Karachi, where a Sri Lankan refugee science teacher named Ranjit Bulathsinghala was among her inspirations for pursuing a career in science. Proceeding to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she went on to do her higher studies at MIT and Caltech and is now one of the leading researchers in identifying gravitational waves that can have profound implications for our understanding of the universe. Raising her two-year-old son with her Indian American partner, she is a role model of multicultural multitasking!
Dr Mavalvala’s story shows us how science can transcend cultural barriers at multiple levels and lead to a flourishing career. Many in Pakistan continue to malign America but her story also reflects why the United States ends up being a home for so many of us who don’t want to be subjected to the tyranny of cultural exclusion. Yes, there are many problems in America, including incipient racism, but when it comes to practicing excellence in science, the country is unsurpassed in its commitment. Even with the rise of Christian fundamentalists who condemn the study of evolutionary biology and cosmology, the US department of education and university accreditation committees have resisted meddling in the curriculum by ideological zealots.
The key point is the emphasis on a diverse and a multicultural society - perhaps a necessity for a creativity and fruitful scientific development. 


Congratulations to Nergis! 

2 comments:

Don said...

Speaking of cross-cultural comparison of multicultural substrates for science and the complexities thereof, Karin Knorr recommended this paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16552932 by Sheila Jasanoff. And congratulations to Prof. Mavalvala, as well!

Salman Hameed said...

Ah - - an interesting find. I just read the abstract and this looks really interesting. Thanks.