Perspective from Smitha Vishveshwara: On Life, Quantum Physics, the Universe, and Compassion

Rebecca Wiltfong for Illinois Physics
1/6/2021

"We see surge after surge of the coronavirus disease plague the world. People driven out of homes, hungry, fearful, unable to bid their passing ones adieu. Science and much else is denied. Rampant hatred and prejudice tears us asunder. And we are left asking what there is to hope for, what will remain that we hold precious, sacred.

Yet, the nourishing oceanic waters of our planet continue their ebb and flow. We connect like never before in virtual space. Elephants and peacocks roam through newly emptied land and cleaner air. Strangers leaving care packages on doorsteps and other random acts of kindness abound. Grandparents feel the warmth of toddler palms kissing theirs across windowpanes."

The Pacific and Smitha in recent times. Photo taken by Soma Sarathy.
The Pacific and Smitha in recent times. Photo taken by Soma Sarathy.
These words are part of a core-beliefs essay, "We are of the same stardust", written in October 2020 by quantum condensed matter physicist, Smitha Vishveshwara, as a participant of the U of I Engineering Faculty Leadership forum. She is also co-principal investigator for one of the Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) Initiative Theory Center based at our Institute for Condensed Matter Theory.

The essay beautifully weaves Vishveshwara's thoughts of life throughout her own personal story up through the story of the cosmos using splendid imagery. It was published by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation​, which run the EPiQS program, in the December newsletter as a Perspective article. The essay highlights her unique outlook both as a scientist and an artist. It's a much-needed voice within the scientific community during this time of unrest and confusion happening throughout the world due to the pandemic, and also nationally due to the rampant injustices and assaults that continue in the foreground into this new year.

C.V. Vishveshwara, Smitha Vishveshwara and Saraswathi Vishveshwara visit Boulder, CO during their stay with the Aspen Center for Physics in 2009. Photo taken by Namitha Vishveshwara.
C.V. Vishveshwara, Smitha Vishveshwara and Saraswathi Vishveshwara visit Boulder, CO during their stay with the Aspen Center for Physics in 2009. Photo taken by Namitha Vishveshwara.
Her essay also pays tender tribute to her scientist parents, their influence, and their US-Indian voyage. Coincidentally, the past year marked the 50th anniversary of a major prediction made by her late black hole physicist father, C.V. Vishveshwara, known to his friends as Vishu. He theoretically discovered the manner in which black holes emit characteristic gravitational waves, akin to the decaying sound of a struck bell. 
C.V. Vishveshwara in Aspen, 2009. Photo taken by Namitha Vishveshwara.
C.V. Vishveshwara in Aspen, 2009. Photo taken by Namitha Vishveshwara.
A novel discovery at the time and now of direct relevance to the landmark detection of gravitational waves, NPR has produced a wonderful piece on Vishveshwara's discovery anniversary in their All Things Considered, featuring interview snippets by Smitha.

Read the essay published by the Moore foundation at https://www.moore.org/article-detail?newsUrlName=perspective-we-are-of-the-same-stardust.

Read NPR's article about C.V. Vishveshwara's research turning 50 at https://www.npr.org/2020/12/29/911420063/c-v-vishveshwaras-revolutionary-black-hole-research-turns-50.

3-minute listen on All Things Considered about Vishveshwara's research:

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"We see surge after surge of the coronavirus disease plague the world. People driven out of homes, hungry, fearful, unable to bid their passing ones adieu. Science and much else is denied. Rampant hatred and prejudice tears us asunder. And we are left asking what there is to hope for, what will remain that we hold precious, sacred.

Yet, the nourishing oceanic waters of our planet continue their ebb and flow. We connect like never before in virtual space. Elephants and peacocks roam through newly emptied land and cleaner air. Strangers leaving care packages on doorsteps and other random acts of kindness abound. Grandparents feel the warmth of toddler palms kissing theirs across windowpanes."

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