Astronomy and Astrophysics Programme, IISc
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BRIEF HISTORY

Although there was a tradition of research on general relativity and cosmology in India even before the Independence, modern astrophysics was relatively late to take roots in India. One can say that modern astrophysics began in India with the efforts of Vainu Bappu in 1950s and got strengthened with the establishment of an astrophysics group in TIFR in 1960s, soon to be followed by a few other institutes. In the early 1980s, before the astrophysics centres in Pune had come up, probably more than half of India's working astrophysicists were stationed in Bangalore. Apart from the astrophysics groups in RRI, IIA and ISRO, the radio astronomy group of TIFR headed by Govind Swarup was housed in the TIFR Centre in IISc campus. IISc itself, however, had nobody working on modern mainstream astrophysics, although there were individuals with inter-disciplinary interests bordering on astrophysics. Even before the beginning of JAP, a lecture course on Current Topics in Astrophysics was given in IISc during September 1979 - March 1980 by C. Sivaram, then a Research Associate in IISc (probably the first course on astrophysics to be offered in Bangalore). It may also be mentioned that summer schools on astrophysics for advanced undergraduate students started being held in Bangalore at regular intervals from 1976 onwards. Some of the astrophysics groups which later collaborated to run JAP began their first collaboration in running these summer schools. The very first summer school of 1976 eventually became famous as a school which was attended by several students who later became well-known astrophysicists (one of them being Shrinivas Kulkarni).

Till the early 1980s, there was no place in India where a graduate student in astrophysics could get a formal training through course work in modern astrophysics. Students working in different astrophysics groups were expected to pick up the tricks of the trade on their own. With the explosive development of modern astrophysics, it was more and more keenly felt that students working in astrophysics ought to be trained through formal course work. Around 1982 several senior astrophysicists of Bangalore (such as Govind Swarup of TIFR, V. Radhakrishnan of RRI, Vainu Bappu of IIA) came up with the proposal of starting a joint student training programme, with IISc as the host institute. If one reads the original proposal titled Collaborative Programme on Astronomy and Astrophysics, it becomes clear that something quite different from the present Joint Astronomy Programme was at first conceived. Although it was already emphasized that ``such collaborations should centre around students since institutions and subjects retain their vigour only when they are fertilized by creative young minds'', the scope of the programme was described in the following words: ``The scope of the collaborative programme will be to evolve and promote joint R and D programmes in specific areas like (a) Satellite technology including satellite instrumentation; (b) Rocket propulsion; (c) Mission analysis; (d) Space materials; (e) Spacecraft control systems; (f) Simulation of space systems; (g) Remote sensing ...'' The Aerospace Engineering Department of IISc was proposed to be the host of this programme.

S. Ramaseshan, the Director of IISc at that time, called a meeting in his office at 5 p.m. on 7th June 1982 to discuss this proposal. This meeting was attended by J.C. Bhattacharyya (then Deputy Director of IIA), U.R. Rao (then Director of ISRO), V. Radhakrishnan (then Director of RRI), B.V. Sreekantan (then Director of TIFR), P.S. Narayanan (then Chairman of Physical & Mathematical Sciences Division, IISc), R. Srinivasan (then Chairman of Physics Dept, IISc) and J. Pasupathy (the first programme coordinator). The Joint Astronomy Programme, as we know it today, can be said to be born in this crucial meeting. The Physics Department, rather than the Aerospace Engineering Department, was made the home of this programme. Since there were no astrophysicists in Physics Department of IISc, a Managing Committee was formed to run the programme. This Managing Committee consisted of J. Pasupathy (IISc), Chanchal Uberoi (IISc), J.C. Bhattacharyya (IIA), T.M.K. Marar (ISRO), G. Srinivasan (RRI), V.K. Kapahi (TIFR). It was decided to take the first batch of students in the August of 1982 and to start the programme right away--a remarkably bold decision to be taken in the month of June 1982!

For some time during the first few years of JAP, most of the classes were held in the beautiful lecture room of the TIFR Centre on IISc campus. After the Radio Astronomy Group of TIFR moved out of the IISc campus in the late 1980s, JAP classes are being held in different institutes in Bangalore. Although commuting through the present-day heavy traffic of Bangalore is not a pleasant experience, the students get an exposure to different institutes by attending classes in different places. There was a proposal in the early years of JAP to set up a 16-inch telescope on IISc campus for instructional purposes. One can even find tenders and quotations for this telescope in old JAP files. The idea of this telescope, however, was abandoned later and students are now given experimental training in different astronomical techniques by other means. Apart from the JAP students, many students admitted directly to the astrophysics groups of TIFR, RRI and IIA have taken the JAP courses over the years. Although the number of JAP students so far has been about 50, close to 100 students have been trained for research careers in astrophysics through the JAP course work.

The programme is reviewed typically at intervals of 5 years by Directors of collaborating institutes. After the founding of JAP, the first important review meeting was held on 8th April 1986. It was convened by C.N.R. Rao, then Director of IISc. Although the programme was found to be in good health, something was obviously missing. Let us quote from the Minutes of this meeting. ``Professor Rao explained that the Institute had no strength in the area of A & A. However, given its deep involvement in the programme now, this situation is academically unbecoming of and unacceptable to the Institute. It is essential, therefore, to correct this by creating additional faculty positions (about 2 or 3) in the Physics Department, specifically in the theoretical areas of A & A. This was welcomed and agreed to by all present. Professor Rao urged the members to suggest names of some promising research workers, preferably in the younger age group (Lecturer/Assistant Professor) and hoped that it will be possible to make two appointments in the near future.'' C.N.R. Rao eventually made 3 appointments in the next few months. S. Ramadurai moved from TIFR to IISc at Associate Professor level in 1986 and was given a free hand by C.N.R. Rao to build up an astrophysics group by appointing two more junior faculty members. Chanda Jog and Arnab Rai Choudhuri joined as Lecturers in 1987. S. Ramadurai, however, afterwards returned back to TIFR.

Apart from the establishment of the astrophysics group in IISc, the year 1987 was a memorable year for JAP for another reason. The first Ph.D. theses of JAP started coming out from that year. Prashant Goswami was the first JAP student to complete Ph.D. thesis and Dipankar Bhattacharya the second. Both of them submitted their theses in 1987.

From then onwards, JAP has been a stable programme, training students every year and producing a steady stream of Ph.D.s. One of the aims of this programme was to train young astrophysicists to take up positions in various research and teaching institutes in the country. Many of our ex-students indeed hold such positions. However, our programme has gained a high international reputation and our students are in great demand by astrophysics groups all over the world. Out of the 34 persons who obtained Ph.D.s from JAP, as many as 19 are now abroad. We hope that many of them will eventually return to India and strengthen the Indian astrophysics community. We end by pointing out that JAP has been remarkably successful in encouraging women to be in academics. Of the 34 students who finished Ph.D. so far, 11 were women, and of the 16 students enrolled at present, 6 are women.

Conveners of the Joint Astronomy Programme

1982 - 1984 : J. Pasupathy
1984 - 1986 : N. Kumar
1986 - 1988 : S. Ramadurai
1988 - 1992 : Som Krishan
1992 - 1994 : Chandan Dasgupta
1994 - 2000 : Chanda J. Jog
2000 - 2007 : Arnab Rai Choudhuri
2007 - : Chanda J. Jog