Who Am I?

It is always suprised me how the events of a life time can be compressed into less than a thousand words. Perhaps it reflects the few things that we value, and the very few achievements that we are proud of. An awareness of the self, by that I do not mean "me" but rather a much greater sense of being that can grow or shrink in just the flick of the eye, is an ongoing discovery. What is given below is not this sense of realization, but rather a rudimentary recounting of events; still it is a start.

September 18, 2010

I, Rishi Raj, was born in Punjab, India, in 1943, in a cantonment called Ambala City, the home town for my mother where she had grown up, in secure surroundings, within a large family of one sister and three brothers, she being the youngest among them.

My father, who was orphaned along with his two younger sisters at a young age, on other hand had lived a different life. He was awarded several gold-medals (meaning the top student in his class) from the Calcutta College of Statistics. He tutored and worked to gain an education and get his sisters married, even at the expense of selling the gold of his medals. He had many friends. Anyone meeting him just once never forgot him and his magnetic person. He was drawn to considerable extent into a Community of Christians, who, I remember would come to visit us when I was little, with whom he kept a lifelong relationship: Mr. Ackroyd I remember well since I was to try to visit him (unsuccessfully) many years later in England. Thus the first position held by my father was as a "professor" at the Christ Church College in Kanpur: it is there that I grew up until the age of 16. My memories of those days are in images splintered across time. One is of my first pet a small puppy brought to me by one of our servants, a mongrel with intelligent eyes, and the emotional sensitivity of a human being. Another is of making small sacks of cotton to put around the pomegranates on a tree about three times my height, to protect the fruit from parrots. I attended a school where children from all walks came. Most likely influenced by my father's broad mindedness, which surely must be the trait of any survivor, I had friends from different communities: Harijans, Muslims, Sikhs and of course Hindus. I was a shy boy, but people were drawn to me, and I welcomed them and became their friends without thinking much about who they were: I never even imagined that they were any different to me, in any way. While, later, much later in life I was to experience discrimination at first hand, to this day I cannot feel that anyone is different from me in how they are, and live. It tears my heart out, though, to see people suffer from it, particularly children, who must get marked for life if made to feel inferior or different.

The next two years, until the age of 18, I attended a two year B.Sc. degree program at Allahabad University where I learnt Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics from dedicated and excellent teachers for two whole years. This foundation of natural sciences was to become the ground on which I will build my whole future career in science and engineering. These two years were one of freedom and liberation, of many friends and activities. At the same time I excelled as a student getting the highest marks in two of three subjects, and second highest in the third. The curious thing is that I do not remember working and studying, only reveling with friends. But the learning gained in those two years was deep and nourishing.

The next three years were spent completing a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering at Durham University in England (now Newcastle University). I lived there with my father's youngest sister, Daya Bua, a woman of joy and giving, devoutly religious, who has left a lifelong impression on my philosophical outlooks. After working for one year in London at Standard Telephones and Cables (where I helped in the design of control systems for the Concorde), I came to Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a graduate student. All I am today was learned at this greatest of great institutions, where I was mentored by David Turnbull and Mike Ashby. I drew from each of them in different ways. Professor Turnbull's approach to science that cast phenomenological observations into frameworks of thermodynamic and chemical kinetics had a great influence on me, as on all his students. From Mike Ashby I learnt not only how to think in fundamental ways, but also the important of elegance in scientific thought and presentation.

Most readers of this passage are likely familiar with my professional career from Harvard onwards. After working with Kennecott Copper in Cleveland for one year (I loved wearing a hard hat at the casting plant in Baltimore and rubbing shoulders with the operators to gather samples of copper flowing like molten sun from a vat into the channel that carried into continuous casting), I joined the University of Colorado as an Assistant Professor early in 1971, where I made many friends, who remain so today. The in September of 1975 I went to Bard Hall, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell University. Let me just say that the fusion of Allahabad University, Electrical Engineering, the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard, and the highly interdisciplinary environment at Cornell, has shaped by scientific experience. I am grateful and thankful to all for giving me these opportunities.

In 1996, for many reasons, the principal one being that I never felt that I was accepted at Cornell, I returned to Boulder to my old department that I had left in 1975. The transition turned out to be much harder than I had accepted. But now, in 2010, in my old age I do feel comfortable in my surroundings, in a unified way. Perhaps it is just old age, perhaps it is circumstance.

I will add to this essay from time to time on this webpage. Let me close by saying that the mind drives the being. One benefit of old age is that one begins to focus on "action" as never before, since the options become limited. For me personally science, research, teaching and students has never been more intense. I am grateful to many who have made it possible for me go on in this way.



Boulder Workshops:
•Polymer-Derived–Ceramics (2012)
•NHSC-Mat&Struct (2012)
•Electro-Chemo-Mechanical (2012)
•a poem
•a short story
•who am I
•current and past
•latest results
•workshops` news
•other news