Archive for March, 2016
Prof. Ranganathan alerted me to the news of Prof. John Cahn’s passing away; here is the obituary in Washington Post. Prof. John Cahn made fundamental contributions to several branches of materials science and engineering. He is probably most well known for his work on diffuse interface models; there are two non-linear diffusion equations named after him — Cahn-Hilliard and Allen-Cahn equations — which form the basis of all the phase field models.
Our group is one among the many in India using phase field models to understand microstructures, their formation and evolution; all of us have found the selected works of John Cahn to be a great book to have, read, consult to and argue about, and, I have met Prof. Cahn in 2005 in a Phase Transformations conference (PTM) that he helped start (though I did not discuss with him).
Cahn has also made several significant contributions including to the areas of wetting, solidification, symmetry breaking transitions and so on. One of the important charactersistics of Cahn’s work is the mathematisation of materials science and the close attention that he paid to general principles (and that included thermodynamics). I also believe that his theory of spinodal decomposition is one of the (relatively rare) instances in materials science wherein the theory was formulated fairly comprehensively before experimental confirmation was obtained. Of course, like in the case of dislocations, this scenario lead many to doubt the existence of spinodal itself. To quote Cahn’s reminiscence:
Borelius fully accepted the interpretations of the results. When I met him in 1961, he was unwilling to acknowledge my spinodal theory, and kept apologizing for having caused me to waste my time with what he now felt to be a fallacious concept.
May be I will write a more detailed appreciation at a later point in this blog. In the meanwhile, here are some videos at YouTube where you can listen to the pioneer himself.
I learnt the sad news from Abi. I have enjoyed his book on appreciating Carnatic music!
To conclude, Jaitley does not address macro issues, which only the budget can deal with. It would be unfair to say that he knows no economics, for we have no evidence of the ignorance, only of disuse. In any case, he has a first-class chief economic adviser, so the knowledge is within his reach; it is his choice not to grasp it. But as I have shown in this column, even when he reaches out to something, his grasp is less than perfect.
How can such a renowned lawyer do so poorly in budget making? There are two possibilities. One is that lawyers are worshippers of ignorance; this is supported by their attacks on the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The other is that one can be good at law – and as Jaitley proves, at politics – without knowledge skills. That would be a rather extreme conclusion. I therefore veer towards a third conclusion: Jaitley’s skills are not intellectual but emotional. He is good at making friends, helping people, and trading influence. He has all the skills necessary to make a good politician, except one: in politics, one has also to be good at defeating enemies and manoeuvring with intrigue. He is just the right man for the wrong job.