SM Chitre, Mumbai astrophysicist and Stephen Hawking’s friend, dies at 84
City’s renowned astrophysicist and mathematician Sashikumar Madhusudan Chitre, who was among very few Indian scientists to have called British physicist Stephen Hawking a friend, passed away on Monday.
Chitre, 84, was undergoing treatment at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital for age-related liver ailments. Considered a stalwart in the Indian astronomy community, he was the recipient of the Padma Bhushan award in 2012. After retiring as a senior professor from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, in 2001, Chitre went on to aid the establishment of the Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences (CEBS), a collaboration between the University of Mumbai and department of atomic energy. He was the academic chairperson and professor emeritus of CEBS.
Chitre is survived by wife Suvarna, and sons Yohan and Yatin who are based in the United States.
“Professor Chitre’s passing is a grievous loss to the scientific community. He was one of the stalwarts of the astronomy community but there was hardly any sector in academics that was untouched by him, be it nuclear energy, space energy, education or technology,” said Mayank Vahia, Chitre’s former colleague and professor at department of astronomy and astrophysics, TIFR.
A student at the University of Cambridge since 1959, Chitre did his PhD at the varsity’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics between 1962 and 1963, when Hawking too did his PhD at the department. In an earlier interview to HT, Chitre had described Hawking as his ‘office mate’ who taught him to play croquet.
Chitre had also served as president of the Astronomical Society of India (ASI), chairman of the Indian National Committee for Astronomy, chairman of the Bombay Association for Science Education. His passion for science education is well-remembered among colleagues.
“What professor Chitre will be most remembered for is his passion for getting people excited to take up science. More than his contributions as an astrophysicist, his teachings marked important turning points in the lives of his students who decided to pursue a career in science,” said Divya Oberoi, secretary, ASI, and associate professor at the Pune-based National Centre for Radio Astrophysics affiliated to TIFR.
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