Expert Speaks / General

Interview with Dr. Kumar Krishen

Interview with Dr. Kumar Krishen


08 Nov, 2016

Dr. Kumar Krishen a senior Physical scientist at NASA. FairGaze got an oppotunity to interact with Dr. Krishen. Below is the excerpt of the interview. 

What factors inspire you to innovate something?

There are tremendous needs for the survival and achieving a better quality of life on Earth.  For example, food, shelter, clothing, facilities for education and cultural activities, waste management, health care, pollution control and remediation.  We have seven billion people and the population is increasing.  We need to have revolutionary and transformative solutions to enhance quality of life. This is what inspires and motivates me to find innovative solutions to problems we face.  We have humans going hungry, getting poisoned by food, and becoming targets of many ailments because of malnutrition.  At the same time, we have tremendous amount of food that is wasted.  I am researching food preservation using innovative solar powered systems in rural areas of the world.

What kind of difficulties you faced during your PhD research project in 1964?

I started my Ph. D. at Calcutta University under the guidance of Dr. J. W. R. Griffiths who was a Visiting Professor in the Institute of Radio Physics and Electronics Department.  Dr. Griffiths had to go back to Birmingham University, England after about four months of our working together on developing a Moon relay communication system.  I found it difficult to continue without guidance.  This is when I found that Kansas State University in America was offering research opportunities for studying Moon from Earth in preparation for a human landing on Moon.  I was selected for this research opportunity but needed travel expenses.  This is when I got a stipend from Prime Minister of India, Hon. Lal Bahadur Shastri for travel to USA.

What factors helped and motivated you to complete your research?

The first factor that motivated me was that the faculty of the Institute of Radio Physics and Electronics Department of Calcutta University who treated me as their own child and gave me all the papers and support.  Professors J. N. Bhar, M. K. Dasgupta, and A. K. Choudhary signed the required papers for my passport and visa and for other formalities.  Prof. Bhar gave me Rs. 800 from his pocket which he recovered later from the University Grants Commission.  The second factor was that Hon. Shastri gave me the resources with love because the letter from his Secretary addressed me as, “My dear Shri Kumar Krishen.” The third factor that motivated me was that at the time of leaving Calcutta my parents said this to me, “Son, go to America and get honor for your family.”  In addition to all these, I got a deep and warm welcome at Kansas State University (KSU).  On my first day, I got $ 300 as loan to be paid back from my stipend.  Dr. W. W. Koepsel and Dr. H. S. Hayre of KSU treated me with great love and care.  It felt that Mahamaya had blessed me with a heavenly path to my success.  Dr. Koepsel was my major advisor for M.S. and Ph. D. and gave me all the funds needed to develop an electromagnetics laboratory in the Department of Electrical Engineering for my research. His surviving wife Mrs. Dorothy Koepsel is so proud of me and writes me e-mails and gives me advice and encouragement from time to time.

As you have studied in Kashmir and Calcutta, do you see any changes in today’s education system?

The depth and breadth of knowledge has expanded exponentially.  The first change I see is that we now teach in High Schools what I studied in university.  The second major change is the infusion of electronics in educational arena.  This includes internet and tele-education.  You can conduct research using on-line resources.  In my time, I lived in library and a few times was told by the librarian to leave as the library was closing.  The library never closes now and the door is open to knowledge all the time.  You can approach experts via e-mail or video chat throughout the globe to seek an answer to a question.  In addition, laboratories and associated computer support is so enticing now.  You can peek at a growing animal or human cell and a fraction of an atom.  Wow, what a fantastic educational environment!

Do you think Astronomy and cosmology have an important role in engaging the inhabitants of India?

Astronomy and cosmology have engaged the inhabitants of India for more than five thousand years.  Rig Veda is the oldest textbook of modern astronomy.

The emphasis on Vidya or knowledge runs deep in this part of the world.  Indeed, it has been said that knowledge makes it possible to break the cycle of Samsara (birth death rebirth) and the gift of knowledge is the greatest gift. In Nayaya philosophy, the means of obtaining knowledge are given as Pramanas. These include Pratyaksha (sense perception), Khyati (awareness of relationship due to senses), Anumana (inference), Upamana (similarity), Paroksha (invisible/instinctive/intuitive), and Manaskara (mental concentration/meditation.  So, the love affair of the inhabitants of India with the knowledge of cosmos is a continuing story and should never see an end. 

In your opinion, how important is it for students to know the universe?

We do not know universe and even more hilariously we even do not know what is to know about the universe.  So, we should let students know what next to nothing we know about the universe and let them know that ultimately mankind wants to know what it does not.  We also face an unknown as to how life started and where else it exists.  This should hook students to extreme intoxication for the search of answers.

According to you, how can students expand their boundaries of knowledge?

Simply, keep asking yourself:  How is this happening? Why is this happening? and How can I find an answer?  These will drive you to seek knowledge.

What made you write “Why Me”?

I started my student life in USA in January 1965.  Very soon I realized that people of the great nation of America had different ideas regarding India than I did.  In my view, their assessment was based on the extreme poverty that India had at that time.  So, with deep respect to those I came across I would talk about philosophy, ancient history, culture, and achievements of the people of India.  I gave many interviews and wrote articles on India. This has continued till today.  In the meantime, I burnt midnight oil and expended much time to identify a way that I could use to give expression to the thoughts and feelings of the people of India.  It is when a voice within me spoke, "Get a pen and start writing."  I did that with Sadhana and Seva and the result is the story book Why Me?  This book is also supposed to strengthen our resolve to accelerate hope, peace, and prosperity in this complex world.

What message you want to give to students through this book?

Life is fun and a bundle of tangled, twisted, and coded lessons to be learnt.  Know that what you thought is not what reality with deliver to you.  Maintain control and navigate through all-weather scenarios that life will throw on you.  Find answers to your dilemmas in Why Me? and have a purposeful life.  Be inspired to promote hope, peace, and prosperity for this world.

How do you think your book will inspire the student’s development?

Students will find out that the path to knowledge is full of diversions.  They will also find how some have achieved happiness by staying on course.  They will find a blue print for a life of love within this complex world.  They will find the nectar that will intoxicate them to dedicate their lives for the betterment of humanity.  In doing so, they will achieve success and be extremely happy.

According to you, how can students achieve their academic goals?

Ignite a desire in you.  The desire to seek knowledge.  Keep the fire going by dedicating yourself to learning. Be in the company of those who are knowledge seekers.  Choose a life partner who appreciates and supports your dream of being a knowledge seeker.  Know the jobs will seek you when you have knowledge.

I never put in an application for a job.  I was offered jobs by Kansas State University, Lockheed Electronics Company, and NASA.  I served/serve as Adjunct, Visiting, and Honorary Professor at five universities in USA and India.  I was appointed to the Texas board of licensure for professional medical physicists by two Governors of Texas and served this Board for eleven years. All these organizations thought that I could satisfy their need.

What are your future plans?

I am convinced that our knowledge is like the tip of an iceberg.  I felt that by associating with academic institutions, where I could keep up with the latest findings in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology.  Academic institutions provide an environment where lack of knowledge becomes fuel for the engine of research.  It is where inspiration, imagination, inclusion, innovation, and insight blend together to extend the boundaries of knowledge.  My plan is to support academic institutions in India and USA after I leave NASA. I look forward to be in India for part of my remaining time on this planet.