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“Don’t be a one-sided nerd”

June 30, 2009

From LiveMint

Even as the students mobbed the Nobel laureates at the Lindau meetings (details in previous post) — for instance Robert H Grubbs flanked by some Indian students in the picture below — Richard Ernst from Zurich, winner of 1991 Nobel in chemistry, was busy telling young researchers to have activities and passion beyond science.

“Never forget your passion.

Don’t become a one-sided nerd.” Ernst told the audience, obviously amidst loud cheer and applause.

Reason: he demonstrated by a set of slides (below) how some of the renowned scientists followed their passion besides hard-nosed science, and later by his own example of his 30-year-old passion for painting, what science and passion can do to each other.

While returning from the US in 1968, Ernst came to Europe via Asia, where he stopped at the Nepalese capital city of Kathmandu and had a chance encounter with Tibetan paintings, painters, and philosophers. Thus began his life-long craze for Tibetan and Buddhist paintings and philosophy – he started collecting paintings, began restoring them and in the process started studying the pigments used in many of those paintings.

He has a small lab built next to his bedroom where he uses Raman Spectroscopy to analyze pigments. All these years of deep study of Buddhism (he displayed a marvelous understanding of the cultural history of Central Asia through a bunch of slides) has led him to start a project called “Science meets dharma” through which he teaches science to the monks and nuns. He even had a workshop for them in a monastery in southern India.

“These monks are spiritually very enlightened but they know nothing about science,” he said.

So, there he goes: bringing science even to the monks!

His theory: both Buddhism and science are based on two tenets: wisdom and compassion.

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