Down memory lane with a budding scientist who has a planet named after her

Divya Mangwani   |   Pune


Vol 2 | Issue 6

Remember the girl who had a minor planet named after her at the age of 16? The Pune girl, Hamsa Padmanabhan, now 21, is doing her post graduation in Physics from Pune University and later, plans to do her doctoral research in theoretical physics.

In 2006, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Lab in the USA had named an asteroid ‘Padmanabhan 21575’ in honour of Hamsa after she won a contest at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She was then a class eleven student at the Kendriya Vidyalaya School in Pune.

The Weekend Leader walked down the memory lane with her and spoke to her about the award that made her a star, almost literally.

Hamsa said her research project was inspired by the simple magnetic pen found in toy stores. The magnetic pen, suspended in mid-air and defying gravity made her wonder about its stable configuration.

“What looked relatively simple actually required a detailed theoretical analysis,” she recalls. Her 15 page research paper was titled Physics of a Simple Prototype for Static Magnetic Levitation and provides an understanding of the levitation of static extended bodies, by using the example of a simple prototype, viz. the toy pen.

Her mentor, father Thanu Padmanabhan is a professor and dean of academic programmes at the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) and her mother has a PhD in physics.

However, it’s not the genes but the early academic influence that interested Hamsa in physics. “I was always at IUCAA in my childhood days around great scientists and exposed to scientific lectures, talks and debates. My parents encouraged me to do what I wanted to and didn’t push me to take up physics,” she says.

Hamsa had an interest in arts when she was younger and whiled away her spare time drawing or painting. An advanced maths class at the Bhaskacharya Institute of Maths when she was in class nine channelled her liking to physics. “It revealed the beauty in maths to me — of symbols, abstract equations — which led me to discover the joys of experiments and analysis,” she says.

Her passion has helped her win numerous awards like the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana Fellowship, an NTSE (National Talent Search Examination) Scholarship and most recently, the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award.

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