G. N. Ramachandran: A Biography

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Ramachandran: A Biography of the Famous Indian Biophysicist

A Biography of Gopalasamudram Narayan Ramachandran, the Famous Indian Biophysicist, the famous Indian Biophysicist who discovered the Ramachandran Plot and solved for the first time the triple helical structure of collagen.

Raghupathy Sarma, Ph.D.

ISBN 0940030-780

Excerpt from the Preface by the author Raghupathy Sarma, Ph.D.:

'Gopalasamudram Narayana Ramachandran, GNR to those who know him well, is one of the most brilliant Indian scientists of this century. He has been rightly calledthe father of molecular biophysics in India He was a pioneer in that field even when the subject was just starting to take shape in the advanced countries of the Western world. He made several very important discoveries in molecular biophysics, especially in the study of protein structures, at a time when very little was known about them. Ramachandras formulation of the rules for describing conformations of polypeptides, polysaccharides, and poly-nucleotides was responsible for initiating a new field of study on conformations of macromolecules. His permanent imprint in this field, theRamachandran phi-psi plo or simply theRamachandran diagra, has become a standard description of protein structures in every modern publication.

Ramachandran phi-psi plot showing fully allowed conformations for polypeptides. Dihedral angles resulting in standard secondary structures such as the alpha helix are indicated in the plot.

Ramachandran also discovered the triplhelical structure of the connective tissue protein called collagen, one of the more abundant mammalian proteins in the world. Remarkably, the structure of collagen he proposed over four decades ago has survived the scrutiny of numerous experiments. Ramachandran has also been an innovator in several other important areas of molecular biophysics, including X-ray crystallography, and thre dimensional image reconstructions of electron microscopic images. He started the departments of Molecular Biophysics at the University of Madras and later at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. These two departments have become leading centers for research in biophysics and the education of graduate students in India.

Ramachandran began his scientific career as a student of Sir C. V. Raman, the first Indian Nobel laureate in physics. He conducted a brief period of study in Cambridge, England, in the laboratory of yet another Nobel laureate, Sir William Lawrence Bragg. On his return to India, Ramachandran was appointed as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science. There he started research in X-ray crystallography, a tradition that continues to this day. After a few years he moved to the University of Madras where he became one of the youngest professors in the newly created Department of Physics. There he built one of the finest programs devoted to molecular biophysics. Several years later he returned to the Indian Institute of Science and again started a Department of Molecular Biophysics that is one of the best departments in that field in India with an international reputation.

Ramachandran has never retired from intellectual activity as he constantly explores various fields like Indian philosophy, artificial intelligence, etc. His favorite topic is what is called Syaad Nyaayathe doctrine of may be an age-old system in Jain philosophy. According to this system, any logical statement has more than two truth-values: it may be true, it may be false, or it may be doubtful. In a remarkable series of papers he interpreted the philosophical ideas of Syaad Nyaaya in a mathematical form which he calledBoolean vector matrix formulation In his opinion the ideas expressed in these papers have potential applications in the field of artificial intelligence.

Most of Ramachandras major scientific contributions were made against endless odds, at a time when scientific research and creativity had a low priority in India. The country had just achieved its independence from British rule and was trying to solve more immediate problems associated with building a new nation and improving the living standards of its enormous population. Despite such conditions, Ramachandran was able to inspire a large number of young people, first in Madras and later in Bangalore, to take up careers in science. Many of these students, including myself, have gone on to successful careers in science and made significant contributions in various aspects of biophysics throughout the world.

In addition to being a highly creative scientist, Ramachandran is a man of very high integrity and moral principles, as well as a generous person. He has a deep interest in philosophy and in classical Indian and Western music. He is a truly patriotic Indian with an abiding love for his country. He had numerous and lucrative opportunities to pursue his research career in many leading universities in the Western world, but he decided to stay in India, fight the bureaucracy, carry out his research interests, and inspire many young Indian students.

This book is about the life and science of Ramachandran, a remarkably creative individual with an active mind that never relaxed, constantly striving to shed light on one problem or another. His life has been one of varied experiences punctuated by ups and downs, success and failure, as is the case with many other famous scientists of our times. Ramachandran suffered serious psychiatric problems during most of his adult life. Fortunately they did not impact on his scientific creativity or productivity; it simply added a new dimension to his life. In spite of all that he put India on the map of molecular biophysics. Clearly, Ramachandran belongs in the same league as some of the most famous Indian scientists of this century, for example Sir C. V. Raman, M. N. Saha, or S. N. Bose (of Bose-Einstein statistics fame). Clearly his contributions in the field of biophysics are of the Nobel Prize caliber.'

During the release ceremonies at the Central Leather Institute, the author, Professor Raghupathy Sarma, addresses the gathering (left) and Professor C. N. Rao presents Ramachandran to Professor Swaminathan during the ceremonies.

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