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For nearly two decades, Shrinivas Kulkarni has been probing the mysteries of the galaxy.
One of the most respected astrophysicists in the world, Kulkarni was the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles in 1998 when he and other scientists determined the exact magnitude of the blast that had taken place at the far edge of the cosmos in December 1997.
It was the most powerful explosion since the universe was born, Kulkarni announced. In just about 40 seconds, the study showed, it had produced as much energy as five billion exploding stars.
"It has more energy than astronomers thought in their wildest imaginations," he had said then.
Kulkarni, 44, is also the John D and Catherine T MacArthur professor of astronomy and planetary science at the California Institute of Technology. He received a $500,000 stipend in March for research from the MacArthur Foundation. He is among a handful of South Asians who have received the MacArthur 'genius' award that gives away grants in various disciplines. Other recipients include sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan and poet and professor A K Ramanujan.
Recently, Kulkarni was conferred one of the ultimate academic honours. Along with Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail, another Caltech professor, he was elected to The Royal Society, one of the oldest and most prestigious international scientific societies.
Kulkarni was selected for his work on gamma-ray outbursts and its use in understanding the origins of the universe.
Zewail, born and raised in Egypt, has conducted revolutionary work in viewing and studying chemical reactions at the atomic level as they occur.
"Having two such distinguished professors to receive this award is, indeed, an honour for Caltech, and is a testament to the calibre of faculty and scientists we have here," school president and Nobel laureate David Baltimore said. "Both of these eminent scholars have contributed to the advancement of science, and are most deserving of this illustrious honour."
Established in England in 1660, The Royal Society is the world's oldest scientific academy. It recognizes excellence in science, supports research and applications, stimulates international interaction and promotes scientific education.
Each year up to 42 fellows and up to six foreign members are elected to the society. This year, Kulkarni and Mandyam Veerambudi Srinivasan, professor and director, Centre for Visual Sciences, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, are the only ones of Indian origin to be inducted.
Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Isaac Newton are some the greats in the exclusive fraternity.
Kulkarni, an IIT Delhi alumnus, joined Caltech in 1985. He visits Bangalore annually with his wife Hiromi Komiya and daughters Anju and Maya, where his sister and brother-in-law Infosys chairman N R Narayana Murthy reside.
Kulkarni is on sabbatical for a year and was unavailable for immediate comment.
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