Professor K. L. Sebastian FASc., FNA

J. C. Bose National Fellow, Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, IISc. Bangalore
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Sarukkai Krishnamachari Rangarajan (fondly referred to as SKR by his friends, colleagues and students) passed away on 29th April, 2008. He was a genius, a man of many talents, unique in that his ability in science was matched by his fineness as a human being.

SKR was born on September 9, 1932. He obtained his B.A. (Hon) in mathematics from the Madras Christian College (MCC) in 1953. After graduation, he started off as a film critic, and also wrote for a Tamil arts magazine Ajanta. He then took up a tutorship at the MCC, later joined the postal department until he was offered an assistant professorship (1955) at the Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering & Technology, Karaikudi. While teaching there, he was actively pursuing research in mathematics.

At that time, the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI) was headed by the very distinguished electrochemist, Prof. K.S.G. Doss. He had just discovered the phenomenon of faradaic rectification, and was looking for some one to develop a proper theory for the process. Doss approached SKR, expecting the theory to be developed in about a year, but the problem was solved in a day! Doss was so impressed that he persuaded SKR to join the CECRI. He did so in 1960 and remained there til 1970. Prof. Doss who had contributed very significantly to electrochemistry, is reputed to have said that his most significant contribution to electrochemistry was finding SKR.

SKR spent the next two years as a Homi Bhabha fellow at the National Aeronautical Laboratory and continued there as a scientist till 1975, when he was invited by Prof. S. Dhawan, Director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), to join the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry (IPC) as a professor. During his term at this department, he was a visiting professor at Georgetown University and was a Science Research Council Senior Visiting Professor at the University of Newcastle. He spent a sabbatical year visiting the IBM Thomas J. Watson Labs in the US and had been a frequent visitor to the lab. In addition, he travelled widely across the globe, attending conferences, giving invited lectures and collaborating with scientists from different parts of the world. During 1988-92, on deputation, he was working as the Director of CECRI.

At IISc, SKR had a very active group and had several bright students, who continue to be very active in the field. SKR worked mainly on theoretical problems in electrochemistry. In addition he also continued to work on mathematics, biophysical chemistry, theoretical physics and even mechanical engineering. After retiring from the IPC department in 1993, he was a senior professor at Matscience, Chennai for three years, and after that he was a visitor at the Raman Research Institute, Bangalore. The IPC department very much wanted him and persuaded him to visit them. SKR had been visiting IPC roughly once in a week and was very active until the very end. He was working on an interesting problem and had solved it just previous day of his death. He had come to the IPC a week before his death and excitedly told us that he was planning to give a series of lectures on Stochastic Problems in Chemical Sciences and that he would start in a week's time.

SKR was an outstanding theoretician and electrochemist. Though the only degree that he ever had was a bachelor's degree in mathematics, he was a world renowned theoretical electrochemist, and was in the editorial boards of international journals in the field. While at IISc and elsewhere, he was an inspiration to a large number of bright students, even though they were not working with him. To quote one such, S. Arunachalam: A truly great teacher, SKR was a selfless and self-effacing man. He gave away his knowledge to anyone who came to him without ever expecting any return. The very thought of returns never occurred to him. He was not a man of mere intellect. Indeed, it was jut one small part of him. At a time when lesser mortals get easily tempted to fall prey to the ways of the world, he remained steadfast in his values and principles, never once deviating from his chosen, or should I say preordained path.

SKR was well recognized by the usual standards - was elected as FASc, FNA and FTWAS. In addition, he was given Alumni Award (1993) of the IISc and the lifetime achievement award of the Chemical Research Society of India (2008), in addition to many other awards and honors. However, to those who were privileged to know him closely, his abilities were far more than what these awards convey.

He is survived by his wife, daughter and four sons. His eldest son, Sunder Sarukkai works at NIAS, and is well known in his own right. In SKR's death, the country has lost an outstanding scientist. Personally, I have lost my brilliant, warm hearted, affectionate, kind Guru, a sorrow shared by all his students and admirers. He will live on in our memory for ever.

K. L. Sebastian (
Professor, Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry
Indian Institute of Science