Director's Message (2012-2013)
It is with a sombre tone that I must begin this note. Obaid Siddiqi, Fellow of the Royal Society, Member US National Academy of Sciences, ex-President of the Indian Academy of Sciences, National Research Professor at NCBS (TIFR), passed away tragically in a freak accident on 26 July 2013. ‘Obaid’, as he was called by many, was the chief architect and founder of NCBS. We deeply mourn a creative scientist, a self-effacing and visionary institution builder, and a genuine humanist. Obaid has left us an example that will be hard to follow. However collectively, I believe that we can create a special place here at NCBS, that Obaid would be proud to claim as his vision.
If Obaid’s passing was not a sufficient jolt, the year had already begun ominously; in January, K. VijayRaghavan, Director, NCBS went missing. Fortunately, he resurfaced in New Delhi, at the portals of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, marching in to take up office as the new Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). It is heartening to note that someone of Vijay’s caliber (much celebrated by his recent election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society and the award of a Padma Shri by the President of India) both as a scientist and an administrator is nominated, and more importantly accepts to take up the top job. Vijay appears to be thriving in this high-pressure job, and here’s wishing him and Indian biosciences all the very best.
It’s always hard to remain afloat when one has lost two of our main stays in such a short span; it will require all hands on the deck to keep our ship from running aground. As the new Director at NCBS, Obaid and Vijay have certainly left myself a challenging ship to steer! But with the kind of vessel that Obaid and Vijay have lovingly crafted at NCBS, I believe that we have a great place for realizing our scientific visions (and resources to boot). This ship is ours to sail to new horizons, as we continue to explore exciting destinations in Biology (read this short report for a sample of what we have done). A lot of excitement is also being generated in the assembly of a new vessel, inSTEM (www. instem.in), in our midst with support from the DBT. As the super structure of this ship is being constructed, we already have an adventurous crew at inStem being hosted in an admirably collegial fashion by many at NCBS.
At NCBS we are now embarking on two new expeditions. Our ‘Theory Space’ now named Simons’ Centre for the Study of Living Machines, is one of these. Here our colleagues from the theoretical sciences propose to nucleate a strong programme in understanding Biology from a theoretical perspective offered by a close engagement with Physics, Computer Science and Mathematics. The second is a Chemical Ecology Programme, where some of our colleagues hope to discover what kind of Biology (molecules, cells, cell systems and whole organisms) goes on in natural habitats, rather than what can occur in the laboratory setting. This programme will also stitch together a new fabric from our extensive network of field stations, our colleagues at the MSc Wild life programme, and our faculty.
Finally, to keep Obaid’s vision alive at NCBS, we plan to make his laboratory space the site for our science and history of science archive, a space for rare music that Obaid had so dearly wished existed on our campus, and a living monument to celebrate a wonderfully generous, creative and inquisitive spirit that Obaid so definitely embodied.