Honeywell-Nobel Foundation initiative has been doing the wonderful job of taking Nobel laureates to educational institutions and making them address students to inspire them to great great heights in their lives. As a part of that initiative, Dr. Eric Cornell, 2001 Physics Nobel Laureate visited TCE on 23,24 September 2009 and I was privileged to attend his talk on Bose-Einstein condensation which fetched him the Nobel Prize. It was during this session that I was inspired by English and hence the previous post.

Dr. Eric Cornell
Dr. Eric Cornell

Dr. Cornell’s talk wasn’t in Greek and Latin as I had feared it would be, it was far more understandable though I would have been unable to appreciate fully what he explained, only due to my lack of much knowledge in that domain. He was very down-to-earth, very friendly and very funny too. I enjoyed his sense of humour very much. Even for the n00bs who knew very little about the subject, he explained simply and clearly without confusing or overwhelming the listeners. Such a wonderful skill that is.

He then started talking about the Bose-Einstein condensation and the interesting story behind it – It was so inspirational and I felt so proud that an Indian in 1920s had done so much of path-breaking work that even Einstein acknowledged and contributed to! Hats off!

Though Bose-Einstein condensation existed as a theoretical principle, no practical proof/samples were possible to create in about 60-70 odd years. In the 1980s there were some efforts to obtain the Bose-Einstein condensate which continued into the 1990s when Dr. Cornell and his colleague Dr. Karl Wiemann started working in the same direction. They were trying to cool down the atoms to a very low low temperature (in the order of nano kelvin) that the atomic motion will cease and they would form a condensate where each atom becomes indistinguishable and the group of atoms behave as one and exist as a single wave.

They used laser cooling (A technique that won its creators the Nobel prize) to bombard the Rubidium atoms from 6 directions so that they would slow down and stop at some point, where they will just fall down under gravity. As the motion of the atoms cease, the temperature will drop drastically. But if the falling atoms get to touch the container which is at room temperature, they will be boiled to a very high temperature and start moving again which will counteract the cooling. So they applied a concave magnetic field inside which the atoms fall into and stay put. Rubidium was chosen as it has one valence electron and it simplified a lot of things. This laser cooling cooled the gas atoms to a very low temperature but that was still too high for the Bose-Einstein condensation to happen. So they used one more cooling technique called ‘Evaporation cooling’ technique-the oldest known cooling technique known to man.

What they did was to compress and expand the magnetic field periodically so that the atoms with energy started moving and bounced out of the concave field, thereby lowering the temperature of the remaining atoms as atoms with temperature higher than the average temperature bounced out. Simple to hear but difficult to understand and implement.:-). The great man talked about how his colleagues and his students helped him with the experiment and narrated the difficult times they had in the beginning when there were no takers/funds for their work and also the wake-up call they received from competing efforts which propelled them to achieve the goal even faster.

When they achieved the goal of creating a sample of Bose-Einstein condensate, they had a peculiar problem of being unable to capture images with any available equipment. So they used some techniques and somehow were able to film the shadow of the Bose-Einstein condensate. But there was a problem with this setup too that whenever they took snaps, the temperature raise caused from the camera destroyed the condensate and they had to create it again for further work. Wow! Physics was getting biiiiiiiig at the smallest level! I was awestruck and gaped for breath at what I was seeing/listening to. So much of tireless work for a Nobel prize and even more for the advancement of science. Hats off to such people.

For more in-depth and better description and details here are some authoritative links – and (Colorado University is where this exciting discovery happened and there are explanations from the laureates themselves). Going through these resources is by far better than reading my description of what I thought I had heard and understood. There are a lot of images/diagrams to give a better understanding of the concept and the work that was done.

Then Dr. Cornell talked about superfluidity which is a continuation of his pioneering work about atoms and the vortices, I couldn’t grasp/understand much of it though it sounded interesting despite my ignorance.

The whole talk was videocast over the internet and in the other auditorium where students and staff from other colleges were listening to. He enthusiastically and patiently answered the questions from the audience that were present there and the audience on the internet.

The thing that made this man even more special is that he had his left arm amputated to avoid the spread of flesh-eating bacteria which had affected him. After the amputation and rest, he is back to work as usual and is doing great work and guiding a lot of pioneering work done by his students. The next day he spoke a few words to all the college students who had assembled in the Open-air auditorium to see him. Then he climbed down the stage and wanted to be amidst us, the students and took all their greetings. We all gave him a standing ovation for all his work and his contribution to humanity and Science. I broke down emotionally as I was overwhelmed by such a situation and it’s a great great privilege to have Dr. Cornell at our college and listen to him.

I am so privileged, lucky to have got such a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to listen to Nobel Laureate. My grateful thanks to all those who gave me this chance – my college, Honeywell and the great man himself for consenting to visit and give a lecture. Hats off again!

Update: The video of the lecture is now available at

“FOSSConf will focus on new users and contributors to FOSS together with advanced learning sessions. People can improve their knowledge and gain experience in speaking on and presenting FOSS related topics” – so says the official FOSSConf website (

Yep, this year’s FOSSConf was held at my college and the organizers were the ever-enthusiastic and cooperating ILUGC, my college FOSS Community and NRCFOSS. Last year, FOSSConf was held at MIT, Chennai and with feedback from the organizers of that event, we at TCE, had valuable feedback about the issues faced and areas to improve.

Sun Microsystems sponsored the prizes for the Quiz contest to be conducted during FOSSConf and myself & Venkatachalam designed a web application for the Quiz contest.
There were a lot of technical talks from expert speakers and budding students and there were also demo stalls on various FOSS technologies and FOSS projects. Perfect arrangements for the same had been planned and made well in advance.
We had thousands of visitors throng FOSSConf and participate in Tech-talk sessions and visiting the demo stalls.

Since I was held up with organizing Quiz contest, I was unable to involve myself much in other activities. Here I must thank Venkatachalam for creating the web application for the Quiz contest in no time at all and without him, the automated quiz would not have been possible at all. Hats off friend!

I wanted to attend a lot of tech-talks but could attend only a couple – Parallel Programming by Mr.Rajagopal from Yahoo and Badam Halwa of Embedded Systems by Mr. Shakti Kannan and they were excellent and interesting to say the least. Amidst all this, I also conducted a Ubuntu installation session for the audience.

FOSSConf 2009 was a great learning experience in terms of FOSS, team work and organization and I would cherish it forever.

I will soon post the link to the FOSSConf 2009 gallery here.

— @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>

Ever since SFI started celebrating Software Freedom day every year in 2004, Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, has been celebrating it as FStival (Free Software festival). This is the fifth straight year that FStival has been conducted in our college, which is a Free Software hub in southern Tamil Nadu.

As a part of FStival, we organize demo stalls on various Free Software tools and people from various walks of life from in and around Madurai visit and get benefited. This year we had demo stalls on:

  1. Free Software philosophy

  2. Emacs

  3. Vi

  4. LaTeX

  5. OpenOffice

  6. MySQL

  7. OpenSolaris

  8. PostgreSQL

  9. LAMP web stack

  10. LAPP web stack

  11. Drupal and Mambo

  12. GIMP

  13. Blender

  14. GTK Glade

  15. Live Distros

  16. GCC

  17. Debuggers

  18. Subversion and Trac

  19. Compiz-fusion

  20. Multimedia and Games

  21. Ubuntu installation

  22. Bluefish editor

  23. Distro burning

  24. TCENet portal

  25. *nix commands

  26. Linux day to day

  27. Internet tools

I conducted a stall on OpenSolaris and handled a couple of installation sessions of Ubuntu Linux. My friends S.Anugraha, G.R. Karthik and Venkatachalam helped me a lot. A million thanks to them.

We had Mr. Kamesh Jayachandran from CollabNet who works on Subversion. He is the first Indian full committer to the subversion code base. He played a great role in the development of the ‘Merge tracking’ feature included in the latest Subversion 1.5. We also had the esteemed presence of Mr. Joe Steeve, an alumnus of the college and a passionate free software enthusiast. He is the founder of Free Software clubs in the college. Both these distinguished guests enlightened a packed auditorium on Free software and Subversion. Mr. Kamesh Jayachandran inspired us by telling us about his growth in the Free Software industry.

There were about 400 visitors from various walks of life including students from various academic institutions in and around Madurai. They were very much impressed by what they saw and learnt a lot so that they can create an awareness about Free software in their places.

The surprise guest who visited FStival 08 was Dr. Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Controller of DRDO, who was very much impressed with FStival 08 and had words of praise and encouragement for us.

We also played throughout the day, a video of Richard M Stallman, the man who started it all, talking about Software Freedom. That enigmatic and inspirational video would have surely converted many into Free Software users.

FStival 08 was a grand success and left the visitors, participants and organizers craving for more of it and looking forward to the next FStival.

The complete set of snaps from FStival 08 is available at