From a village boy, $150 mn and example to follow

Born to a poor family, Manilal Bhowmick walked miles everyday to the village school at Seuri in Tamluk, West Bengal. In the years to follow, he would go on to study at Scottish Church College, Calcutta University, IIT-Kharagpur and UCLA.

Dr Bhowmick, now 81, is today the owner of a palatial building on a Los Angeles hilltop. And along the way, he has encouraged others to follow his example and use education as a steppingstone out of poverty.

This week, the physicist pledged $150 million to IIT-Kharagpur, from where he had got his PhD 53 years ago, the goal being to set up a research centre that he hopes will produce Nobel Prize winners. He has already set up the Moni Bhaumik Educational Foundation, Kolkata, which since 1999 has fully funded the university education of about 120 students, underprivileged but meritorious, from rural Bengal. At present, 70 students are studying with these scholarships.

"I don't know them but I can understand... it is something I have been through," says Dr Bhowmick, whose interests, other than science, include spirituality.

Science and spirituality are complementary, he says. He keeps pondering about "consciousness" and his foundation will next year co-sponsor a scientific conference, "Looking Inwards: Correlation of Quantum Physics and Consciousness".

The Dr Mani Bhowmick Centre for Advanced Research of IIT-Kharagpur will come up at Rajarhat. "The centre will do cutting-edge, innovation-driven research of international standard. Producing a few Nobel Prize winners will be the goal," he says.

Incidentally, the IIT campus is built on the site of the Hizli detention camp, where Manilal's father Binodhar Bhowmick had been jailed along with other members of a movement challenging the British with an "independent Tamralipta government".

Manilal Bhowmick went on to become the first PhD student at the country's first IIT. He completed the PhD in 1958, the subject being quantum physics, with Dr Satyendranath Bose as one of the supervisors.

With a Sloan Foundation Fellowship in 1959, he went to UCLA for post-doctoral studies. In 1961, he joined the quantum electronics division at Xerox in Pasadena. In 1973, in Denver, he demonstrated a new excimer laser technology that he has since patented and which has been used in Lasik eye surgery, a procedure that can correct defects without the patient needing to use glasses or lenses.

Dr Bhowmick has been elected to fellowships in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Physical Society. He has written Code Name God and The Cosmic Detective . This year, he won the Padma Shri for distinguished service in science and engineering.

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