Scientist S.M. Chitre, ‘office mate’ of Stephen Hawking, passes away

Mumbai, Jan 11 (IANS) Globally-renowned astrophysicist and mathematician Shashikumar M. Chitre – who was a contemporary of the legendary Stephen Hawking – passed away at a private hospital here on Monday after a brief illness. He was 84.

A resident of Andheri, he is survived by his wife Suvarna, sons Yatin and Yohan and grandchildren.

He was admitted to the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital (KDAH) a fortnight ago for age-related health issues and breathed his last this afternoon, said an associate.

Prof Chitre’s last rites were performed at the Oshiwara Crematorium here this evening in the attendance of his colleagues in the scientific community.

Born on May 7, 1936, he studied in Mumbai’s Elphinstone College and later reigned as a stalwart on the Indian astronomy community, particularly solar physics.

The Padma Bhushan laureate’s scientific research focused on solar physics, astrophysics, gravitational lensing, the Sun’s magnetic activity cycle, the solar dynamo theory and the role of neutrals in the solar atmosphere.

Prof Chitre once said that he was the ‘office-mate’ of Hawking, when they both were engaged in PhD research at the University of Cambridge in 1962-1963.

Having worked at the University of Leeds and later at California Institute of Technology, in 1967, he joined the TIFR and worked there till his retirement in 2001, besides serving as Visiting Faculty at several top universities globally.

Appointed on several Indian scientific committees and policy-making panels, Prof. Chitre was the main inspirational force behind the establishment of UM-DAE CEBS at the University of Mumbai’s Kalina Campus, besides serving on the board of the Nehru Centre and J.N. Tata Trusts and other prestigious organisations in India and abroad for several years.

A former President of the Astronomical Society of India (ASI), he harboured a deep passion for science education and outreach among the gen-next, and would visit schools and colleges to deliver lectures to the students.

He also lent his voice to the first-ever scientific show in the iconic Nehru Planetarium in Worli.

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