We all know that Sudha Murty and Narayana Murthy are a famous power couple known for their remarkable achievements. But, did you know that Sudha Murty’s brother Shrinivas Kulkarni, has also made significant contributions to the scientific field and earned recognition from key institutions globally?
This Indian scientist discovered the first-millisecond pulsar, the first brown-dwarf star, and showed for the first time that gamma-ray bursts originate outside the Milky Way galaxy.
For 13 years, he directed the Caltech Optical Observatory and oversaw the Palomar and Keck telescopes, two of the international astronomy community’s most prized instruments.
Today’s story is about him.
Shrinivas Kulkarni, born in Kurundwad, Maharashtra, grew up in a family of medical professionals, his father being a surgeon. After schooling, he pursued an MS in applied physics at IIT Delhi and later earned a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1987, Kulkarni joined the faculty at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), beginning his career as a radio astronomer. Working with his advisor Carl Heiles, Shrinivas Kulkarni studied the Milky Way Galaxy using HI absorption, uncovering its four arms. His collaborative review articles with Heiles gained significant recognition in the field of interstellar medium.
During his graduate studies, Shrinivas Kulkarni, along with Donald Backer and colleagues, discovered the first-millisecond pulsar, PSR B1937+21. He also identified the first optical counterpart of binary pulsars and played a pivotal role in discovering the first globular cluster pulsar using a supercomputer.
Teaming up with researchers from NRAO and ISAS, Kulkarni demonstrated that soft gamma-ray repeaters are neutron stars associated with supernova remnants, leading to the understanding of magnetars with extremely high magnetic fields.
Shrinivas Kulkarni’s leadership at Caltech-NRAO team confirmed in 1997 that gamma-ray bursts originated from extragalactic sources, marking a significant breakthrough in astrophysics.
His contributions extended to the observation of the first brown dwarf orbiting Gliese 229 and recent work on the Palomar Transient Factory, identifying new groups of optical transients like superluminous supernovae and luminous red novae.
His astronomical research is reflected in numerous publications, including 63 Nature Letters and 7 Science Letters, alongside 479 refereed scientific articles by 2015, as per ADS.
Can you name another such unsung scientist whose contributions you believe should be recognized and celebrated?
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