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- Wanted: advanced laboratories and money to make them

Presidency was an outstanding undergraduate college. Now that it has become a university, the authorities should ensure it does not become a mediocre university.

Indian-American physicist Sankar Das Sarma, counted among the brightest to have graduated from the College Street campus, put Presidency University’s rocky transition in perspective on Sunday with a comparison of then and now, them and us.

“In my batch, the top 10 HS students had joined the physics department. Over the years, that tradition has been frittered away with students preferring other institutes over Presidency…. I would suggest to somehow use the advantage of calling yourself a university to attract talent,” Das Sarma, the Richard E. Prange Chair Professor of physics at the University of Maryland, told Metro.

The celebrated physicist, who had topped the HS exam in 1969 as a student of Hare School, was in town to deliver a talk on “quantum computation” as part of the three-day Presidency University Science Lecture Series, held in association with The Telegraph.

Das Sarma said the college may have become a university but there was no alternative to attracting bright students “by whatever means”.

He pointed out that only one among the 150 PhD students he had mentored at the University of Maryland so far was a graduate from Presidency.

Das Sarma said he was surprised, if not a tad disappointed, to see infrastructure at Presidency improving little since the time he was a student there from 1969 till 1972. “The change is very small. I won’t say it has remained the same but it has remained similar. Five years ago, when I brought my children to see the lab at the Baker Building, they said that their high schools in the US had better labs, which is true.”

He added: “It needs to be changed on a larger scale and for that you need money, you also need equipment. All I am saying, if you want a great physics department, you need a great physics lab.”

On being asked whether he was aware that chunks off a ceiling injured two students at Baker Building recently, Das Sarma said: “I know. Those things have to be fixed. Now that Presidency has become a university from a college, money must come and it should be used to fix things.”

In the US, the top 100 universities have advanced physics laboratories that provide everything that a researcher or PhD student would need, the director of Maryland university’s Condensed Matter Theory Center said.

Das Sarma, who visits Presidency every time he is in Calcutta because of the strong emotional bond with his alma mater, said he did not see advanced laboratories happening unless funds started flowing in.

“The will is there, smartness is there. (But) I don’t see much hope without the real money.”

So where does he think the money will come from? “It’s a political question, not an academic one. Everybody wants money. CU wants money, JU wants money. I have no comment on that,” Das Sarma said.

“Giving a hundred million dollars to Presidency may be good for Presidency. But this may not be in the best interest of others. I don’t know anything about Indian politics, but I would very much like to see money flowing to Presidency to make it a great university” he added.

Earlier in the day, students had thronged the AJC Bose Auditorium at Presidency’s main building to hear Das Sarma.

“The lecture was a huge learning curve,” said Prantik Basu, a second-year student of physics.

“It was highly motivating to hear him,” first-year student Amitava Banerjee gushed.