Professor C.V. Vishveshwara who did pioneering work on black holes, passed away on January 16 this year , in Bengaluru, after a period of illness. He was nearing 78 years. In the 1970s, while at University of Maryland, he was among the first to study “black holes” even before they had been so named. His calculations succeeded in giving a graphical form to the signal that would be emitted by two merging black holes – this was the waveform detected in 2015 by the LIGO collaboration, and contain the so-called “quasi normal modes” – a ringdown stage that sounds like a bell’s ringing sound that is fading out.
Known to all as ‘Vishu’, he was given to irrepressible, infectious humour and could hold the audience in fits of laughter when he spoke. In 2015, during a short talk he gave at a conference to commemorate the first detection of gravitational waves, at International Centre for Theoretical Sciences Bengaluru (ICTS), he jokingly said that he should now probably be known as Quasimodo (after having first discovered the quasi-normal modes).
Inspired by his father C. K. Venkata Ramayya who was a writer and Padmashri awardee, Prof. Vishveshwara took to composing cartoons, many of which have been published in physics conference proceedings. Spektrum der Wissenschaft, a German popular science magazine, had published many of his cartoons depicting Einstein.“Though I have many wonderful memories of the 1979 Einstein symposium [held at Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad] the most memorable one was Vishu’s lecture entitled ‘Black Holes for Bedtime’. To me it was a magical experience; an exotic cocktail of science, art, humour and caricature. Equations were not necessarily abstract and unspeakable but could as well be translated in the best literary tradition. Over the years Vishu’s cartoons in the ICGC proceedings were always awaited,” says Prof Bala Iyer a long-time collaborator of Vishveshwara, who is now at ICTS.
Prof. Vishveshwara was the founding director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium in Bengaluru. Important in his work there is the setting up of the REAP (Research Education Advancement Programme in Physical Sciences). This is a three-year programme that undergraduate students can enrol in, which would complement their college curriculum.
He has written several books to popularise his area of work that are widely read, one of which is ‘Einstein’s Enigma, or, Black Holes in My Bubble Bath’.