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Thanu Padmanabhan

Thanu Padmanabhan
Born (1957-03-10) 10 March 1957
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Residence Pune, Maharashtra, India
Nationality Indian
Fields Physics, Astronomy
Institutions Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics
Alma mater Kerala University,
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Doctoral advisor Jayant Narlikar
Notable awards Padma Shri

Thanu Padmanabhan (born 10 March 1957) is an Indian theoretical physicist and cosmologist whose research spans a wide variety of topics in Gravitation, Structure formation in the universe and Quantum Gravity. He has published more than 230 papers and reviews in international journals and ten books in these areas. Many of his contributions, especially those related to the analysis and modelling of dark energy in the universe and the interpretation of gravity as an emergent phenomenon, have made significant impact in the field. He is currently a distinguished professor at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, (IUCAA) at Pune, India.


  • Life and career 1
  • Awards and distinctions 2
  • Research contributions 3
  • Pedagogical activities 4
  • Main publications 5
  • Science outreach 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Life and career

Born in 1957, Padmanabhan did his schooling in Thiruvananthapuram and earned his B.Sc. (1977) and M.Sc. (1979) in Physics, securing Gold Medals in both for graduating at the top of his class, from the University College, Kerala University. He published his first research paper (on general relativity) when he was still a B.Sc. student, at the age of 20. He joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai in 1979 for his Ph.D. and became a faculty member there in 1980. He held various faculty positions at TIFR during 1980-1992 and also spent a year (in 1986-87) at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. He moved to IUCAA in 1992 and took over as its Dean, Core Academic Programmes, in 1997, which is the position he is currently holding.

Padmanabhan has also served as Adjunct Faculty of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Mumbai), the Harish-Chandra Research Institute (Allahabad), the Raman Research Institute (Bangalore) and the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER, Pune) at different periods in his career.

He is the elected President of the Cosmology Commission (2009-2012) of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and Chairman of the Astrophysics Commission (2011-2014) of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). He has also been a Visiting Faculty at many institutes including the California Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and a Sackler Distinguished Astronomer of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge.

He is married to Vasanthi Padmanabhan, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics from TIFR, Mumbai and has one daughter, Hamsa Padmanabhan.

Awards and distinctions

Padmanabhan has received several national and international awards including:

His research work has won prizes seven times (in 1984, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2014) including the First Prize in 2008 from the Gravity Research Foundation, USA.[2]

He is an elected Fellow of all the three National Academies of Science in India.

Research contributions

Padmanabhan's work in the last decade, interpreting gravity as an emergent phenomenon, has far-reaching implications both for quantum gravity and for the nature of dark energy, and it has made a deep impact on the subject. He provided a clear interpretation of gravity as an emergent phenomenon and showed that this paradigm extends to a wide class of theories of gravitation including, but not limited to, general relativity. Padmanabhan could also show that several peculiar aspects of classical gravitational theories find natural interpretations in this approach.

Technical descriptions of his work have been published in Scientific American (India),[3] and in an article from the Gravity Research Foundation in 2008, that describes his First Prize work.[2]

Padmanabhan's early work was in quantum cosmology, structure formation in the universe and statistical mechanics of gravitating systems. In the 1980s, he provided an interpretation of the Planck length as the `zero-point length' of the spacetime based on very general considerations. This result, established by theoretical considerations and well-chosen thought experiments, finds an echo in more recent results in several other candidate models for quantum gravity. He has made significant contributions to the study of statistical mechanics of gravitating systems and was a pioneer in the systematic application of these concepts to study the gravitational clustering in an expanding universe.

Pedagogical activities

Padmanabhan has given several lecture courses in India and abroad.

  • A one-semester course of lectures on General Relativity given by him.
  • Another set of lectures (15 hours) given by him on Advanced Topics in [General relativity] at the 'troisieme cycle de la physique en suisse romande' course (Geneva, Switzerland).
  • 'Snippets in Physics' - a 24 instalment set of pedagogical articles on various aspects of [theoretical physics] in the journal Resonance during 2008-2009.

Main publications

Technical books

Padmanabhan has authored several advanced level textbooks which are acclaimed as magnificent achievements and used worldwide as standard references.

  • Gravitation: Foundations and Frontiers, Cambridge University Press, Cambride, (2010)
  • An Invitation to Astrophysics, World Scientific, Singapore, (2006) [5],[6]
  • Galaxies and CosmologyTheoretical Astrophysics - Volume III , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (2002)
  • Stars and Stellar SystemsTheoretical Astrophysics - Volume II , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (2001)
  • Astrophysical ProcessesTheoretical Astrophysics - Volume I , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (2000) - Review
  • Cosmology and Astrophysics through Problems, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (1996) Review
  • Structure Formation in the Universe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (1993) - Review
  • Gravity, Gauge Theories and Quantum Cosmology, (co-authored with J.V. Narlikar), Reidel (1986)

Review articles

  • Statistical Mechanics of Gravitating Systems, Physics Reports, Vol.188, pp. 285–362 (1990)
  • Cosmological Constant - the Weight of the Vacuum, Physics Reports, Vol. 380, pp. 235–320 (2003)
  • Thermodynamical Aspects of Gravity: New insights, Reports in Progress of Physics, 73, 046901 (2010)
  • Lessons from Classical Gravity about the Quantum Structure of Spacetime, J.Phys.Conf.Ser., 306:012001 (2011)
  • Physical significance of Planck length, Annals of Physics, Vol. 165, pp. 38, (1985)

Science outreach

Apart from his scientific research, Padmanabhan has given many popular science lectures and authored more than a hundred popular science articles published in various national and international journals. He has also authored two popular science books:

  • Quantum Themes: The Charms of the Microworld, World Scientific, Singapore, (2009)
  • After the First Three Minutes - The Story of Our Universe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (1998)

Some of his other contributions are:

  • The Story of Physics, a comic strip serialised in the magazine Science Age, from Sept. 84 to Dec. 86; published in book form by Vigyan Prasar, New Delhi, (2002) and now translated into several Indian regional languages.
  • The IYA Astronomical Diary - 2009, 53 illustrated pages of astronomical information, celebrating the International Year of Astronomy (2009) (with J.V.Narlikar and Samir Dhurde).
  • Dawn of Science - a 24 instalment set of articles on the early history of all branches of science published in the journal 'Resonance' in 2010-2012 [based on a set of articles originally published in Science Today from Jan 1990 to April 1992].


  1. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b [7]
  3. ^ [8]

External links

  • Thanu Padmanabhan's Home page
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