Cowsik elected to National Academy of Sciences

It’s an exclusive club indeed. Just 24 University faculty and emeritus faculty members from all fields have ever been selected, and there currently are just 185 physicists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences. So being honored by the NAS is quite a feat.

And it’s one that Ramanath Cowsik, Ph.D., professor of physics in Arts & Sciences, can add to his résumé.

Ramanath Cowsik
Ramanath Cowsik

Cowsik recently became the 25th member of the University faculty to be elected to the NAS when he joined 71 other new members and 18 foreign associates from 13 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

“Election as a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences is a signal honor recognizing the importance of the scientist and his contribution on the global scene,” said John W. Clark, Ph.D., the Wayman Crow Professor and chair of the Department of Physics.

“Ram Cowsik’s election to the National Academy of Sciences brings well-deserved credit for a distinguished career marked with extraordinary insight. It likewise brings credit to our department and to Washington University for providing an environment in which such great talent can thrive.”

Cowsik’s research interests are in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology and non-accelerator particle physics.

His scientific contributions include establishing the highest observatory in the world — in Hanle, Ladakh, in the Himalayas at an altitude of 15,000 feet, for astronomy in the optical and infrared wavelength bands — and significantly contributing to the understanding of highly energetic phenomena in astrophysics, such as cosmic rays, pulsars, supernova remnants, gamma ray bursts, active-galactic nuclei and other such sources powered by accretion flows.

He also invented the “leaky-box” and the “nested-leaky box” models that are extensively used to interpret the observations of cosmic rays.

“Ram Cowsik’s research has been extremely creative and has moved physics forward in very positive ways,” said Edward S. Macias, Ph.D., executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences. “Election to the National Academy of Sciences recognizes Ram’s many scholarly achievements.”

Cowsik’s research efforts are primarily directed toward building an extremely sensitive torsion balance to probe possible violations of the inverse square law of gravity at sub-millimeter scales, which are predicted by ‘string-motivated’ theories.

This follows up on his longstanding interest in constructing sensitive torsion balances and using them to study Einstein’s equivalence principle and to search for new fundamental forces. He also is interested in several problems in high-energy astrophysics and dark matter.

“Cowsik’s achievements range far and wide within the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology and non-accelerator particle physics,” Clark said. “His prophetic work in the early 1970s called attention to the implications of a finite neutrino mass for the binding of galaxies and galaxy clusters, and more generally to the roles of weakly interacting particles and dark matter in the structure and dynamics of the cosmos.

“Cowsik can rightly be called the father of ‘astroparticle physics’ — a marriage of astrophysics and cosmology (the sciences of the incredibly huge) with particle physics (the science of the inconceivably small). Over the past three decades, astroparticle physics has taken its place at the very nexus of fundamental science.”

Over the years, Cowsik — formerly the director of the Indian Institute for Astrophysics — has also contributed to the activities of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences and to the physics department as a visiting professor.

Cowsik earned an undergraduate degree in physics, chemistry and mathematics at Mysore University in 1958; a master’s degree in physics at Karnatak University in 1960; and a doctorate in physics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research of Bombay University in 1968.

He is a fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy and the Third World Academy of Sciences (Trieste).

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