January

January 30, Akbar Salam

In Everlasting Gratitude to Thiru

 It is a privilege to be able to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and pay tribute to the late Dr T. “Thiru” Thirunamachandran, a long-time member of the academic staff in the Department of Chemistry at University College London. This modest and unassuming individual had an enormous influence on my personal and intellectual development over a two-decade period beginning in October of 1987, an influence felt most intensely during the following six years but which continues to the present.

Our relationship began almost immediately after I set foot in the department as an undergraduate student intent on reading Chemical Physics. Thiru was assigned as my Personal Tutor. A couple of weeks after lectures commenced, he was assigned as my Academic Tutor in Physical Chemistry and in Chemical Physics, responsibilities that extended throughout my undergraduate career. His brilliance and knowledge were striking, and his interest in and care for students was genuine and total.

I had the good fortune to take three lecture courses regularly taught by Thiru in Theoretical Chemistry and Chemical Physics, classes in which I was the only student or joined by one other in final year course offerings. Despite their heavy mathematical content, his lectures were clear, lucid, and perfectly paced. And all delivered without the use of lecture notes! The odd handout would be a few pages photocopied from his book, but modestly he would omit the reference source. He served as a powerful role model.

My relationship with Thiru deepened during my career as a postgraduate student when he served as my Ph.D. advisor. In addition to providing unlimited guidance and nurturing my scientific independence, a greater array of personal qualities became evident during our interactions. Chief among these were his patience, generosity, and humility while treating me as his personal and scientific equal. He was unhurried, did not raise his voice, never lost his temper or swore, and never turned me away. Thiru’s curiosity was infectious. He encouraged me to become expert in my area of study but to continue reading and engaging more broadly, and I greatly appreciated and valued that he granted me this personal and intellectual freedom.

Thiru was a true gentleman and scholar.  I am grateful to have learnt directly and indirectly many things from him and know that I fall short as I attempt to follow his example in my personal and professional life.

–Akbar Salam

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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