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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Indian prodigy aims high

By Habib Beary
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

He is all of 15 and on his way to becoming Asia's youngest doctor of philosophy (PhD).

Tathagat Avatar Tulsi, BBC
Tathagat Avatar Tulsi
India's wonder kid Tathagat Avatar Tulsi is certainly ambitious - he says he is on course to get his doctorate at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), before he turns 17.

The child prodigy's confidence may not be entirely misplaced.

With special court permission, a scrawny looking Tulsi graduated at 10 and at 12 became the youngest in the world to complete his MSc (Master of Science).

Though he is the youngest student ever to secure admission to this prestigious institute, he is unfazed.

Tulsi says he is at home in the hallowed precincts where India's brightest are exploring the new frontiers of science, though most are much older than him.

"They see me as a student of PhD, not as a kid," Tulsi told the BBC as he pedalled his red bicycle to his lab in the sprawling campus, spread over 600 acres.

Middle-class upbringing

Hailing from a lower middle-class family from one of India's less developed states, Bihar in northern India, Tulsi's parents recognised his talents when he was six.

Upstaging his two elder brothers, Tulsi was a wizard at numbers, juggling five-digit calculations.

Tathagat Avatar Tulsi, BBC
The young scientist cycles to work
"My parents and teachers recognised I was something special," says Tulsi, who won a prize and a personal computer donated by Bihar's chief minister in 1996. Tulsi did not look back.

"I had no interest in pure mathematics and wanted to go beyond it and look at a phenomenon which is happening in nature for the benefit of mankind," says Tulsi on his decision to join IISc.

The institute's youngest alumnus is in a hurry to complete his PhD and turn professor by 17.

Records are something which spur him on.

Colin Maclaurin of Scotland became a professor at 19 in the 18th Century.

Tulsi's thesis is on identifying room-temperature superconductors.

"A room-temperature superconductor will allow us to easily manufacture much faster and smaller computers."

Superconductors will permit faster trains and low-loss power transmission, he says.

"Yes, I am ambitious, I like challenges," says Tulsi, who puts in 12 hours of work daily - nothing extraordinary at the institute.

The dean of the physics department, SV Subramaniam, describes Tulsi as a "good boy, very lovable and working to achieve his goals", but declines to comment on the description of Tulsi as a prodigy.

Tulsi passed the institute's normal admission tests, Dr Subramaniam adds.

"Of course he is different from others. His grasp is quick and very fast," says senior scholar S Hassan.

An engineering student recently completed his doctorate in less than a year at the institute.

Tulsi's class mate Srijan Kumar Sahar, 27, adds: "It is really difficult, but he could do it."

Besides Tulsi's impressive memory, he works hard, Mr Sahar says.

Controversial trip

Tulsi attracted controversy when he was selected to attend a meeting of Nobel laureates in Germany in 2001. Some scientists and students questioned the decision and there were people who even called him a fraud.

"It is all because of jealousy. With my entry into IISc, I have proved what I am," Tulsi says, dismissing the row as a thing of the past.

Tulsi carries a mobile phone, browses the internet, watches films, plays chess and exercises daily to keep his body and mind fresh.

"I am available on my mobile 24 hours [a day]," he says with a smile.

The strict vegetarian's radiant face glows when you ask him whether a Nobel Prize is on his road map.

"I will love to win a Nobel Prize. It has a place in my dream but that is not my main aim in life," he says.


SEE ALSO:
Child prodigies graduate
11 Jul 02  |  Education
Lessons of child prodigies
24 Aug 01  |  Education


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