Jayant Vishnu Narlikar was born on July 19, 1938 in Kolhapur, India, is an Indian cosmologist and physicist.
His father, Vishnu Vasudev Narlikar, was a mathematician who served as a professor and later as the Head of the Department of Mathematics at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. Jayant’s mother, Sumati Narlikar, was a scholar of Sanskrit language. He studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya Banaras(till class 12) and Banaras Hindu University(12th Onwards) campus, Varanasi.
Narlikar is a proponent of steady state cosmology. He developed with Sir Fred Hoyle the conformal gravity theory, commonly known as Hoyle–Narlikar theory. It synthesizes Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Mach’s Principle. It proposes that the inertial mass of a particle is a function of the masses of all other particles, multiplied by a coupling constant, which is a function of cosmic epoch. In cosmologies based on this theory, the gravitational constant G decreases strongly with time.
Narlikar received his Bachelor of Science degree from Banaras Hindu University in 1957. He then began his studies at Cambridge University in England, where he received a B.A. in mathematics in 1959 and was Senior Wrangler, namely the student who got the highest overall mark in the final-year mathematics examinations. This appears to have been the first time, and perhaps the only time, that a student was Senior Wrangler who was not a member of one of Cambridge University’s colleges at the time. In 1960, he won the Tyson Medal for astronomy. During his doctoral studies at Cambridge, he won the Smith’s Prize in 1962. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1963 under the guidance of Fred Hoyle, he served as a Berry Ramsey Fellow at King’s College in Cambridge and earned an M.A. in astronomy and astrophysics in 1964. He continued to work as a Fellow at King’s College until 1972. In 1966, Fred Hoyle established the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy in Cambridge, and Narlikar served as the founder staff member of the institute during 1966-72.
In 1972, Narlikar took up Professorship at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, India. At the TIFR, he was in charge of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group. In 1988, the Indian University Grants Commission set up the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, and Narlikar became the Founder-Director of IUCAA.
Narlikar is internationally known for his work in cosmology, especially in championing models alternative to the popular Big Bang model. During 1994-1997, he was the President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union. His research work has involved Mach’s Principle, quantum cosmology, and action-at-a-distance physics.
During 1999-2003, Narlikar headed an international team in a pioneering experiment designed to sample air for microorganisms in the atmosphere at heights of up to 41 km. Biological studies of the collected samples led to the findings of live cells and bacteria, which introduced the possibility that the earth is being bombarded by microorganisms, some of which might have seeded life itself on earth.
Narlikar was also appointed the Chairperson, Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics, the textbook development committee responsible for developing textbooks in Science and Mathematics, published by NCERT, which are used widely as standard textbooks in many Indian schools.
Narlikar has received several national and international awards and honorary doctorates. India’s second highest civilian honor, Padma Vibhushan, was awarded to him in 2004 for his research work. Prior to this, in 1965, he was conferred Padma Bhushan.
He received Maharashtra Bhushan Award for the year 2010.
He is a recipient of Bhatnagar Award, M.P. Birla Award, and the Prix Jules Janssen of the French Astronomical Society. He is an Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society of London, and a Fellow of the three Indian National Science Academies and the Third World Academy of Sciences.
Apart from his scientific research, Narlikar has been well known as a communicator of science through his books, articles, and radio & television programs. For these efforts, he was honored in 1996 by the UNESCO with the Kalinga Award.
He was once featured on Carl Sagan’s TV show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage in the late 1980s. He received the Indira Gandhi Award of the Indian National Science Academy in 1990.
Besides scientific papers and books and popular science literature, Narlikar has written science fiction, novels, and short stories in English, Hindi, and Marathi. He is also the consultant for the Science and Mathematics textbooks of NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training, India).