PN Krishnamoorthy: Tributes to an Outstanding Scientist

PTI FEATURE   PF-106/2009 December 26,2009

PN Krishnamoorthy: Tributes to an Outstanding Scientist

Dr. K.S.Parthasarathy

“He served the Board with distinction during its formative years and contributed significantly in establishing robust and well laid out procedures to assist the nascent organization in to an effective regulatory body”. 

In 1954, Dr. Homi Bhabha wrote a one page “summary note” to Pandit Nehru on his vision on atomic power generation. Brief and to the point, Bhabha’s letters reflect his clarity of thought. A handful of people in the Department of Atomic Energy acquired the drafting skill of their mentor.

P N Krishnamoorthy (popularly known as “PNK”), a pioneering scientist and an able administrator, who passed away on November 16, was one of them.

He started his career in the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), in the experimental cosmic ray research group; He published in the Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences one outstanding paper (May1957) and coauthored another in July 1952.

Shortly, he shifted away from cosmic ray work. In 1959, A S Rao, a close associate of Dr Bhabha, asked PNK  to take over, as its head, the Radiological Measurements Laboratory (RML). RML was newly set up to provide radiological protection services in institutions outside the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

That was a watershed in PNK’s career. The use of radioisotopes in medicine, industry, agriculture and research was increasing rapidly. When Bhabha set up the Directorate of Radiation Protection (DRP) in 1963 to broaden the programme across the counry, PNK was the natural choice to lead it. A.S Rao, Director, Electronics Group gave PNK a free hand.

DRP provided personnel dose monitoring services, surveyed medical x-ray units, started developing radiation measuring instruments and offered a one year postgraduate training programme and several short term training programmes to radiation workers in the country. The annual reports of DAE from 1959-1960 indicate the rapid progress made by DRP.

While serving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), PNK co-authored the Health Physics Addendum (July 1960) with Mr G J Appleton of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. This was the first Addendum to the Manual on Safe Handling of Radioisotopes, the first operational safety standard of the IAEA.

From 1959 to 1970, PNK developed and implemented a nation-wide, radiological protection programme. In 1970, the International Radiation Protection Association invited him to a talk on “Radiological Protection Problems in the Developing Countries” (Health Physics, August 1971) at its Second International Congress at Brighton, England.

After listing the daunting difficulties faced in implementing an effective radiological protection programme, he highlighted many issues.

“…..when a large number of capable young men and women with good basic science or engineering degrees are brought together in a service organization of this type, it is inevitable that they should yearn for a part of their time and efforts to be alloted for research. For a radiation protection programme to maintain its basic vitality of approach, it is imperative that in the equilibrium state, about 60% to 70% of the effort should be routine, about 20% developmental and the rest research”, he clarified.

PNK set up a “Cell” to collect, collate and preserve information relevant to the atomic energy programme.

He informally chose a few young scientists with aptitude to learn to man the “Cell”.They included A.N Nandakumar, V. N Neelavathy, T S Subramanian, R B Vora among others. PNK equipped the Cell with modern electronic gadgets (electronic printers, copiers, slide projectors etc.). He loved them.

“Cell” inmates could produce conscise reports on any topic at short notice. The rough drafts they prepared underwent rigourous editing, review and critical appraisal by PNK, who was the pricipal ‘wordsmith’! He used his scissors mercilessly, chipped, chiselled and sharpened the text. Often, they were briefs for Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission. That the material originated from the “Cell” was not a State secret! Probably not many knew that PNK was appointed as Staff Consultant, Atomic Energy Commission by Dr Sarabhai.

We were benefited by our association with the Cell. Some of us turned into wordsmiths! The “Cell” inmates  used to transcribe lectures of eminent scientists (Hanson Blatz, Ritchie, James Turner, Larry Lanzl, Swindon among others)  sent by the WHO to deliver lectures at  the one year postgraduate training programme (Bhabha started this practice in TIFR).

Shortly, PNK went to the Department of Electronics as Director (Technical). Later, he returned to BARC as its Controller. He introduced several long lasting administrative measures in BARC.

When Central Government set up the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in 1983, thanks to PNK’s deep personal commitment and endeavours, there existed a fairly well organized safety frame work in the form of DRP to enforce safety requirements in radiation installations outside the Department of Atomic Energy and more importantly, he himself   joined the Board as its Member Secretary.  He brought the first batch of officers who formed the core group to jumpstart the regulatory activities of AERB.

“He served the Board with distinction during its formative years and contributed significantly in establishing robust and well laid out procedures to assist the nascent organization in to an effective regulatory body”.  Shri S K Sharma, Chairman, AERB acknowledged in a condolence message.

After his retirement in July 1987, PNK spent his entire life promoting music. He was Director of the Sangeetha Vidyalaya of Shanmukhanada Sabha since November 2002. He was Honorary Editor of Shanmukha, the quarterly magazine of the Sabha

For many decades, he wrote critical reviews of Carnatic and Hindustani  music and dance programmes for The Indian Express.  He reviewed nearly a thousand concerts and several hundred dance performances. He wrote two hundred articles on music in the Sunday edition of The Economic Times. For many years, he was a member of the “Sur Singar Samsad Peeth” and served its Senate as vice chairman.  He served All India Radio (AIR) as a Judge for selecting musicians for AIR awards, a member of jury for the classification of Carnatic musicians, and as a member of the southern panel of the Music Audition.

He was the heart and soul of the Bhakta Rasika Ranjini Sabha, Anushaktinagar. His departure marked the end of an era.

[Dr K.S. Parthasarathy is formerly, Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board]





About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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5 Responses to PN Krishnamoorthy: Tributes to an Outstanding Scientist

  1. Saumya Parameswaran says:

    Hello Dr. Parthasarathy: Very nice to see this article. I am very interested in the book that you were planning to write and would like to hear more about it.
    Saumya Parameswaran ( PNK’s daughter)


  2. Jai Sonwalkar says:

    I am saddened by PNK sir’s passing away. As a child, I had enrolled and learnt music from BRR Sabha and PNK sir used to be our examiner. Though he was strict (rightly), he had a sense of humour. We had mixed feelings – we’d be tensed and excited to sing in front of him. People with sore throats would croak, but cold was no excuse – taking care of one’s throat and health was a part of learning music he’d remind us. I was fortunate to be one of the students from our class to be chosen for his special music classes on Sundays where he taught us advanced lessons. We had immense respect for him and the music he taught us. Thank you Dr.Parthasarathy for writing this article and bringing back memories.


  3. Vaidehi Venkatakrishnan says:

    PNK was undoubtedly a great person I’m proud to say I had the fortune of being associated with, at work, being the youngest of the few hand picked by him to work at AERB. It was an honour and a pleasure to see a razor sharp intellect at work, approaching shaping and managing a very powerful AERB carefully like a science. On a personal level, I have seen glimpses of this great musicologist at the helm of the BRR Sabha and its various activities. I can go on and on, but perhaps sum it as, “Where the head is held high and knowledge is free” – he was head and shoulders ahead of everyone in keeping his head high by sheer dint of tireless application of his intellect to anything he did! He will be deeply missed by those who have seen him in action, “Up close and personal”. Having worked with Dr. K.S.Parthasarathy, I can honestly say that this is a tribute to “a class act” from another!


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