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Ganesar Chanmugam (1939–1996)

Published onSep 01, 1996
Ganesar Chanmugam (1939–1996)

Ganesar Chanmugam, an internationally respected astrophysicist and professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University, died on 25 March 1996 of complications following a bone marrow transplant in his long battle with Multiple Myeloma.

Ganesh, as he was affectionately called by all who knew him, was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) on 24 October 1939. He received his early education there, first in high school at the Royal College in Colombo, then at the University of Ceylon (Colombo), where he was awarded a BSc with honors in mathematics in 1961. He then moved to England where he received a BA in mathematics with honors from Cambridge University in 1963. He was an instructor in physics at the University of Massachusetts from 1963-1964, when he left to complete his graduate training at Brandeis University, receiving a PhD in physics in 1970. His work focused on the equation of state of nuclear matter in neutron stars.

Ganesh was a research fellow at the Institut d'Astrophysique in Liège, Belgium from 1969-1971. Thereafter, with the exception of summer and sabbatical leaves at MIT, the Space Telescope Science Institute, NASA Goddard Space Fight Center, the Max-Planck-Institut fur Astrophysik (Garching) and over a dozen other major research institutions throughout the world, he taught and carried on his research in astrophysics at Louisiana State University for the next 25 years. His extraordinary contributions to LSU were honored by a new Chanmugam Memorial Fund to support research and education activities in physics and astronomy at LSU.

Author of over 110 scientific papers, presenter of dozens of papers at national and international scientific meetings, Ganesh was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the Royal Astronomical Society (London) as well as the IAU and AAS. During his life of research, Ganesh established an international reputation as one of the world's leading experts on the physics of white dwarfs and of neutron stars. His earliest scientific work focused on the properties of nuclear three-body forces and the equations of state in neutron star matter. He then turned his attention to a wide variety of neutron star problems concerning their electromagnetic properties, their dynamical stability, superfluid effects on their structure and properties of low density neutron stars. Throughout his career he conducted outstanding studies of the magnetic properties of neutron stars and white dwarfs. His penetrating physical insight and use of sophisticated mathematical analysis resulted in some of the deepest insights to date into the magnetic properties of degenerate matter. Some of this work focused on the origin of neutron star and white dwarf magnetic fields. Other studies focused on the effects these magnetic fields have on collapsed star radiation properties, including: cyclotron emission; gamma-ray emission from neutron stars and pulsars; magnetic models of gamma-ray bursts; effects of accretion on the magnetic fields of degenerate stars. Whatever the problem, Ganesh always had a firm grasp of the relevant physics, mathematics and astronomical observations. His masterly overview "Magnetic Fields of Degenerate Stars" in volume 30 of the Annual Reviews of Astronomy and Astrophysics remains the best treatment of the subject to date and is a testament to both his deep understanding and his ability to communicate his knowledge to others.

With keen insight, humor, enthusiasm and self-effacing demeanor, he shared his love of science with unique joy. Ganesh did astrophysics with what one can only call a "joy of physics." Never antagonistic or belittling to colleagues or students, always willing to share his understanding, he was a unique personality in science — a deep thinker, a devoted teacher, a respected mentor and a joyful spirit. All of us who had the privilege of knowing him and working with him will miss his wonderful smile, the twinkle in his eye and his genuine warmth.

Ganesh loved music and was an avid tennis player as well as a cricket and baseball enthusiast. He is survived by his widow Dr. Prithiva Chanmugam of Baton Rouge, his sons Ravi and Suresh of New York, and his sister Prarnila Muthiah of Wimbledon, England.

Photograph (available in PDF version) courtesy of LSU Office of Public Relations.

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