When I was eight years old, I peered through a telescope for the first time in my life. It was a small device, no more than two metres long, and yet it let me glimpse a brilliant view of Jupiter: it was the size of a marble, magnificently striated in hues of brown, red and orange. Then, when I was 13, I went to the Birla Planetarium in Hyderabad, where I revisited my five-year old fascination with Jupiter as I sat spellbound in the arena as a cosmic dance played out in the canvas stretched above my head: stars flew around, tumbling in and out of the horizon, the rings of Saturn floating serenely in space, moons rising and setting through a mélange of blues, yellows and greens.
It was a performance I haven’t forgotten to this day, remembering it as an eternally unfolding story, a few hundred pages in the epic saga of the universe. It could have been the charismatic voice of the narrator, it could have been the undisturbed loneliness on the night of my stargazing, it could even have been my mindless interest thereafter to find out more and more about the travellers in the heavens, but today, those memories are the seeds of my passion for astroparticle physics.
Many people – even science graduates – hear the name and think it’s a “big deal”. It is not. Astroparticle physics is the study of the stuff that stars are made of, and by extension, as Carl Sagan said, the stuff that we are made of. It is the search for and the understanding of the smallest particles that make up this universe one elegant phenomenon at a time. And just as my curiosity toward it was aroused one cloudless night in a small town in South India, so has it sustained: not within classrooms, not under the guidance of pedantic lecturers, but in my room, in the books I bought to teach myself more about it, in problems I solved, the simulations I ran and the experiments I conducted, in my mind where I could never rest without knowing how the universe worked.
In the last 15 years, I have learned where the stars come from that fascinate little children as little, bright spots in the sky, I have learned what the comets that streak Hollywood’s most romantic scenes really are, and I have learn all about our sun and the significance of human life. Most importantly, I have painted a glittering picture of the world for myself having met a wide range of people – young and old – simply by learning what I don’t know about and teaching what I do to anyone who is willing to listen. It is not a passion that I ever see fading because it has been an integral part of my growing years, a symbol of my parents’ support and my friends’ patience, and my own strengths, weaknesses and perseverance.