The village of Roddam in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh is a world-renowned name today as it nurtured the ancestors of a scientist. Roddam Narasimha, popularly known as Roddam in the aerodynamics and fluid-dynamics circles of the world, was a darling of the aerospace capital of India, Bengaluru. Very much Bangalorean to the core, Roddam was a product of the century old iconic institutions of the city University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering (UVCE) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc). He built his career at the city’s IISc, National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) and Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR).
Roddam had a rich science background. His father Prof R.L. Narasimhaiah studied with renowned physicist Meghanad Saha at Allahabad, and later taught Physics at the Central College, Bengaluru. He was a pioneer science writer in Kannada on Physics and Astronomy in 1950s. Roddam had a liking for aeronautics during his graduate days and had an occasion to visit the IISc (then Tata Institute) once. The Spit Fire aircraft model in its aeronautical department inspired him to the world of airplanes. After his graduation in mechanical engineering, the family friend who was at the Tata Institute discouraged Roddam from joining there. Instead, he was suggested to take up the Indian Railway Service or the Burmah Shell job, the present-day equivalent of a plum IT career. The dejected Roddam consulted his father who gave him a ‘go ahead’ to enroll at the IISc.
It was pre-electronic age at the IISc when Roddam entered its premises. But, the highly influential Satish Dhawan had built several indigenous equipment in its laboratory on par with world renowned institutions. This California Institute of Technology (Caltech) PhD holder had worked seamlessly with the barely literate mechanics holding aging machine tools. Roddam was assigned to take measurements with lenses and galvanometers in the home-made wind tunnels. Dhawan taught Roddam the art of capturing oscilloscope traces through a box camera. The heaps of measured data transformed as finest articles and got published in the prestigious journals. As the aeronautical world recognized research work of Roddam, Dhawan insisted him on joining his guru Prof Hans Liepmann at Caltech. Liepmann transformed Roddam a confirmed fluid dynamicist.
With a doctorate and world recognition in hand, Roddam returned to the IISc to join Dhawan. His research was focused more on flow transitions of fluids from laminar to turbulent states. The transition from supersonic to subsonic flow resulting in shock waves too kept Roddam occupied. He built a core team of researchers who later led the successful aerospace projects of the country. At that juncture, the country was spearheading new concepts in aviation. The light combat aircraft (LCA) and light transport aircraft (LTA) projects were sanctioned by the government. Roddam got deeply involved in these projects and worked closely with National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). He got an opportunity to head NAL as its Director to accelerate those ambitious projects.
After his successful stint at NAL, Roddam returned to the IISc. A sky-gazer of clouds from childhood, monsoons evinced greater interest in Roddam, and he set up Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at IISc. Roddam guided the scientists at this centre to understand the fluid-dynamics of cloud formation. He wrote papers on why the clouds often seen in Bengaluru do not spread out like a rocket plume, but instead occur in cauliflower-like heaps or raises high in the form of ‘towers’. Roddam discussed the reasons behind this peculiar cloud pattern of tropical regions. He prepared a valuable report on the Indian Reference Atmosphere.
Having understood the atmosphere at 10 or 100 km above earth, Roddam made a firm footing of fluid dynamics on the ground. He started his experiments on the lowest meter of the atmosphere on the earth. The process of understanding what exactly happens in the thin layer when we move around with our feet is an interesting research work Roddam undertook.
He was a scholar in both Sanskrit and Kannada and wrote many articles on science and philosophy in English. His editorial for Current Science rebutted the claims of certain scientists at the 102nd Indian Science Congress on the Maharshi Bharadwaja’s pioneering work in aviation. The reviewed journal articles, books and seminar papers on fluid dynamics in his name are countless.
A Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Foreign Associate of both the US National Academy of Engineering and the US National Academy of Sciences, Roddam was a distinguished alumnus of both Caltech and IISc. He was conferred with the prestigious Trieste Science Award, Desikothama from Visva Bharati University, Bhatnagar Prize and Padma Vibhushan amongst others.
Roddam was part of the Scientific Advisory Council to the prime minister, Space Commission, DRDO Council and many prominent Scientific Boards of the country in addition to Vision Group on Science & Technology, Government of Karnataka.
Science Writer Sudhindra Haldodderi was a scientist with DRDO and a DGM at HAL, and is currently an aerospace consultant with L&T Technology Services Limited