Laurels for Scientist Ngangkham Nimai Singh (Retd Prof of MU)
Inspiration for students indeed

Dr Mohendra Irengbam *

 Prof Ng  Nimai ; Prof Kh Ranjana
Prof Ng Nimai      Prof Kh Ranjana
Theoretical Physicist       Medical Scientist

As I am a regular reader of E-Pao, Manipur’s First Online News Service, I found it rather thrilling to read an autobiographical biodata of a Meitei physicist Prof Ngangkham Nimai Singh, “Turning points in my career to be a physicist.” Extracted from the book published by RIST [Research Institute of Science & Technology] Imphal: Inspiration from scientists of Manipur – Serial No. 2. (April 9 2024).

What drew me to Nimai in the first place, were his two photographs of attending an international conference at CERN (French words for European fundamental physics research organisation), Geneva, on September 7-20, 1989, (1) with Robert Hymer, Director of CERN. Robert Hymer initiated the search for Higgs boson or God particle at LHC in Geneva. This subatomic particle that gives other particles their mass was regarded as the Holy Grail of theoretical physics. It began in 1952 (coincidentally, the year I went to study physics at college in Bombay).

The other photograph of Nimai shows him with the great scientist and Nobel Laureate Carlo Rubio, the former Director of CERN, who observed the Higgs boson, also known as God particle on July 4 2012 at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider the $10 billion atom smasher in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel under the Swiss French border, near Geneva. It was one of the biggest breakthroughs in physics in decades.

The importance of the God particle could be explained by the understanding that the standard framework of Particle and Fields – the theory that has been used to explain fundamental physics since the 1970s, would have fallen without it.

This long postulated subatomic particle was named after Prof Peter Higgs [born in Newcastle], who died recently, 5 days ago, aged 94, on April 8 2024. It was Higgs who believed in the existence of such particles, though they were elusive. After the discovery of this particle, named after him as ‘Higgs boson’ and God particle, he shared with Francois Englert the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics.

Funnily enough, Higgs regularly pleaded with colleagues to stop referring to it as God particle. He said, “First of all, I’m an atheist. The second thing is I know that name was a kind of joke and not a very good one. It’s also misleading.” [As it did to me by chance].

I had a fascination for ‘God’s particle’, thinking that its ultimate discovery might bring me closer to my attempt to prove that God does not exist. Little did I know then, that ‘God particle’ was coined from the swearing word ‘Goddamn particle’ that was first used by Nobel-prize winning physician Leon Lederman, in frustration with regards to how difficult it was to detect.

I did not have a computer in those days, for cross referencing on the internet, when I wrote two articles on the God particle, one in October 2010, and the other in December 2011, which were published in the Sangai Express.

It was highly impressive to browse through a massive array of Prof Nimai’s scientific works, research, and publications in reputed scientific journals, not only from the perspective of Meitei scientists, but scientists all over the world. His name has come out at a time of this century when many Meiteis with a tiny population of 15 lakhs or 1.5 million) have made their mark in many fields, not only in India but in the world.

To mention only a few. Surprisingly in ‘looks, personality and physique’ competition, Martin Irengbam was chosen as Mega Mister, Northeast on March 2 2024, with the opportunity to represent India on the massive global platform.

Manipur as a whole has become popular very recently with the creation on March 15 2024 of free online Jigsaw Puzzles of (1) Dancing Meitei girls with kajenglei as their headgear, (2) Meitei woman fishing net weaver, and (3) Common teal migratory bird at Lamphel Pat.

Meisnam Meiraba won the All-India Badminton Championship on April 15 2024 among quite a few who top sportspersons, not only in India but in the world. Not to be left behind even in looks, personality and physique competition

There are more Meitei Army officers per capita in the Indian Army. There are four people in my family alone. Mention may be made about Major (Doctor) Laishram Jyoti Singh who was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2012, fighting terrorists in an attack on the Indian embassy, and who was awarded posthumously, Ashoka Chakra, the highest peacetime gallantry Award.

I may also quote another heroic military medal, Vir chakra, awarded posthumously for his exemplary courage, to Major Ngangom Joydutta Singh of the Gorkha Regiment, 4/5 Gorkha Rifles, who led his company to charge the enemy with their Khukris drawn, in Sri Lanka in 1987. In 1977, Nongthombam Maipak Singh became the first Meitei Mr Universe.

This short article is about scientists among the Meiteis of Manipur. To begin with, I remember my friend, the late Khuraijam Dhirendra Singh, who was a pioneering agricultural scientist, who produced many hybrid paddies which was suitable and more palatable to Manipuri tastes. I remember going with him, while he was an undergraduate at Pusa Institute in Delhi, to measure the length of paddies in his research field.

I also know his daughter Prof (Dr) Ranjana Devi Khuraijam, a medical scientist at RIMS in Imphal. She is exceptionally well known in the world, for her First discovery of a fungus, Candida auris candidemia in Manipur. She worked for some time as an Academic Research Fellow in Molecular Epidemiology in London from 2010.

She has published more than 42 papers that were published in very reputed scientific journals. She is still engaged in research. That is the job of a professor. Following my definition [vide infra], Ranjana is a great scientist.

I write this article mainly to give scientist (physicist with interest in physics related to Higgs Field et al) Ngangkham Nimai Singh the plaudits that are rightfully his. Before I began to scribe, I thought of the propriety of writing about Nimai as the ‘greatest’ Meitei physicist that Manipur has produced, as far as I know. Hopefully there may be others who I do not know. In his narrative Serial No.1, he has quoted 45 Manipuri scientists.

Before I pen this article, I have delved into the definition of what a scientist is, what is a good scientist, and what is a great scientist. Does having a degree or postgraduate degree of PhD make someone a scientist? I have a degree in science (B Sc) in Physics and Biology. Does this make me a scientist? Of course not.

With this enigma surrounding me, and in an assignment to test my cognitive skills, I explored some aspects of reality with careful and critical attention to whether the scientific methods one uses in the lab would literally identify one to be a scientist.

First, then, what is a scientist?

There is not a single satisfactory answer to my liking. To quote one which is nearest to my concept is: “A scientist is someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, to make hypotheses and test them, to gain and share understanding and knowledge.”

In industry eg, a pharmaceutical company, a scientist is an actual position such as a research assistant. Or, when you start getting paid to do science, as when you become a professor, you are a professional scientist. Prof N Nimai is such a professional scientist.

Now then, what is a good scientist? A good scientist to me is one who can contribute to a scientific field – even an undergraduate if they perform their own experiments. Nimai is such a scientist.

Among other things, Nimai contributed to Neutrino physics (the explanation of matter and anti-matter asymmetry of the universe, and (my favourite) Superstring Theory, also known as Theory of Everything, which attempts to unify four fundamental forces of nature viz, gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, and weak with one dimensional ‘string’ of 10 35 (10 raised to the power of 35) metres.

I have written a few articles in physics, including on this topical subject in the late 1990s for the benefit of the lay people in Manipur.

The String theory explains that reality is made up of infinitesimal and one dimensional vibrating strings, smaller than atoms, electrons and quirks.

We all know about famous great scientists. Einstein is the most famous and beloved scientist of all time. There were a few others such as, Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, Physicist Issac Newton, Evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin, Psychological scientist Sigmund Freud, and Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawkin.

A great scientist must make a discovery like Sir Ronald Ross who discovered malarial parasites in the dung of mosquitoes, as he was once advised by a friend of his, one evening, while strolling at Chowringhee in Calcutta.

Or he/she must make an invention like the American movie actress Hedy Lamar [in the movie, Samson & Delilah that I saw in Imphal in 1949]. She invented the basis of what we now know of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. Dr Ranjana is such a great scientist.

Most good scientists helped in research in a particular field. Prof Nimai is one of them.

* Dr Mohendra Irengbam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at irengbammsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 22 2024 .

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