Plumbing the depths of the Earth

  • thestatesman.com

    March 7, 2016 | 10:39 PM
Attreyee Ghosh, a scientist plumbing the depths of the Earth

Staring in wonderment at the night sky with its twinkling stars as a child sparked in Attreyee Ghosh the urge to explore the unexplored. As the starlit nights lighted a thousand souls and the sun shone on many paths, the world celebrates International Women's Day - March 8.

Joining in the celebration, we reached Attreyee Ghosh, a scientist and a professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. Ghosh, an IIT Bombay alumna, joined IISc in 2012, after spending several years in the United States for her doctoral and postdoctoral studies.

Ghosh is a geophysicist and uses the laws of physics to understand the inner workings of the planet Earth. "We perhaps know more about distant galaxies than what lies beneath our feet," Ghosh told thestatesman.com. "This is because we don't have any direct way of observing the Earth's interior, and thus we need to rely on indirect methods," she said.

The processes occurring deep inside the planet create unequal mass distribution that affects Earth's gravitational field. Even a slight change in gravity, measured by an orbiting satellite, can be used to learn more about these deep planetary processes. Seismic waves, generated by earthquakes, also deliver a plethora of information about the Earth's interior.Ghosh uses all this information to build three-dimensional models of the Earth's internal dynamics in order to address many of the unanswered questions about this planet.

She, along with her team at the Geodynamics lab in IISc, strives to understand how surface phenomena like movement of tectonic plates, formation of mountains, breaking apart of continents, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, are affected or sometimes caused by what's going on deep underneath.

Ghosh has published a paper on her findings in the prestigious journal Science.

"My love for science started early on. Staring at the night sky I was struck with a burning curiosity about what lay in those distant worlds of planets and stars. Watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos on television, with my dad explaining many of the things that I didn't understand as an eight-year-old, filled me with wonder."

It is this "wonder" and the excitement of exploring the unexplored, that inspired Attreyee to be a scientist. "There are so many things we are yet to learn about our universe, about our own planet! We are still discovering new things about the Earth; it's fascinating!," she remarks.

She thinks that students from early on should be inculcated with a "scientific temperament". This is not only useful to become a scientist, but also to become a good citizen, a responsible member of the civil society. "Critical thinking in children must be encouraged and as scientists, we should do more to ensure that the excitement of science reaches everyone. I want everyone to experience the thrill that I feel when I read about the discovery of gravitational waves or understand the far reaching implications of that discovery," she says.

Besides unraveling the mysteries of the deep Earth, Attreyee is also an avid long-distance runner. She took up running a few years ago while doing her postdoctoral studies in the United States and now runs ultra-marathons, distances longer than the typical marathon distance of 26.2 miles. "Running these long distances brings a balance to my life, outside my world of research. Running has probably made me a more holistic scientist, a more complete human being".

 

Staring in wonderment at the night sky with its twinkling stars as a child sparked in Attreyee Ghosh the urge to explore the unexplored.

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