Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

Rajendran Raja 1948-2014

Rajendran Raja, an Indian-born physicist who was educated in England and came to the United States in the1970s to work as a physicist at Fermilab near Batavia, is considered a driving force in some of the more significant discoveries in physics over the past two decades.

Mr. Raja, 65, a former senior scientist at Fermilab, died Saturday, Feb. 15, in his Naperville home. He had continued his research for more than a year after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011 but stopped working in October 2013.

Mr. Raja was involved in the hunt for the last kind of quark, the top quark, a subatomic particle believed to have existed only as a result of the big bang, and which may have helped sow the seeds of the primordial universe.

The longtime Naperville resident and his team at Fermilab succeeded in 1995 in re-creating the top quark using the Fermilab's Tevatron, a circular particle accelerator and the second most powerful energy particle collider in the world.

"Discovery of the top quark at Fermilab is the biggest achievement of Dr. Raja's," said former colleague and fellow physicist Shekhar Mishra, Fermilab's U.S. technical coordinator of the Department of Atomic Energy-Department of Energy Discovery Science Collaboration unit.

According to Mr. Raja's colleagues, those experiments led to the discovery of the existence of the Higgs boson in 2012, described as "monumental" by the scientific community because it appeared to confirm the existence of the Higgs field, which would explain why some particles have mass, despite displaying interactions that would require them not to have mass.

"As he got closer to discovering the top quark, he was on the computer around the clock," said his wife of 37 years, Selitha. "He was constantly doing calculations in his head and would grab a napkin or whatever was handy to write on."

"Unlike many who came and joined the marathon of top quark research at the last minute to be part of the team, Dr. Raja worked on it from start to finish and led the group to this very important discovery in high-energy physics," Mishra said.

Mr. Raja was born in Guruvayur, Kerala state, India, and was 9 when his mother, a chemist, died. His father, a geophysicist, remarried and moved his family to Kenya, where he became a professor at the University of Nairobi.

After attending a Kenyan boarding school, Mr. Raja graduated from Strathmore University in Nairobi. He later received a doctorate in physics from the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in England and was inducted as a fellow of Trinity College at Cambridge in 1973.

The following year, Mr. Raja moved to the United States and joined Fermilab as a physicist.

"From the beginning, physics was his calling," his wife said. "There was so much he wanted to accomplish."

During his tenure at Fermilab, Mr. Raja contributed to more than 300 articles in professional journals and led many other research projects. As the head of the top quark analysis group, he is credited with developing the multivariate algorithm that led to the top quark discovery.

Mr. Raja also was interested in solving the world's energy shortage and was a proponent of accelerator-driven thorium reactors, a much-needed energy solution in his native India. He also served on the board of directors of the Indo-American Center in Chicago.

"He was very much involved in Indo-American collaboration efforts," said his daughter, Anjali Raja Beharelle, a neurosurgeon who lives in Switzerland. "It was, he felt, very important to the advancement of science in both countries."

Mr. Raja is also survived by his sister, Paru Sharma.

Services were held.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Comments
Loading