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Profile: Rajan Gupta

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Science  28 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5675, pp. 1281
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5675.1281

Country: India

Field: Physics

Workplace: Los Alamos National Laboratory

CREDIT: JOHN FLOWER/LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY

When theoretical physicist Rajan Gupta left India nearly 30 years ago to start a career in the United States studying high-energy physics, he never expected to make regular trips home to help tackle public health issues ranging from AIDS to alcoholism. But 5 years ago, the scientist's life took an unexpected turn after he and his family traveled through his homeland. “My 6-year-old son came to me and said: ‘We have so much. We must do something for those who don't.’”

Soon, Gupta—who had done some computer-modeling work on the HIV pandemic —was educating himself about the AIDS crisis and forging links with groups in India. He now takes 6 weeks of leave a year from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to spend time in some of India's poorest communities. “I've had the privilege of studying an exciting area of fundamental science; it's time to give back to society,” he says.

Gupta, 50, who has been a U.S. citizen since 1999, came to the United States to do graduate work at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where he earned a doctorate before joining Los Alamos in 1985. There he uses supercomputers to model the interactions between elementary particles such as quarks and gluons.

His efforts to improve public health, which include counseling Americans, have “probably made me a less competitive scientist,” he admits. And his visits to India—where he works with villagers, women's groups, and students (t8web.lanl.gov/people/rajan)—can be exhausting, he says: “Each time I go with tremendous enthusiasm and come back depressed by the magnitude of the need—but also more aware of the responsibility that comes with privilege.”

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