Ganesan Ravi Ravishanker, director of Technology Support Services and adjunct associate professor of chemistry, explains where his home countries were struck by the December 26 tsunami.
Millions of Americans watched as the Dec. 26 tsunami obliterated south Asia’s coastal belts. But for Ganesan “Ravi” Ravishanker, the event was far more personal.
Ravishanker, director of Technology Support Services and adjunct associate professor of chemistry, is a Sri Lanka native and attended college in southern India where the tidal waves battered both shorelines for a half-mile inland.
Those are both places where I have spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years and have vivid memories of, Ravishanker said. Most of my extended family members live in these two countries.
The tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Indonesia, killed more than 170,000 people as it crashed the shores of 10 countries around the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka and Indonesia received the hardest hits.
Ravishanker, who lost his parents as a young child, grew up with his aunt, uncle, sister and 11 cousins in the countrys capital, Colombo. Three of these cousins are raising families in Sri Lanka and the rest moved to southern India.
I was just getting back from vacation and I was still in a relaxing vacation mode, when they started flashing news about the tsunami damage on TV, he said. I immediately thought about my family. Many of them were living in area close to the coast.
Relatives in Tamil Nadu, India, immediately e-mailed Ravishanker in America and let him know they were OK. His relatives in Sri Lanka, however, were still unaccounted for. Although his relatives lived inland in Kandy, he feared they may be traveling on a train that was derailed by the tsunami.
All I could do is sit, watch and wait, he said.
Sri Lanka, a pear-shaped island four times larger than the state of Connecticut, is located 18 miles southeast of India. With no communications available to his homeland, he waited as the death toll climbed to 30,000. The missing count hovered at 5,600. More than 200,000 families were displaced by the earthquake-spawned waves.
The Sri Lanka that I remember, that I grew up in, was one of the most enjoyable places. It was surrounded by the ocean, there were beaches, a perfect climate and the people were very friendly. It was a great place, he said. It was like paradise.
Via Indian television channels, Ravishanker watched debris of fishermens wood shacks envelop the once pristine, palm-lined beaches. Disfigured bodies in all forms and shapes piled up near landmarks all recognizable to the Sri Lanka native.
It was heart-wrenching to watch, he said. I was thinking of my family, but also these poor children affected by this disaster. Whats so sad is that the first wave came in and pushed all these fish up on shore, and all the fishermen told their kids to come out and see and play with the fish. Little did they know that a bigger wave was coming to eat them all up.
On Dec. 30, Ravishanker finally heard from his Sri Lankan relatives. Everyone was alive. With his family all accounted for, Ravishanker immediately pursued ways to help the victims of the disaster.
Rescue efforts are somewhat hampered by an ongoing civil war in the country between the Sinhalese and Tamil Tigers. Pockets of the northern and eastern areas are heavily mined. A physical presence of rescue workers in these areas carries a certain amount of danger.
The Sri Lankan government has urged donor nations to donate $15.6 billion to rebuild tsunami-affected parts of the country, but Ravishanker was advised to hold off and carefully explore more long lasting avenues to help those affected. Hes considering funding an orphaned childs education for life. His brother-in-law, Shankar, is working with these orphaned children directly back in Chennai, India.
I take great pride in my brother-in-law for doing this, and I think the outpouring of local support is a great thing to see. People are setting aside their religious differences and caste barriers are vanishing, he said. I cant imagine people doing this 20 years ago. People are already setting up shops and makeshift schools. Recovery have been remarkable.
|By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor|
Campus News & Events
Managing the Cosmos: Astronomy Department’s Systems and Facilities Manager Helps Students Observe and Research the Night Sky
by Olivia Drake •
|Eric Williams, systems and facilities manager of the Astronomy Department and Van Vleck Observatory, stands outside the observatory’s 24-inch Perkin research reflector, where he often hosts weekly open houses and star gazings.|
|“What’s beautiful about astronomy is that there are always unanswered questions, and when you answer one, that will open up five more questions,” said Eric Williams, the systems and facility manager for the Astronomy Department and Van Vleck Observatory. “I’m always curious.”
An interest in astronomy, physics and computers led Williams to Wesleyan in 1996. “I’ve always wanted a job like this,” Williams said, “I get to experiment with all kinds of things.”
Before coming to Wesleyan, Williams spent five years hunting for planets outside our solar system as a sky observer with the planet research team at San Francisco State University. The team has contributed to the discovery of more than 100 extrasolar planets.
Williams says he isn’t a telescope equipment expert but he can answer just about any questions regarding how the Wesleyan scopes operate. However, most his time is currently devoted to, as he refers to it, “babysitting computers.”
At Wesleyan, Williams, spends about a quarter of his time on research and leading weekly star gazings for the public and an amateur astronomy group. He uses the observatory’s 24-inch Perkin research reflector, the 20-inch Alvan Clark great refractor and the 16-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector, all housed in their own domes on campus.
Formerly a sky observer for the SFSU planet search team, Williams says he isn’t a telescope equipment expert, but he can answer just about any questions regarding how the Wesleyan scopes operate.
As the systems manager, Williams oversees the department’s server – appropriately named ‘Astro,’ – as well as an array of 10 printers and 40 computers with MacIntosh and UNIX workstations. He assists students with software questions and checks for security alerts daily.
“I’m a troubleshooter and an anticipator,” he said. “If a problem comes up, I’ll find a solution. I don’t want people to get behind because of computer problems.”
Williams works from his basement office, which also functions as a storeroom. There, heaps of books, papers, computer monitors, keyboards, network cards and tangled wires dwell in any available space, including the floor.
Williams, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics from San Francisco State University, acquired most of his programming knowledge on the job. He self-taught himself programming languages Java, Perl and PHP, and research software including Interactive Data Language, or IDL.
Nevertheless, Williams knew he’d never master the programming languages without further education. “I had an intellectual curiosity. I wanted to fill in the gaps in my knowledge,” Williams said.
Three years ago, he visited the math department and enrolled in a master’s degree program for computer science. He graduated in spring 2004 and learned what it takes to be a student at Wesleyan. “The kids here at Wesleyan are very smart. I had to keep up with undergrads in some of my classes,” said the 40-year-old.
Results from his master’s thesis, titled “Directional versus Omnidirectional Antennas for Energy Consumption and k-connectivity of Sensor Networks,” was recently accepted for publication.
At Wesleyan, Williams supports all research by William Herbst, professor of astronomy, who gained renown recognition for his discovery of KH15D, a far-off, winking star which appears to be displaying behavior thought to create our own solar system.
Eric is highly respected and valued by all the staff and students of the Astronomy Department, Herbst said. He helps us with all sorts of computer problems, manages the complex astronomy computer network, runs our public outreach programs, and participates in some research programs and in the intellectual life of the department.
He also volunteers his time and skills to community projects such as Project ASTRO, which uses an activities-based approach to excite third through 12th grade students about astronomy and help them learn the process of science.
Most recently, Williams joined a team working with Earth & Environmental Sciences Assistant Professor Martha Gilmore on developing a Planetary Science Group for the campus and local community.
Although hes been doing research for the last few years in computer science, Williams is looking forward to the slight change of topic.
“I am excited to return to doing some of my own astronomy research now,” he said.
|By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor|