April 7, 2006
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—Sarang Gopalakrishnan, a senior at Amherst College, has been awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. He will travel next year to Russia for a longed-for journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway and to write “a half-poetic travel memoir” that will explore the themes of the wanderer, remoteness and history, the birds, the trains, the ruins of machinery and more in a place where, he says, “reality is strange enough that one often comes upon things for which one has never needed names.” Gopalakrishnan is the son of Subramanian Gopalakrishnan and Rekha Gopal of Mumbai, India.

A physics and mathematics major at Amherst, Gopalakrishnan has worked as a teaching assistant in physics, math and astronomy but joins the literary and scientific worlds in his studies. The young physicist, born in India and raised in Tanzania, discovered the poet W.H. Auden in his first year at Amherst. “Like him, my interest in machinery was always aesthetic,” he wrote in his Watson proposal, “I was never interested in putting circuits or model trucks together, but chimneys and scrapped locomotives fascinated me.” Gopalakrishnan became a poet, a writer “for whom dialects and remote areas have always been important.”

Gopalakrishnan counts among his literary models Auden and his colleague Louis MacNeice, co-authors of Letters from Iceland (1937), and W.G. Sebald, the late author of The Rings of the Saturn (1986). Like them, he will discover a “legacy of industrialization, which developed cities in unlikely places and often damaged the environment” in Siberia.

Gopalakrishnan plans to attend graduate school in theoretical physics.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowships provide 60 exceptional college graduates, from 49 of America’s leading liberal arts colleges, with the freedom to engage in a year of independent study and travel abroad. The program was begun in 1968 by the family of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of IBM, to honor their parents’ interest in education and world affairs. More than 2,200 Watson Fellows have studied all over the world with the support of Watson Fellowships.

Founded in 1821 for “the education of indigent young men of piety and talents,” Amherst College is now widely regarded as the premier liberal arts college in the nation, enrolling a diverse group of approximately 1,600 young men and women. Well known for its academic excellence, Amherst is also consistently ranked among the very best schools in the country in terms of accessibility: The college’s financial aid packages are consistently the most generous in the U.S., and among its peer universities and colleges Amherst has the greatest economic diversity. Diversity, in its broadest sense, is fundamental to Amherst’s mission. The college enrolls students from every state and more than 40 countries, and for the past several years more than 35 percent of Amherst’s students have been students of color. Amherst offers the B.A. degree in 33 fields of study.