The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, February 13, 2000


Prof S. N. Bose
(January 1, 1894 — February 4, 1974)
Madame Bhikhaiji Cama
(September 24, 1861- August 30, 1936)
Prof Meghnad Saha
(October 6, 1893 - February 16, 1956)

Prof S. N. Bose
(January 1, 1894 — February 4, 1974)

WHEN Einstein announced his Special Theory of Relativity, Satyendra Nath Bose was only 11 years old. It was said at that time that only three persons in the entire world really understood the new theory, and yet, about a decade-and-a -half later, this little boy along with his childhood mate Meghnad Saha, would grow up to translate Einstein's revolutionary ideas. They wouldn't have known then that theirs was the first translation of Einstein's paper into English — the very first one in the world. But even in his wildest dreams, Satyendra Nath Bose might not have imagined that one day his name would permanently be linked with Einstein.

Prof S. N. Bose In the early 1900s Max Planck's quantum theory was hot property. Planck proposed that energy is released in the form of quanta, that is in packets rather than in a continuous manner. He introduced his formula E= hv. Bose was not really comfortable with this theory, so he made his own investigations, and in 1924 came out with his paper: Planck's Law and Light Quantum Hypothesis.

Since he was a youngster at the time, Bose decided to send a copy of his paper to Einstein. "I have ventured to send you," he wrote, "the accompanying article for your perusal and opinion. I am anxious to know what you think of it. You will see that I have tried to deduce the coefficient in Planck’s laws independent of the classical electrodynamics only assuming that the ultimate elementary regions in the Phase space had the content h3."

Bose's short paper considered radiation as a form of gas consisting of photons. Einstein was so impressed by the paper that he himself translated it into German, and sent it to the editor of Zeitschrift fur Physik. He had seen immediately that it was possible to extend Bose's statistical methods to ordinary atoms. This method came to be known as Bose-Einstein statistics. Einstein developed this theme in a two-part paper for the Prussian Academy. "In my opinion," Einstein wrote, "Bose's derivation of Planck's formula signifies an important development. The method considered here yields also the quantum theory of ideal gases which I shall discuss elsewhere."

It was not long before Bose produced another paper: Thermal Equilibrium in Radiation Field in Presence of Matter. He once again sent it to Einstein for comment, and the latter read it and had it published in Zeitschrift. But this time Einstein said that he did not fully agree with Bose.

Later Bose went to Europe to meet Einstein and other great scientists. For a while he worked with Madame Curie. While in Paris, he got interested in X-ray crystallography after meeting the famous de Broglie brothers. Impressed with the young scientist, the brothers invited him to be their guest at their estate. After a year in France, he would spend the next year with Einstein in Berlin.

Before 1908, just a few colleges had science in their curriculum. In 1916, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee decided to convert Calcutta University into a centre for teaching science. He immediately appointed Satyendra Nath Bose and Meghnad Saha to the Applied Mathematics Department. Both of them could not get along with Ghosh Professor of Applied Mathematics, Dr Ganesh Prasad. With Sir Asutosh's permission both of them got transferred to the Department of Physics.

It was a time when the Planck's Quantum Theory, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and Bohr's theory of hydrogen spectrum had taken the world of physics by a storm. Intrigued by these developments, Bose taught himself physics, because the university did not even have good books and science journals.

Bose's first paper The Influence of the Finite Volume of Molecules on the Equation of State was jointly written with Meghnad Saha. It was published in Philosophical Magazine in 1918. His next two papers were published in Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society in 1919 and 1920. They were on The Stress Equations of Equilibrium and Horpol Hode. Both were based purely on mathematical problems.

Since Bose could not get along well with Sir Asutosh, he moved to the then newly established Dacca University, where he would conduct his epoch-making researches. Top


Madame Bhikhaiji Cama
(September 24, 1861- August 30, 1936)

THE venue is the International Socialist Congress, Germany, and the year is 1907. The Tricolour with Bande Mataram written across it is unfurled for the first time on foreign soil, and the person behind this courageous act is Madame Bhikhaiji Cama, considered to be the first woman revolutionary of the freedom struggle.

Madame Bhikhaiji CamaBut she was not always a daredevil, on the contrary she was a very shy and withdrawn girl who grew up in an affluent Parsi family. Her early childhood was spent in luxury, but her marriage was a sad one and did not last long. Rustam Cama, her husband, was too busy a man to pay attention to his sensitive bride. In the dreary days that followed, her only companion was her childhood girlfriend, Frances. And with her help she soon got involved in social work, and later, revolutionary activities.

To begin with she started taking care of patients in hospitals, because some English doctors refused to attend to Indians wounded in anti-government demonstrations. In 1902, she left for London for treatment. While there she met revolutionaries like Dada Bhai Naoroji, Veer Savarkar, and Sardar Singh Rana. .

Thoroughly imbued with revolutionary ideas, Bhikhaiji was soon addressing meetings in Hyde Park."We do not want English institutions. We want our country back. No English oak is wanted in India. We have our own banyan tree and beautiful lotus flowers. We do not want to imitate the British civilisation. No, sir, we will have our own which is higher and nobler."

When Savarkar was arrested, she did her best to get him released. Her activities continued even during World War II, but when France became an ally of the English, she was arrested and jailed for three years.

All her attempts to come back to India were thwarted until the British felt she was harmless. She finally returned in 1935 at the age of 74.Top


Prof Meghnad Saha
(October 6, 1893 - February 16, 1956)

WHILE the revolutionaries were trying to liberate Indians from the foreign yoke, there were others like Professor Meghnad Saha who sought to liberate the Indian mind itself from its self-imposed bondage. "The lethargy and dependence on others," he often observed, "which have become a part of our national character must be replaced by self-reliance and hard work. That is the only way out for us. The youth of this country should set their heart to remove poverty, take over industry, commerce, and other ways of independent livelihood from the clutches of foreigners and get ready to participate in the future task of making the most of our natural resources, large-scale preparation for which is already on. This is a challenge which calls for lifelong struggle and the first thing to be discarded is 'dependence on fate' "

Prof Meghnad Saha Saha's list of achievements is rather long. Besides being an outstanding scientist, he was also a great planner and administrator. He was instrumental in establishing the Uttar Pradesh Academy of Science, now known as the National Academy of Science, at Allahabad in 1930. It was on his recommendation that the National Institute of Science, now called the Indian National Science Academy, was established in New Delhi, in 1935. He also founded the Indian Science News Association, started publishing the journal Science & Culture, and contributed more than a hundred articles on national planning, flood and famine control, atomic physics, calendar reform and archaeology. As a result the Institute of Hydraulics and River Research of Bengal was established in 1942. The ambitious Damodar Valley Authority was also his brainchild.

Although he gained fame as a physicist in school, it was mathematics that attracted him most. In middle school examinations he stood first, winning for himself a scholarship for further education. In the entrance examination, he stood first in the entire East Bengal. In 1909, he joined Dacca College, where he took to learning German, and in 1911 moved to Presidency College, Calcutta, for further studies. At Presidency College, he had J. C. Bose, and P. C. Ray as teachers, and for friends he had Subhas Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose, and P. C. Mahalanobis. With such intellectuals as competitors in the B. Sc. and M. Sc. examinations, young Meghnad stood second — the first position was secured by his friend Satyendra Nath Bose!

In college Meghnad Saha got involved in revolutionary activities, and as a result he had to forego his scholarship. After graduation he gave private lessons to some of his pupils and earned a living. Fortunately for him, Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, offered him a job in the Mathematics Department. Later Saha got himself transferred to the Physics Department and there with meagre facilities, he built a highly sensitive instrument to measure the pressure exerted by light. For this work he was awarded the D. Sc. degree of Calcutta University. By that time he was only 25.

Meanwhile, Saha was drawn towards astronomy after reading Agnes Clarke. He studied all the spectra of the sun and stars which had speared in various journals in the last 25 years, and mathematically linked atoms to conditions existing in the atmosphere and the interior of the sun and the stars.

During his visit to Germany, he came in contact with nuclear scientists like Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassman and Lise Meithner. He realised the potential of nuclear energy, and decided to set up such a programme in India. He came back and introduced nuclear physics as a subject in Calcutta University. However, his plans could not bear fruit because of World War II , and it was only in 1950 that he could go ahead with his plans at the then newly established Institute of Nuclear Physics, now renamed the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics.

It is amazing that this former mathematician not only ushered in the nuclear programme in India, but also devoted his energies to biophysics by installing the country's first electron microscope.

After Independence, he decided to join politics to further the cause of science in India. Being a very popular man, he was elected as MP from NW Calcutta in 1951, but before he could accomplish much, he died on February 16, 1956.

(To be concluded)
Text and illustrations by Kuldip Dhiman