Sunday, March 20, 2011

Satyendra Nath Bose - A Nobel Miss

--The Scientist who deserved the Nobel Prize but missed it

It remains a wonder among the scientific community even today why Satyendra Nath Bose, a versatile genius and a scientist, was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, in spite of his name having been closely associated with what came to be known as “Bose-Einstein Statistics and Bosons”. The question that we should ask, in terms of decades and centuries ahead, is not whether a scientist has received a Nobel Prize , but
whether his name will survive in the pages of science that all will read, discuss, debate and use. In the latter category will come Satyendra Nath Bose. Bose-Einstein Statistics and the use of the word Bosons will live on a permanent basis in the history and development of science.

Satyendra was born in Calcutta on 1st January 1894 in a Kayastha family with two generations of English education behind them. His father was working in the engineering department of the East Indian Railways. Satyendra Nath was born at a period when the country was witnessing a new political awakening all over, particularly in Bengal. The impact of the British rule, the introduction of the English education, the growth of a new economy, the partition of Bengal—all these factors led to the creation of a middle class intelligentsia which was sensitive to the new winds of change. The new awareness brought about its inevitable consequence—an upsurge of nationalist movement. Into this age was born Satyendra Nath.

Bose was a born genius. He started schooling at the age of five and in the final year of schooling he joined famous Hindu High School of Calcutta which was founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1817 and which was the first school in the country to impart English education. In spite of weak eyes, Satyendra was a voracious reader whose favourite poets were Tennyson and Tagore. He was a lover of Sanskrit and it is said that he could recite the entire ‘Meghadutam’ of Kalidasa by heart. In 1905, when Bose was 11 years old, Lord Curzon announced the partition of Bengal. The educated Bengali rose up in protest, a wave of new patriotism swept over Bengal. Satyen and his generation grew into manhood in this atmosphere of inspired idealism.

Satyen joined the Presidency College in Calcutta in 1915 and topped the list in M.Sc Mathematics. In 1914 he got married to a girl of 11 years while he was still a student of M.Sc. The selection of the girl was entirely left to the choice of his mother but the only condition he laid down was that not a penny should be accepted as dowry. After obtaining the M.Sc degree in Mathematics, he joined the Calcutta University as a lecturer in the Applied Mechanics Department. As he could not get along with the then Professor of Mathematics, he got himself transferred to the Physics Department, even though his formal training in Physics was only up to the B.Sc level. However, intelligent and studious as he was, Satyen studied Modern Physics on his own, took lessons in German language and became entirely self-taught in Physics. In course of time. He specialized in the Theory of Electromagnetism and The Theory of Relativity. In 1921 he joined the newly founded Dacca University as Reader in Physics.

In 1924 Satyen got his paper on “Planck’s Law and Light Quantum Hypothesis” published in the well-known German Scientific Journal ‘Zeitschrift fur Physik’. This paper made him famous all over the world. The paper was published in German, after its translation to German by no less a person than the Nobel Laureate Albert Einstein who made the following comment:
“In my opinion Bose’s derivation of the Planck formula signifies an important development in the scientific field”
With the publication of this paper, Satyen got an opportunity to go abroad and make further studies. He went to Paris in 1924 on a study leave for two years. After spending about a year in France and working with the luminaries of Modern Physics, Satyen left for Berlin in 1925. There he met Einstein, spent about a year attending seminars, lectures, workshops etc and came into close contact with all the towering figures of science. In 1926 he returned to Dacca University as Professor of Physics and worked there for almost 19 years till 1945 and built up the University. He devoted most of his time in building up an intellectual and devoted young group of scientists with the result that he was able to publish only a handful of papers in international journals.

With the dawn of the year 1945 when the Second World War was coming to a close and there was rising political tension in Dacca, not conducive to academic environment, Bose left Dacca and went to his alma mater The Presidency College at Calcutta as Professor of Physics. It was a happy home-coming. He stayed there till 1956 until he was 62 and thereafter joined Tagore’s Vishwabharati University as Vice-Chancellor where he worked till 1958 and then retired. In 1952 a delegation of teachers from India was going to visit China. Bose was requested to join them. Initially he agreed but when he was told that it was going to be a seven-day whirlwind tour with the condition that after their return, they were supposed to speak about their Chinese experience, Bose withdrew. He said that since he did not know either their language or their temperament, all he could do was to meet a few people in meetings. How could one call that a fruitful experience?

Bose was a sort of an unconventional scientist. Much of the work done by him was on loose sheets of paper which he never bothered to preserve. After his paper was published in any of the scientific journals, he washed his hands clean and cared the least to preserve the hand-written manuscripts. Thus the intriguing problems concerning the Theory of Numbers on which he had been thinking for over 20 years never got published. He seemed to care the least about the publication of papers. For him, knowledge was much more important than getting a Doctorate degree. It was for this reason that the number of doctorates who worked under him was hardly a dozen.

In January 1974 when he completed 80 years, celebrations were organized on a nationwide scale. To coincide with it, an International Seminar of leading world scientists was held in Calcutta. Bose spoke about long years of his struggle and the satisfaction of having seen his life’s work appreciated at long last. He ended his words with “Now I feel that I do not need to live any longer”. His words ended with a ring of prophecy for he passed away peacefully on 4th February 1974.


ARTICLE NO. 415--Satyendra Nath Bose--Sceintist who missed the Nobel Prize
Created: Friday, November 2, 2007 9:41 PM


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