Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 10 January 2023

129th birth anniversary of Satyendra Nath Bose

Source: By The Indian Express

When a relatively unknown Kolkata-born teacher wrote a letter to Albert Einstein in 1924, about his breakthrough in quantum mechanics, nobody knew he was going to make history.

That teacher was Satyendra Nath Bose, who in 1924 reached out to the German physicist while claiming that he had derived Planck’s law for black body radiation (which refers to the spectrum of light emitted by any hot object) without any reference to classical electrodynamics. Bose asked Einstein to review his research paper and, if he found it important enough, get it published.

Impressed by Bose’s findings, Einstein not only arranged for the publication of the paper but also translated it into German. In his translator’s note, he said, “Bose’s derivation of Planck’s law appears to me an important step forward. The method used here also yields the quantum theory of ideal gas, as I shall show else.”

This recognition catapulted Bose to fame and glory. He went on to work with Einstein and together they developed what is now known as the Bose-Einstein statistics. Today, in honour of his legacy, any particle that obeys the Bose-Einstein statistics is called a boson. On his 129th birth anniversary, we take a look at the Indian physicist’s illustrious legacy and stellar achievements.

Early life

Born on 1 January 1894, Bose grew up and studied in Kolkata, where he solidified his position as an exemplary academician. His father, an accountant in the Executive Engineering Department of the East Indian Railways, gave him an arithmetic problem to solve every day before going to work, encouraging Bose’s interest in mathematics.

By the age of 15, he began pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at the Presidency College, and later finished his MSc in Mixed Mathematics in 1915. Bose topped his class for both degrees and at 22, he was appointed as a lecturer at Calcutta University, along with astrophysicist Meghnad Saha.

These were tough times for Indian researchers as World War I had broken out and, European scientific journals came to India quite infrequently. Not only this, most of the research papers weren’t available in English and both Bose and Saha had to learn scientific terms in German and French languages to read published works. However, the new skill came in handy for them in 1919, when they published English translations of Albert Einstein’s special and general relativity papers.

Two years later, Bose was appointed to the position of Reader in Physics at the University of Dhaka. It was here that he made his most significant contributions to physics.

The Breakthrough

While teaching Planck’s formula for the distribution of energy from black body radiation, Bose began questioning the way particles were counted — his basic argument was that one photon of light is not distinguishable from another of the same colour — and came up with his own derivation, instead of relying on classical electrodynamics like his predecessors.

Bose first sent his findings, recorded in a paper titled Planck’s Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta, to a famous science journal called The Philosophical Magazine. However, the paper was rejected. Bose didn’t lose hope and made the bold decision of sending his research to Einstein.

The publication of the paper completely changed the Indian physicist’s life and career. He was soon granted study leave from his university for two years and allowed to visit Europe. During his trip, Bose got an opportunity to meet other famous scientists of that era, such as Paul Langevin and Madame Curie. He also joined the laboratory of Maurice de Broglie where he learnt techniques of X-ray spectroscopy and crystallography, the branch of science that deals with the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids.

Return to India

After his two-year stay in Europe, Bose came back to India and was appointed professor of physics and then Head of Department at Dhaka University in 1927. Here, he completely devoted himself to teaching and guiding research. Bose designed equipment for setting up an X-ray crystallography laboratory at the university, and wrote several papers on a range of subjects, such as ‘D2 Statistics’, and ‘Total Reflection of Electromagnetic Waves in the Ionosphere’.

In 1945, he left Dhaka to return to his alma mater, the University of Calcutta, as the Khaira Professor of Physics. He retired from the University of Calcutta in 1956 and spent a year as the Vice Chancellor at the Viswa-Bharati University.

Bose was awarded Padma Vibhushan, one of the highest civilian awards in the country, by the Indian government in 1954 and five years later, was appointed as National Professor, the highest honour in India for scholars. He lived the remainder of his life in Kolkata, until his death in 1974.

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