1950 to 1956 about ten of us were engaged in experimental research in
the X-ray laboratory of the Physics Department of Calcutta University
College of Science, under the guidance of Professor S.N. Bose. Apart
from ourselves, students and teachers of other departments, especially
the applied mathematics department, used to come to him and have long
discussions with him. But it had not occurred to any of us to record
systematically what this man of rare brilliance said in those
discussions. He used to work out detailed and distinctly written out
steps of calculations on sheets of paper with meticulous care when he
gave us courses on X-ray crystallography in our mother tongue Bengali.
He would bring out off and on the beauty of the broader perspective of
physics, as he talked on and on for hours to the students sitting
around his table. We did not keep those papers, which would have been a
record of his way of teaching in a branch of physics which was not even
his main field of interest. There is no doubt that the people around
him were not prepared enough to take full advantage of his off beat
No one in our lab used ready made imported equipment for
his work. Every one had to set up instruments from locally available
materials and construct them with the help of technicians of our lab
workshop. Thus a demountable X-ray unit, differential thermal analyser,
fully automatic scanning spectrophotometers for thermoluminescence
studies and some other equipment were fabricated in our lab with
Professor Bose's active involvement.
In the thirties, in the
Department of Physics of Dhaka University under the guidance of
Professor Bose, a mechanic in the lab workshop fabricated a Weissenberg
Camera, the most modern equipment of an X-ray crystallographer at that
time. Professor Bose had built up a full fledged X-ray lb, and the
students of his department and other departments of Dhaka University
and, even the students of his friends from Calcutta, had utilised that
lab for their work.
We had an egalitarian informal atmosphere in
our X-ray lab in Calcutta Science College. Professor Bose was a very
friendly and approachable to all his students. After completing my
Ph.D, I worked in different laboratories, but my association with S.N.
Bose continued up to the end of his life. We had discussions on topics
covering a wide range in and beyond Science, of our common interest in
music, art, philosophic and social aspects of science. He would often
get involved in stories of ordinary human life flowing with wit, humour
In the summer of 1973 the idea of writing a
biography of Professor Bose came to my mind. On July 22, 1973 I went
with a tape recorder to Professor Bose's house in north Calcutta. It
was apparent that he still had a photographic memory and he talked with
a lot of interest. The only regret I had was that we had not begun to
record the story of his life in his own words earlier.
only possible for me to record three long interviews with him on 22
July, 25 July and 15 August, 1973 before he died on 4 February, 1974.
he talked about his friends in Paris and Berlin, he especially
mentioned two of his very close friends. One was Professor Herman Mark
in Berlin and the other was Jacqueline Zadoc Kahn in Paris.
Fortunately, I was able to make contact with both of them. I will
describe some extracts from interviews and correspondences with them. I
hope these records will help terminate the perpetuation of some of the
speculative statements about S.N. Bose.
I requested Dr. Jagdis
Sharma, my former colleague in Professor Bose's laboratory in the
University College of Science, Calcutta who had been working in
different laboratories in the U.S.A., to interview Professor Mark on the
basis of a few questions sent by me. Dr. Sharma promptly sent me a
taped interview in 1974.
Question: Professor Mark, you have met Professor Bose in Berlin and that was about the
period about which we know the least. My question would be: When did
you meet Professor Bose for the first time, under what circumstances and
what do you remember about the initial meeting?
Hermann Mark: In
1924-25 there was in Berlin a famous seminar conducted at the Institute
of Physics of the University of Berlin. At that time, the Director of
that Institute was Professor Rubens. He is very well known as one of the
originators of the infrared spectroscopy. At this seminar, there were
such eminent people as (Max) Planck, (Max von) Laue, (Walther) Nernst, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner,
(Fritz) Haber and a very large number of younger physicists and physical
chemists. At that time, I was a member of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute in Berlin Dahlem [editor: now known as the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry - Otto Hahn Institute], the Director of which was Professor
Herzog and we all capitalised on the opportunity to go downtown Berlin
and attend the physics seminar. There was a subway ride of about 25
minutes, and at our Institute and at the neighbouring Insitute of Professor
Haber there were a number of younger physicists like (Karl Friedrich) Bonhoeffer,
(Theodore von) Karman, (Leó) Szilard, (Eugene) Wigner, (Michael) Polyani, (Karl) Weissenberg and a few others. And we
always travelled together and attended the seminars and in one of those
seminars Bose gave a report on his work. The seminars were conducted in
such a manner that usually two or three talks were given on some very
interesting new article or work that was done by one of the members.
And Laue conducted the seminar, he distributed the articles mainly
among the younger people, and then he would give the talk and the older
experienced professors would ask questions. Everything was done in
German - I should say almost everything was done in German. Bose gave
one of those seminars. That was when I saw him for the first time. That
was based on his ideas about nonclassical statistics of a system
particularly of low temperature characteristics -- and Nernst was
sitting there, Einstein was there (with a hearty laughter) and everyone
interested in low temperature and statistics -- and Planck was also
He (Bose) gave this seminar. I do not remember any more
whether he gave it in German or English. But I think he gave it in
German. Usually, after the presentation, Laue would get up and say,
alright fine, this was nice, and is there any question? Then there
would be a lengthy discussion on what the issue was. And in this case
Laue said immediately, "I am not sufficiently familiar with the topic
and I would like to ask Professor Einstein to comment." Then Einstein said,
"Well I think this is one of the most worthwhile works of the last few
years." He talked about it and asked a few questions and Bose answered
the questions and then Nernst asked a few questions. In other words it
was a very sensational event on that day. Because the discussion on tis
specific seminar took a few hours.
This was the first time I saw
him, and I liked him. Then of course Karman, Szilard, Wigner also asked
questions. We were young and he was young -- so we quickly became
friends and we invited him to come to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in
Dahlem and give us the same seminar to continue the discussion -- and
so he came out a few weeks later and we had there a seminar...
were a number of people who established an atmosphere of friendship and
since at the university it was not quite so lively as it was in the
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute then he came to the Institute almost everyday
and he was very much interested in our work. I worked together with
Weissenberg and Polyani at that time on X-ray structure, study of
crystals of metallic materials -- the way they formed -- and then we
started to work on polymeric materials like cellulose and rubber and he
was very much interested and he always asked sharp questions and kept
us thinking. You know, the most real impression we all had was when
Bose was facing some new of scientific endeavour or activity, he just
sat there, listened for a while and he had a fantastic grasp over the
fundamentals of the specific work and then he would ask questions and
he would ask extremely relevant -- not only intelligent -- questions,
he would ask questions which were piercing and pointing into future
developments. Now, of course, we had a lot of fun when he and Szilard
and Wigner argued about statistics. Szilard was a man who worked with Laue on statistics and
dynamics and Wigner was another mathematician ... so they argued hours
and hours and my wife Mimi, always invited them to come up to us. We
lived in the Institute -- we had a little apartment in the Institute.
So that was very convenient. "Now why don't you come up for a drink of
tea of coffee?" and they all came up ... very informally ... and we had
a very wonderful time.
Question:Before that I would like
to ask you a question. There is some confusion about his interaction
with Einstein. For how long they interacted? When did he come to Berlin?
Mark: During the end of 1924 to 26. Two years. But then in 1926 before
he went back to India we invited him to come to Vienna for a few days
and stay with my parents and son and we went to visit the University.
That time at the University in Vienna there was (Erwin) Schroedinger and there
was (Hans) Thirring and there was (Ludwig) Flamm. Three theoretical physicists and
there was Smekal also and they invited Bose to give a seminar at the
Question:So he interacted with Einstein but at that time he did not publish anything jointly with him.
Mark:I don't remember, I did not read the publication.
Question: Before he went to Einstein he had an intention of working with him. But there was no publication.
you see, because of course they were like Socrates and like Greek
philosophers, they did not publish anything. You see Einstein was also
the same way. He walked out there -- there was a nice park you know in
the neighbourhood of the Institute in Dahlem and there he and Einstein
would walk and they would talk (laughing) and I don't think anything
Question:And this question might sound a
little strange, but there is some background. An article has been
written by a man called Blanpied in this country and he thinks that
Bose was a withdrawn and shy person in Europe...
No! No! (laughing). Full of humour and always with good jokes and then
he would be singing German songs -- of course, when we were having a
party singing German songs and he was conducting!
Question:How did he impress his colleagues in Europe as a thinker in theoretical physics and as a person?
as I said, Bose had to do with (Paul Peter) Ewald, Wigner, Szilard, Karman -- they
were very much impressed and all of them established with him life long
friendship -- all of them!
Question:Do you know anything
about Bose's association with Madame Curie and de Broglie? He was
associated with X-ray work done my Maurice de Broglie in Paris.
think before he came to Berlin he was in Paris a year or so or a few
months -- and we were in Paris at the same time but I did not meet him
then but of course we met Maurice de Broglie. We met Trillat and
Thibaud ... I think he worked with them.
this question is unnecessary. While Bose was there in Germany and
Europe he did utilise his time and it helped him to develop his
scientific research interest later on.
one thing, after coming back to India in 1926 or so for a very long
period he did not produce any papers of any kind. He had been teaching
but he did not produce any papers. Do you think there is some reason
Mark:I would think -- this is my opinion
-- that he was not ... too much of a practical man interested in
detail. We were after details of structural themes -- whether the atom
is here or the atom is there and what would be the consequences ... he
was not interested in that. He was interested in the very broad line of
development of the fundamental physics and specifically of quantum
mechanics that existed at that time and of quantum theory -- the
quantum hypothesis that existed. That was really what attracted him.
Question:Would you make some comments about him as a man?
He was very friendly. He was a real gentleman. And he would tell his
jokes to everybody and had excellent sense of humour. Ah! Wonderful! He
was very benevolent! He could only do good things! We always called him
our Buddha (laughter). He was sitting there on the couch and ...
Question:Is there any special incident which you would like to mention?
maybe, when he was in Vienna you know, that was in 1926 and he gave a
seminar and I mentioned that there was Schrödinger , and many very good
physicists in Vienna. And that was already when Schrödinger was
thinking on wave mechanics you know, because his paper came out in '26,
there was a very interesting conversation. (Louis) De Broglie's thesis was
published ... then of course, everybody realised that it was Bose that
was the forerunner ... it was the statistical expression of the wave
nature of an electron and then the question was "Okay, what are we
going to do now?"
Question:Was Heisenberg also involved at that time?
Mark:No, he was not in Vienna at that time.
Question:The application came with electron diffraction later.
Mark:Well, the theoretical expression came with the Schrödinger equation --
and the experimental proof came with the electron diffraction.
who wrote the article a couple of years back, said that Bose had failed
to fully grasp the significance of his own discovery.
Mark:If somebody makes such a statement, one must ask him, "alright, give us
the reason for the statement," and then he may say, "Well, after these
two papers for a long time Bose did not publish any thing." Then I will
answer him, "you can just as well say, what an idiot was de Broglie
that he did not derive the Schrödinger equation!" (laughter). Of
course, he wrote his thesis and lost interest in it. This does not
prove that de Broglie completely missed the importance of his own
discovery! After all a lot of people have to contribute to progress,
one single mind cannot do everything."
This was the end of the interview with Professor Mark.
met Professor Bose's friend Madame Jacqueline Eisenmann (a retired
scientist of CNRX) in Paris in the summer of 1980. In the course of my
interview with her she gave me the following letter which she had
received from Bose from Berlin in 1926.
Unter der Eichen 88 Bei Ehlert Berlin Dahlem
am in my new rooms since the first day I arrived here; it is very nice
and comfortable and I am really in love with the balcony ... my
firiends live very near me, about 5 minutes walk from here, in the very
buildings of the laboratory and I go there almost every day...
(every physicist) seems to be quite excited in Berlin, about the way
things have been going on with physics, first on the 28th last,
Heisenberg spoke in the colloquium about his theory, then in the last
colloquium, there was a long lecture on the recent hypothesis of the
spinning electron (perhaps you have heard about it). Everybody is quite
bewildered and there is going to be very soon a discussion of
Schroedinger's papers. Einstein seems quite excited about it. The other
day coming from the colloquium, we suddenly found him jumping in the
same compartment where we were, and forthwith he began to talk
excitedly about the things we have just heard. He has to admit that it
seems a tremendous thing considering the lot of things which these new
theories correlate and explain, but he is very much troubled by the
unreasonableness of it all. We are all silent but he talked almost all
the time, unconscious of the interest and wonder that he is exciting in
the minds of other passengers". Bose
Although the letter is
undated, it must be just after April 1926, because Heisenberg presented
his lecture in Berlin colloquium on that date.
Madame Eisenmann wrote in a letter to me:
was then a young girl who had just finished her 'licence de sciences
physiques' and who had just begun to work in Professor Cotton's lab ...
Sylvain Levi, the great Indianist and Sanskritist was a friend of my
father (Dr. Leon Zadoc-Kahn who was in 1943 assassinated by the Germans
with my mother). Learning from my father that I intended to work in
Physics, Levi said he would make me know 'un jeune physician genial'.
was very impatient to meet this genius. When he came to my lab,
accompanied by another Indian named Tendulkar, he did not tell me so as
to tease me, who was the physicist. Bose was so unassuming that I
didn't find out immediately who was who! From that day I saw him very
often. He always went to [Paul] Langevin's lectures. Langevin gave many
lectures. Louis de Broglie came later, Langevin told Madame Curie
about him. Bose worked in Madame Curie's lab and in Maurice de
Broglie's lab for sometime. He went very much to the museum, loved
nature, particularly the alps, went to see and live in the countryside.
talked much about Bengali ... writing science in Bengali -- to teach
the students in Bengali. He impressed me very much by his great love
for his country. He never went to England until India was free. In 1953
he went to England and lived with Dirac.
He went to Germany in October 1924. Perhaps Bose could communicate more with scientists in Germany.
25 July 1973, I asked Professor Bose why he had gone to Paris in the
first place. He answered, "I was informed that my friend Abani
Mukherjee (a terrorist nationalist leader who was absconding) was in
trouble. I had taken some money for him from the country. After meeting
Abani, I thought that I will stay in Paris for a while. I had many
friends there. They asked me to stay on, I got the idea of doing some
experiments so that I would teach these to students in our country. I
worked for a while in Maurice's lab. He had already read my paper. He
told me that his brother did the kind of work that I did."
I asked him about his encounters with Einstein in Berlin, he said, "...
You know that Einstein was included towards "red" -- so that
chauvinistic German students used to create trouble for him. This made
him abandon class lecture. We used to go to his house. He had no
research student either. He used to tell us what he thought and some
times gave lectures too."
Madame Eisenmann said: "It was a
great joy to know Bose at all. He was so wonderful, so gifted, knew so
much about Hebrew literature and religion. He had an extraordinary
heart! He had nearly feminine reaction! He had no ambition for himself,
too modest and humble a young man." Referring to a letter by Bose she wrote, "The letter written in 1951...was sent a few days
after we met in Paris after being entirely without news since 1929.
This encounter was a wonderful shock for me and the first happiness
after the death of my gather an dmy mother in 1943."
told me in Paris, after the war (in 1951), as I asked him whey he had
not published more work, that his surroundings were not favourable. He
added, he had spent a great deal of time in preparing experimental
research work for his pupils in Dhaka."
"Moreover, he said another time that he threw away most of his works that he judged not good enough."
his total 24 [sic] published papers, Professor Bose had published 17
papers after coming back from Europe, between 1936 and 1955. The
context and content of these papers have not yet been analysed. The
topics range from mathematics, theoretical and experimental physics to
biochemistry. Why some of them were not of fundamental important
towards the progress of physics? They were the outcome of resolving
obstacles in handling problems by his students and friends, and also on
problems which are of practical use for our country.
Sometimes he used to spend days after days in chemical laboratories. Under
his guidance students were able to prepare some useful medicines and
also to make significant contributions in the synthesis of important
During the fifties, Bose followed Einstein
in his research on 'Unified Field Theory'. Several other very eminent
scientists such as Herman Weyl, Kaluza, and Schrödinger were also
involved in the field for many years. Bose was drawn into this
movement of handling very difficult mathematical problems and
contributed five papers during 1953-55 which were published in French
Self taught Meghnad and Satyendranath were
teaching untrained students in newly established Departments of
Science. one of them knew the art of getting an aim and building up
towards it, and the other expressed ideas like flashes of lightening
from clouds spread all over in random clusters. Before their
partnership could gather sufficient momentum, one was transferred to
Allahabad and the other to Dhaka. Ours is a large country and each
region has its own specific demands. Only a handful of men had to cope
with the growing demands. They were always under pressure concerning
everything. In the West the scene was different.
Following 'is an extract from an interview with ProfessorAndré Weil,
Professor of Mathematics, Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, taken
by my friend Professor R. Bannerjy (Chemistry Department, Sorbonne) in
Paris on 13.6.1979:
André Weil: I have known Bose in Dhaka in 1932. I
left for India in 1930, with an appointment as head of the Department
of Mathematics of Aligarh Muslim University. T. Vijayaraghavan, a
brilliant young student of G. H. Hardy, left in 1931 for Dhaka
University. I agreed to stay with Vijayaraghavan as his guest for a
period of some weeks. We had become very close friends ... Apart from
Vijayaraghavan, there was no one in the mathematics department in Dhaka
who would have qualified as a mathematician.
I soon met Satyen
Bose, and saw him quite frequently during my stay there. It was clear
that Bose possessed a very brilliant and penetrating intelligence, he
as unwilling to take an interest in any but the deepest problems,
working in almost complete isolation. (K.S.) Krishnan was a brilliant
experimentalist, but he was not much of a theoretician. As to
Vijayaraghavan, he was a typical product of the school of G.H. Hardy,
very deep but narrow, and could be of little use to Bose.
that time, Bose was chiefly interested in "general theory". I do not
agree with those who suggest that his career and reputation was based
on a piece of luck viz., the fact that Einstein took up his early
contribution to theoretical physics. The quality of is intelligence was
such that he deserved whatever position and honours came to him. One
can only deplore that, for lack of a suitable environment, he was
unable to realize his potentiality fully. There is no doubt in my mind
that, given more favourable circumstances, he was well fitted to play a
most important role in laying the foundations for scientific research
Reprinted from The Physicist Bulletin of the Bangladesh Physical Society, January-February 1995, p. 17-21
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* Editor: This article has been slightly edited for spelling and content from the original. Links to names of those mentioned in this article are placed by the Editors of the S N Bose Project, and do not necessarily reflect those of the author or the interviewee. Any errors are the responsibility of the S N Bose Project editors. Photo of Science College and Herman Mark copyright Falguni Sarkar.