Satyendra Nath Bose’s
path breaking work won him Einstein’s admiration and a permanent place
in the annals of theoretical physics. But few know about his passionate
patriotism or his talent as an esraj player. Falguni Sarkar, a grandson, writes a fond account.
Nath Bose, the founder of Bose-Einstein statistics and the discoverer
of the “Boson,” is well known as a giant in the world of physics and
science as the man who, along with Albert Einstein, revolutionized the
world of theoretical physics and showed the world a new way to imagine
how the world works.
However, many do not know much about the man and his personality.
Nath Bose (1894-1974) was my grandfather. My mother is his youngest
daughter, and over the last few years I have researched his life and
accomplishments. What I have found is a fascinating portrait of a
versatile thinker and a remarkable personality, acknowledged by all who
knew him to be not only a genius, but a kind and gentle soul. I knew
him simply as dadu (grandfather), and faint memories of childhood still
remain of a larger-than-life man, with a kind and gentle smile. Looking
back at these faint memories, I see not only a man with a passion for
science, but also a man who possessed a refined taste for music, and
the art of conversation, which Bengalis refer to as adda. He was a firm
believer in his nation’s freedom, and struggled passionately for
developing the potential of India in the community of nations.
Here is his story.
Rethinking the World
the early part of the century, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was involved
in the quest to reformulate classical physics which was then based on
the works of Isaac Newton and other classical theories. Einstein helped
develop what was to become known as the quantum revolution in physics.
One of the topics that consumed him was the nature of light: was light
a wave or a particle? Einstein tried to explain light without using the
wave theory of light, but the answer eluded him.
In 1924, Satyendra
Nath Bose, then a 30-year-old lecturer at Dhaka University in what was
then East Bengal (now Bangladesh), sent a four-page paper to the by
then world- famous Albert Einstein in Berlin. Einstein had won the
Nobel Prize in 1921, and received hundreds of letters of correspondence
from people all over the world.
biographers have noted that Einstein was deluged with requests from
people seeking his opinions on everything from physics to philosophy,
culture, and even food. In spite of this, Bose’s letter caught the
attention of the great scientist. Bose’s paper was titled “Planck’s Law
and the Light Quantum Hypothesis.” In an accompanying letter, Bose
wrote that he had derived “Planck’s law independent of classical
electrodynamics.” If Einstein thought it worthy of publication, Bose
requested him to please have it published in the leading science
magazine of the day Zeitschrift für Physik.
Struck by the obvious
genius of Bose’s paper, Einstein himself translated the paper into
German, and wrote to Bose that he considered it an “important step
forward.” In August 1924, Bose’s paper was published in Zeitschrift für
Physik, with an accompanying note from Einstein stating: “Bose’s
derivation of Planck’s formula appears to me an important step forward.
The method used here gives also the quantum theory of an ideal gas, as
I shall show elsewhere.” [A. Einstein]
overnight Bose became renowned throughout the scientific world. Indeed,
his work is considered a fundamental breakthrough in the development of
quantum physics. Einstein himself was inspired enough to publish a
number of breakthrough papers where he applied what he first termed
order to understand the significance of Bose’s work, it is important to
look back at the beginnings of the 20th century. At that time a major
debate was raging in the world of physics that tried to say with
certainty if energy flowed in a wave pattern or did light behave as a
particle? The wave theory of classical mechanics was then predominant.
In 1900 Max Planck (1858-1947), the famous German scientist, derived
his well known “Planck’s Constant.” In a paper to the German Physical
Society Planck claimed that energy is emitted not in a continuous flow,
but in discrete bursts — which he termed “quanta.” However, while the
theory opened the way to looking at radiation energy as quanta, he was
unable to completely abandon the wave theory of radiation in his
1905, a 26-year-old Albert Einstein published an article called “Light
Quantum Hypothesis.” In this famous paper, he introduced the
photoelectric effect, and argued that light was formed by light quanta,
which later became known as “photons.” In 1917, Einstein, using
theories presented by Niels Bohr (1885-1962) in 1913 on the emission of
radiation, gave a derivation of Planck’s Law that was later
experimentally confirmed. However, a complete mathematical derivation
of Planck’s law that relied only on the particle nature of radiation
continued to elude Einstein.
was happening as Bose was studying mixed mathematics in
Calcutta. In 1917 he began teaching at Calcutta University, where he
was involved with the Calcutta Mathematical Society. (This society
continues to exist to this day, and houses the S.N. Bose School of
Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences). There Bose worked with such
famous figures as C.V. Raman (1888-1970), the discoverer of the Raman
Effect of the scattering of light, and a Nobel Prize winner in 1930.
Bose also had close relationships with Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis
(1893-1972) founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, and a
lifelong friendship with Meghnad Saha (1893-1956), famous for his
pathbreaking theory of ionization, and its application to stellar
atmosphere. Together, these men and others strived to make Calcutta
University a world-class institution, in spite of poor facilities and
a lack of funds.
In 1921, Bose left his
beloved Calcutta and took up a position in Dhaka University, where he
was a reader of physics. It was there that Bose wrote his famous paper,
which he sent to Einstein in 1924. He also sent a second paper to
Einstein, which was also translated and published by Einstein. This
paper set the world of physics on fire, and things would never be the
1925 Bose traveled to Europe on a study leave from Dhaka University. He set sail from Bombay (now Mumbai) and went to Paris. There
he met famous scientists and scholars, and worked in Madame Curie’s
(1867-1934) laboratory on X-rays and radiation. It was in Paris that
Bose became involved with a group of expatriate Indian students who
agitated against British rule. Bose was himself questioned by the
authorities for his knowledge of these activities, although he was
able to escape any persecution due to the support of his close French
year’s stay, Bose traveled to Berlin and met Einstein, who
introduced him to all of the eminent scientists of the day, including
Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), Erwin Schrödinger
(1887-1961), and many others.
Bose spent a year in Berlin, attending lectures and seminars, and visiting with other scientists and scholars. In a letter to a friend in Paris, he wrote:
Everybody (every physicist) seem to be quite excited in Berlin about the way things have been going on with physics. First on the 28th last Heisenberg spoken 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 of it). Everybody is quite bewildered and then there is going to be very soon a discussion of Schrödinger’s paper. Einstein seems quite excited about it.
The other day coming from the colloquium, we 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 were all silent, but he talked almost all of the time, unconscious of the interest and wonder that he is exciting in the minds of the other passengers. [S.N. Bose, 1926]
Bose was a passionate patriot, and refused to visit England, because he had vowed that as long as he was a member of a subject race in the English colonial empire, he would not visit England. It was not until after independence that Bose visited England.