Satyendra Nath Bose

Cover    Welcome    About    Contact Us

<< Part I    Part III>>

Part II

Monument of Science

Satyendra Nath Bose’s work went on to become one of the foundations of modern physics, with his name becoming attached to such fundamental physics concepts as Bose statistics, bosons (a group of fundamental particles in the universe), and the Bose-Einstein Condensation phenomenon. Indeed, Abraham Pais, a biographer of Einstein and a famous scientist in his own right, wrote in “Subtle is the Lord,” his well-known biography of Einstein:

The paper by Bose is the fourth and last of the revolutionary papers of the old quantum theory (the other three being by, respectively, Planck, Einstein, and Bohr).

In 1925 Einstein wrote a series of papers extending Bose's theory of light to matter, and predicted that if particles that followed Bose Statistics, later named Bosons by P A M Dirac, were cooled to a low enough temperature, they would form a new, bizarre form of matter -- a new  condensate which became known as the Bose-Einstein
Condensation phenomenon.

Cooling technology was not sufficiently advanced at that time to prove Einstein's prediction, and it remained one of the unverified theories in physics.  Einstein himself soon after left the field of quantum theory and devoted his scientific energies to purse his Unified Field Theory.  By that time, although Bose did not realize, Einstein had reached his prime, and was slowly moving away from mainstream physics.

Additionally, Einstein's attentions were taken up by his persecution by the rise of fascism in Germany and other parts of Europe.  Being a Jew, Einstein was hounded by his critics, who went so far as to declare quantum theory as the "Jewish science."  By the early 1930s Einstein had enough, and in 1933 he left Germany for good, and moved to Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in the United States, where he was free to pursue his research in the Unified Field Theory.  

Einstein also became more involved in his struggles for peace.  Ironically, his early struggle for peace, based on the principles of pacifism, were dramatically reversed when he realized the potential threat of Nazi Germany acquiring the first atomic bomb.  Einstein wrote a letter to the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt urging him to spare no resources to win the race to the bomb.  Einstein's cry was part of the impetus for the Manhattan Project which leads to America winning the race for the atomic bomb, and eventually the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the immediate deaths of over 200,000 people, and perhaps as many longer term deaths.

Einstein spends the rest of his life campaigning for nuclear disarmament and peace.  He also spends much of his celebrity to be a popular campaigner for Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish nation in Palestine.

Einstein never found the Unified Field Theory.  Interestingly, Bose himself, along with his research students, spent much of his intellectual energies in the 1950s working on solving the many equations of the Unified Field Theory, and published a series of five papers in the field.  He even communicated with Einstein at Princeton.  Einstein himself was on his last lap, and died in 1955 before having a chance to meet Bose again.

Einstein's prediction on the Bose-Einstein Condensation saw slow progress over the next decade.  Then in the 1980s, as laser cooling technologies made significant advancements, especially in the United States, for researchers to pursue Einstein's prediction vigorously.

Then, on the morning of  14 July, 1995, the front page of the New York Times read:

2 Groups of Physicists Produce Matter that Einstein Postulated
By Malcolm W. Browne

By chilling a cloud of atoms to temperature barely above absolute zero, scientists at a Colorado laboratory have at last created a bizarre type of matter that had eluded experimenters ever since its potential existence was postulated by Albert Einstein 70 years ago.

The creation of this Bose-Einstein condensate, as it is called – named for Einstein and the Indian theorist Satyendra Nath Bose – was hailed yesterday as the basis of a new field of research expected to explain some fundamental mysteries of atomic physics.

In a comment being published today by the journal Science, Dr. Keith Burnett, a physicist at Oxford University in England, said, “The term Holy Grail seems quite appropriate, given the singular importance of this discovery.”  

New York Times, July 14, 1995 p. 1 

A mere six years later, in 2001, the first Nobel Prize in Physics in the 21st Century was awarded jointly to Professors Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman of JILA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, USA and Professor Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, USA

for the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates. 

More information available at the Nobel Prize website.

Research in the area of Bose-Einstein condensation has exploded, with many new discoveries constantly being announced.  ((Wolfgang Ketterle notes in a book article on Bose Condensation that: The number of papers published each year with the terms "Bose" and "Einstein" in their title, abstract, or keywords exceeds now 400.  Up till now, approximately 2000 papers have been published on the subject.)  

Many exciting areas of possibility have emerged, including advances in super-conductivity, slowing the speed of light, atom lasers, and quantum computing!

One of the most intriguing questions in the history of science is why Bose was never awarded the Nobel Prize for his contribution to 20th century physics. In many books on science, his name stands out as the one who didn’t get the acknowledgment he deserved. However, the fact that his name is well established as one of the cornerstones of the way we understand the universe and the language of physics, and the fact that every student of physics knows his name and learns of Bose Statistics, bosons and Bose-Einstein Condensation, stands as a monument to his achievements.

Life and Times

But all of this I learned from my own research into the life and work of our famous grandfather. What was more familiar to me was S.N. Bose the man. I have memories as a child of how I used to sit on his lap among his other grandchildren. He used to spend much of his time in his room downstairs in his North Calcutta home, engaged in some important-sounding conversations with important-looking people; or listening with his eyes closed to music or poetry, or play with his many cats. Much of what I know of our grandfather is based on the fond memories of those who knew him, and by reading the writings of those that put their remembrances on paper. It is interesting that while his private persona as "dadu" grandfather was familiar, the public persona of Professor S.N. Bose is steeped in almost mythical stories about a legendary figure, known not only for his achievements in the world of science, but also for his unique, and very human, personality.

Our grandfather was born on January 1, 1894 to a middle-class family in Calcutta. His father, Surendra Nath Bose, was one the founders of the Indian Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works. Bose was the only son in a family with six daughters.

At an early age Bose showed a flair for learning and a thirst for knowledge. His father would leave arithmetic problems scribbled on the veranda floor, and a young Satyendra Nath would sit and do his sums and proudly show his father when he returned. As a young student, Bose was given 110 marks out of 100 in a mathematics class. The extra ten points was given Bose because not only did he answer all of the questions correctly, he answered a number of them in more than one way. This ability to see problems in more than one way, and to find innovative solutions, was a hallmark of Bose’s thinking.

<< Part I                                                            Part III>>