CV Raman, the man who discovered why seas appear blue


By Nithin Sridhar

India has produced many scientists and mathematicians throughout history who have made many significant contributions that has not only furthered the scientific knowledge, but has also revolutionized human life. One such Indian scientist was Sir CV Raman, who was born on this day, i.e. November 7 in 1888 and who later went on to make unique contributions in the field of optics and acoustics that had revolutionized scientific knowledge.

His life: Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, or CV Raman as he was popularly known was born in Tiruchirapalli in the present day Tamil Nadu as a second child of Chandrasekhar Iyer and Pravathi Ammal.

His father was a lecturer of Physics and Mathematics and Raman was naturally exposed to the wonders of science right from childhood. He finished his matriculation at the age of eleven and then he joined Presidency College in 1902, Madras to pursue Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Physics. He won a gold medal in his BA examinations in 1904 and passed his Master of Arts (MA) in 1907 with highest distinctions.

He joined Indian Finance Department in 1907 as Deputy Accountant general in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and in the same year he married Lokasundari Ammal as well. After joining the financial department, Raman found very little time to indulge in his scientific research yet he managed to keep his interest alive by working on experimental research in the laboratory of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) during his free time.

Finally, in 1917, when Raman was offered Palit Chair of Physics at Calcutta University, he immediately accepted the offer. In 1928, he along with his collaborators at IACS conducted experiments on the scattering of lights and that led to the discovery of what is now famous as Raman Effect. He won the Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1930.

Later, he left IACS and moved to Bangalore in 1933 to join Indian Institute of Science (IISc) as its first director. A year after retiring from IISc in 1948, he established Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, where he continued his research till 1970. He died on November 21 due to massive heart attack.

For his immense contribution to science, Raman was honored with a large number of honorary doctorates. He was also elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1924, and was also honored with Knighthood in 1929.

His Legacy

CV Raman made unique and far reaching contributions in the field of optics. In 1921, when Raman was on a voyage to Europe, he noticed the blue color of the glaciers and the Mediterranean Sea. This led him to investigate the phenomenon of scattering of light that led to the discovery of Raman Effect.

Raman Effect is effectively utilized in various different fields ranging from identifying minerals to detecting diseases and mapping cancerous cells. He also made significant contributions in the field of acoustics. He worked extensively on the acoustics of musical instruments. He, along with his student Nagendra Nath provided theoretical explanations for light scattering by sound waves.

Raman also studied spectroscopic behavior of crystals and the properties of diamond among other things. In 1926, he established Indian Journal of Physics and was also behind the establishment of Indian Academy of Sciences. He mentored various students like Nagendra Nath and G N Ramachandran.

CV Raman contributed to the growth of scientific research in modern India through his journals, institutes, and mentoring of students across the length and breadth of the country. But, most importantly, he served as an inspiration for many generations of budding Indian scientists and science enthusiasts.