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Satyendra Nath Bose – The greatest scientist to miss out on a Nobel Prize

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By Harshmeet Singh

You know you have stumbled upon a ground breaking finding, but no one is willing to believe you. What would your next step be? For Satyendra Nath Bose, the next step was to send all his findings to the most well known scientist on the planet, Albert Einstein.

The first three decades of the 20th century were exciting times for Physics. The theory of relativity and the Quantum theory had just come out and scientists all over the world were undertaking research in these theories. Around the same time, Bose was breaking all the academic records at the most well known educational institutes in Kolkata. He joined the Presidency College in Kolkata and scored the highest marks – second ranker was another famous scientist, Meghnad Saha. While working as a Reader at the University of Dhaka, he came up with a research paper that led to the foundation of quantum statistics.

When all the major publications rejected his paper and termed it as a ‘mistake’, he sent it directly to Albert Einstein, who was the biggest name in Physics at that point of time. Recognizing the significance of his work, Einstein took personal interest in the paper and translated it to German before submitting it to Zeitschrift für Physik, which was a renowned German science journal then. This gave Bose the recognition that he so richly deserved. This gave him a chance to work with scientists like Einstein and Marie Curie at the European X-ray and crystallography laboratories.

Bose’s idea of education was that the students must take the ownership and look beyond what the books offer. When he was the ‘Dean of Faculty’ at the Dhaka University, he insisted that all the students must prepare their own equipment, with the help of local technicians and the material available in the market.

It was Bose’s idea that Einstein adopted and applied to the atoms, leading to the discovery of the Bose-Einstein Condensate. Researches related to the Bose Einstein condensate have won multiple Nobel prizes ever since. In 2001, Carl Edwin Wieman, Eric Allin Cornell and Wolfgang Ketterle won the Nobel Prize for “the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates.” In 2012, The New York Times named Bose as the ‘Father of the God’s particle’ for his discovery of the bosons.

In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan award in 1954. Visva Parichay, the only science book written by Rabindranath Tagore, was dedicated to Bose. Many believe that Bose was highly unlucky to miss out on a Nobel Prize. When asked if he was disappointed by lack of recognition by the Nobel Prize committee, he said, “I have got all the recognition I deserve”. A fading science hero in today’s context, Bose’s work deserves to be cherished in India and the world even today.

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Science writing: A neglected form of literature that needs focus

Science has more to teach us about ourselves, our past and future, than any preacher, politician or philosopher ever could

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The scientists across various disciplines are dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else. Wikimedia Commons
The scientists across various disciplines are dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else. Wikimedia Commons

Along with philosophers, tax lawyers and computer programmers, scientists are perceived as speaking in a language which is supposedly the same as that of common people, but scarcely intelligible to them. And then they use strange symbols, complicated equations, and considerable jargon to talk of “things” unlikely to affect an average person’s life or to be even seen without specialised equipment.

So can scientific writing in any way be even comparable to literature? Yes, for scientists, across various disciplines, are also dealing with the mysteries of life, the universe and everything else, and can express themselves on their subject in ways the most lyrical poet, the most imaginative novelist or the most incisive historian could well envy.

Be it those trying to discern the cosmos’ origin, matter’s structure, the bewildering development and processes of life, including by evolution (despite what some Indian ministers may think), the abundant marvels of nature (including, but beyond humans too), and so on, scientists have written about their work and findings in absorbing ways.

Also Read: Scientists Use Pocket-size Device to Map Human Genetic Code

And in this, they have more to teach us about ourselves, our past and future, than any preacher, politician or philosopher ever could.

Let us take a selection from the last century, which was full of developments across all spheres of science.

And since our existence in terms of our position in the world and the universe is key, we can start with an English physicist, astronomer and mathematician placing things in perspective.

“… we attempt to discover the nature and purpose of the universe which surrounds our home in time and space. Our first impression is something akin to terror. We find the universe terrifying because of its vast meaningless distances, terrifying because of its inconceivably long vistas of time which dwarf human history to the twinkling of an eye, terrifying because of our extreme loneliness, and because of the material insignificance of our home in space — a millionth part of a grain of sand out of all the sea-sand in the world.

Coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution -- and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Wikimedia Commons
Coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution — and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Wikimedia Commons

But above all else, we find the universe terrifying because it appears to be indifferent to life like our own; emotion, ambition and achievement, art and religion seem equally foreign to its plan,” wrote Sir James Hopwood Jeans (1877-1946) in “The Mysterious Universe” (1930).

Also Read: Scientists Solve Mystery Of When Flowers Originated

Then, coming to humans, we cannot ignore evolution — and the contribution of Charles Darwin. Among the best to explain its significance is Helena Cronin (b. 1942), a philosopher of biology and co-director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and the Darwin Centre at the London School of Economics.

“We are all walking archives of ancestral wisdom. Our bodies and minds are live monuments to our forebears’ rare successes. This Darwin has taught us. The human eye, our brain, our instincts, are legacies of natural selection’s victories, embodiments of the cumulative experience of the past,” she says in the beginning of her “The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today” (1991), on one of science’s “foremost achievements” — the Darwinian theory.

Then there are those unravellers of life’s basic building block — DNA structure discoverers James Watson and Francis Crick.

About the moment of discovery, Crick, in his autobiography “What Mad Pursuit” (1988), says his research partner remembers he went into the pub across the road where they launched daily and told everyone they had discovered the secret of life. “Of that, I have no recollection, but I do recall going home and telling (wife) Odile that we seemed to have made a big discovery. Years later she told me that she hadn’t believed a word of it. ‘You were always coming home and saying things like that,’, she said, ‘so naturally, I thought nothing of it’…”

Also Read: Planets Beyond Milky Way Galaxy Discovered For First Time

Watson, after his “The Double Helix” (1968), followed up with “Avoid Boring People” (2007), which has each chapter ending with lessons such as “Never Be The Brightest Person In A Room”, “Avoid Gatherings Of More Two Nobel Prize Winners”, but also “Work On Sundays”, and “Put Lots Of Spin On Balls”.

Switching to the physical world, we cannot ignore possibly the 20th century’s most well-recognised scientist — Albert Einstein. Let’s take his insightful essay, “Religion and Science”, in which he eloquently pleads the case for new, better form of religious experience which will give rise to a new relationship between these two.

After discussing the need-based and the social impulse-based variants which have in common “the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God” and which is only surmounted by “individuals of exceptional endowment”, he comes to a third — “cosmic religious feeling”, which, according to Einstein, “is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research”.

For “only those who realise the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue…”.

Also Read: Is the moon’s surface evolving?

Can there any better exposition of science’s purpose? (IANS)

(Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)