When a relatively unknown teacher born in Kolkata wrote a letter to Albert Einstein in 1924, about his breakthrough in quantum mechanics, no one knew he was going to make history.
This professor was Satyendra Nath Bose, who in 1924 contacted the German physicist claiming that he had derived Planck’s law for black body radiation (which refers to the spectrum of light emitted by any hot object) without any reference to classical electrodynamics. Bose asked Einstein to revise his research paper and, if he found it important enough, to have it published.
Impressed by Bose’s findings, Einstein not only arranged for the publication of the paper, but also translated it into German. In his translator’s note, he said: “Bose’s derivation of Planck’s law seems to me an important step forward. The method used here also yields the quantum ideal gas theory, as I will show elsewhere.
This recognition propelled Bose to fame and glory. He then worked with Einstein and together they developed what is now known as Bose-Einstein statistics. Today, in honor of his legacy, any particle that obeys Bose-Einstein statistics is called a boson. On his 129th birthday, we take a look back at the Indian physicist’s illustrious legacy and stellar achievements.
Beginning of life
Born on January 1, 1894, Bose grew up and studied in Kolkata, where he consolidated his position as an exemplary academician. His father, an accountant in the East India Railways Executive Engineering Department, gave him an arithmetic problem to solve each day before going to work, encouraging Bose’s interest in mathematics.
At age 15, he began earning a bachelor of science degree at Presidency College, then completed his master’s degree in coeducational mathematics in 1915. Bose topped his class for both degrees, and by age 22 he was was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Calcutta. , with astrophysicist Meghnad Saha.
These were difficult times for Indian scholars as World War I had broken out and European scientific journals were relatively infrequent in India. Additionally, most research papers were not available in English, and Bose and Saha had to learn scientific terms in German and French to read the published work. However, the new skill came in handy to them in 1919, when they published English translations of Albert Einstein’s papers on special and general relativity.
Two years later, Bose was appointed to the post of Reader in Physics at the University of Dhaka. It was there that he made his most important contributions to physics.
While teaching Planck’s formula for the energy distribution of black body radiation, Bose began to question the way particles were counted – his basic argument was that a photon of light is indistinguishable from another of the same color – and came up with its own derivation, instead of relying on classical electrodynamics like its predecessors.
Bose first sent his findings, recorded in an article titled Planck’s Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta, to a famous scientific journal called The Philosophical Magazine. However, the paper was rejected. Bose did not lose hope and took the bold step of sending his research to Einstein.
The publication of the article completely changed the life and career of the Indian physicist. He was soon granted study leave from his university for two years and allowed to visit Europe. During his trip, Bose had the opportunity to meet other famous scientists of that time, such as Paul Langevin and Madame Curie. He also joined Maurice de Broglie’s laboratory where he learned the techniques of X-ray spectroscopy and crystallography, the branch of science that deals with the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids.
Back to India
After his two-year stay in Europe, Bose returned to India and was appointed professor of physics and then head of department at the University of Dhaka in 1927. Here he devoted himself entirely to teaching and directing research. . Bose designed equipment for setting up an X-ray crystallography laboratory at the university and authored several articles on a range of topics, such as “D2 Statistics” and “Total Reflection of Electromagnetic Waves in the Ionosphere “.
In 1945 he left Dhaka to return to his alma mater, the University of Calcutta, as a professor of physics Khaira. He retired from the University of Calcutta in 1956 and spent a year as Vice-Chancellor at Viswa-Bharati University.
Bose was awarded Padma Vibhushan, one of the country’s highest civilian honours, by the Indian government in 1954 and five years later was made a National Professor, India’s highest honor for scholars. He lived the rest of his life in Kolkata, until his death in 1974.