About Satyendranath Bose, who worked with Einstein
A renowned Indian scientist. He developed a new branch of physics. He worked with Albert Einstein, Madame Curie and other scientists of world renown. He was a veteran teacher revered by his students for his affection, discipline and methodical work.
Some students love mathematics. What are the maximum marks they score in it? It would be a hundred percent. We would be surprised to be told that some students have secured more than a hundred percent, wouldn’t we! One such student was Sathyendranath Bose. As a student of the fourth standard, he set up a new record by scoring 110 marks out of 100. This bright youngster later became a scientist and won worldwide fame.
Once the great scientist, Niles Bohr, was delivering a lecture. Bose presided. At one stage the lecturer had some difficulty in explaining a point.
He had been writing on the blackboard; he stopped and, turning to Bose, said, “Can Professor Bose help me?” All the while Sathyendranath had been sitting with his eyes shut. The audience could not help smiling at Professor Bohr’s words.
But to their great surprise, Bose opened his eyes; in an instant, he solved the lecturer’s difficulty.
Then he sat down and once again closed his eyes!
The fame of Sathyendranath Bose as a brilliant student of physics and mathematics has spread the world over. In India, which is still a developing country, he strove hard for the dissemination of science. In addition, he did significant work in the fields of education, politics, music, and literature, too.
He has come to be popularly known as Sathyen Bose (S. N. Bose).
Boyhood and Education
Sathyendranath Bose was born on the first of January 1894 in Calcutta. Surendranath was his father. He was employed in the Engineering Department of the East India Railway.
Sathyendranath was the eldest of his seven children; the rest were all daughters. Though Surendranath Bose lost his wife at an early age, without losing heart, he brought up his entire children well. It is said that, when Sathyen was hardly three years old, a Bengali astrologer made this prediction: “This child will face many obstacles all through his life; nevertheless he will over-come them with his exceptional intelligence and attain great fame.” The father, naturally, took a special interest in his son’s progress. Though he had seven children, he took care to see that nothing came in the way of the boy’s education.
Yet, it did not appear to him that this youngster was quite serious about his studies. He often wondered if the astrologer’s prediction would remain a mere dream.
As days passed, a thorough change came about in Sathyendranath. By his own effort, he stood first throughout his academic career.
Because of his love for and interest in science he did much research. He earned a name both at home and abroad. Surendranath’s heart was filled with joy when Sathyen earned honor after honor.
Sharing in his son’s glory, Surendranath lived up to the ripe old age of 96. Even in the old age his intellect and memory remained sharp to the end. He would often describe to his friends the activities of his son, Sathyendranath, in his boyhood. Now, that the dream of his boy’s future had come true, his joy knew no bounds.
Amodini was Sathyendranath’s mother. She was sickly. She passed away in 1939.
Even in his school days, Sathyendranath had come to be recognized as an intelligent student.
As a student of the Hindu High School in Calcutta, he established a new record, scoring 110 marks for a maximum of 100 in mathematics. He had solved some problems in mathematics by more than one method. That was why his teacher had to give him more marks than the maximum. So early in life, when he was yet a student at school, his teachers had predicted, ‘Bose will one day become as great a mathematician as Laplace or Cauchy.
Zeal for work and eagerness to learn new things had taken root in him even in his childhood. Young Sathyen loved to improvise apparatus for his experiments. At school, in collaboration with his fellow students, he constructed a telescope and other scientific instruments. No wonder in later life he made many new apparatus one after another. Sathyendranath joined the Presidency College of Calcutta for higher studies.
Guidance from Ideal Teachers
The period of his stay in Presidency College may be called a Golden Age. The company of good friends and classmates and the guidance of ideal teachers shaped his future life. Some of the most renowned scientists – Meghnad Saha, Nikhilranjan Bose, J. C. Ghosh, J. N. Mukherjee, and Girijapathi Bhattacharya – were his classmates. He came to be acquainted with Netaji Subash Chandra Bose also. Sharatchandra Bose was his contemporary.
These youths were fortunate in their teachers.
Eminent scientists like Jagadish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray, and S. N. Maitra were their professors. J. C. Bose taught those physics, while P. C. Ray taught chemistry. These great scientists were also great patriots. They inspired their students to understand the real values, of life and to set definite goals before themselves. Bose was thus able to mold his career and later shine in life.
In Bengal, the Swadeshi movement started when Bose was yet a student. And Bose who was a teenager grew with it. This movement made a great impression on his young mind. All the greater was this impression on him because of his close contact with his teachers P.C. Ray and J. C. Bose.
Teaching at Calcutta University
At the age of nineteen, Bose became a graduate. On the 5th of May 1914, at the age of twenty, he married Ushadevi. The next year, he completed his post-graduation, getting an M.Sc. degree. In all the examinations – the Intermediate, the B.Sc., and the M.Sc. examinations – he annexed the first rank.
In 1915, several young men who had secured the Master’s Degree pressed for the opening of the postgraduate courses in Modern Physics and Modern Mathematics in Calcutta University.
Among them were Meghnad Saha, Jnanachandra Ghosh, and Sathyendranath Bose. In 1916, the University started M.Sc. classes in Modern Mathematics and Modern Physics. M. N. Saha, J. C. Ghosh, and S. N. Bose were all appointed as lecturers. Thus, Bose started his career in 1916 as a Lecturer in Physics at Calcutta University.
He served this University for five years from 1916 to 1921. During this time, his friends and colleagues recognized his exceptional talent. But when he won worldwide fame he was no longer at this University.
The Great Einstein
He joined Dacca University in 1921 as a reader in Physics. While serving in this post he wrote a short article of just six pages in English. It was an article relating to physics, on ‘Max Planck’s Law’ and ‘Light Quantum Hypothesis’. This article was sent to Albert Einstein. He had not only won the Nobel Prize but was one of the world’s greatest scientists in the twentieth century. The learned professor read the article.
This little article brought about a great change in the life of Sathyendranath. When he wrote it he had not yet made a name. He was just an M.Sc. The university, which had employed him was an infant one and was little known. But this article attracted by Albert Einstein. He appreciated it so much that he himself translated it into German and sent it for publication to a famous periodical in Germany – ’Zeitschrift fur Physik’. He also explained at length the significance of the subject matter of the article and the great possibilities the article indicated.
Now Dacca University opened its eyes and recognized the worth of Bose. At that time he had only a master’s degree in science and had no higher academic qualification. Yet the University readily gave him the money for a tour of Europe.
Bose first visited Paris in 1924. He stayed there for a year. He conducted research in the Madame Curie Laboratory, which had special facilities.
Here he became acquainted with several physicists.
The next year, he left Paris for Berlin to join Einstein and work with him. There he came into close contact with noted scientists like Schrödinger and Heisenberg. He participated in all the meetings and discussions held there.
‘Can You Find His Equal?”
While Bose was in Berlin, the post of a professor fell vacant in Dacca University. J. C. Ghosh and other friends persuaded him to apply for the post. Bose had not yet got his doctorate. It was, therefore, difficult for him to secure the professorship. A recommendation from Albert Einstein to select him would have made things easy for him. So, with great hesitation, Bose approached Einstein. Einstein was surprised. He said, “You are so proficient in you’re subject; is their need for any other certificate or recommendation?” He wrote a letter to the authorities of Dacca University in which he said, “Can you find another scientist as proficient as Sathyendranath? He is quite fit for the post.” It had the desired effect. In 1926, Sathyendranath Bose was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Physics.
Bose served in Dacca University for nearly twenty-five years as the Professor teacher he was admired by his students was friendly and helpful to his colleagues. They held him in high esteem.
In 1944, when he was the Head of the Science Section at Dacca University, Bose was chosen as the General President of the thirty-first session of the Science Congress. In 1945, he was appointed as Khaira Professor of Physics at Calcutta University.
He retired from Calcutta University in 1956.
The University honored him on his retirement by appointing him as Emeritus Professor. Later he became the Vice-Chancellor of the Visvabharati University. In 1958, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, London. This was indeed a very great honor. On being appointed a National Professor in 1958 he left the Visvabharati University. He represented India on many international committees.
His Field of Research
The scope of his research was vast and varied.
His main field of work was mathematical physics.
His achievements in many other fields were also considerable.
His first article on theoretical physics was on ‘Equation of State’ based on research conducted and published jointly with Meghnad Saha. Incorporating the Theory of Relativity propounded by Albert Einstein, this equation explained many aspects of the pressure, cubic measure and temperature of gases. This article was published in the ‘Philosophical Magazine’ in 1918. Scientists now refer to it merely as the ‘Saha-Bose Equation’.
The article entitled ‘Stress Equation of Equilibrium’ was published in 1919 in the popular Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society.
Another article with the title ‘Herpolhode’ was published in the same periodical in 1920. His other article on Rydberg’s Principle was also published in the Philosophical Magazine. He enunciated many new theorems in Geometry.
Mention has already been made of a brief paper written by Bose in 1923 which was translated into German by Einstein him. This article, as a matter of fact, had been sent first for publication in the Philosophical Magazine of London but was returned to him unpublished as the editor could not understand the subject matter of the article. Subsequently, it was sent to Albert Einstein.
Bose’s original approach struck Einstein. Later Einstein systematically adapted Bose’s approach in his own work. That is why the particular field of Bose’s research has come to be known as ‘Bose-Einstein Statistics’. Of late it has come to be known merely as ‘Bose Statistics’. Several scientists published papers based on Bose’s brief article. Discussions were also held.
Bose sent another article in 1926 to Einstein relating to the same topic. Einstein translated this article into German but also expressed some doubts and points of disagreement. Sathyendranath Bose, therefore, got an opportunity to meet Einstein and substantiate his argument.
For about six months he stayed in Berlin holding discussions with great scientists and convincing them of his point of view.
Quantum Statistics, a well-known branch of science today, was yet to see the light of day.
Bose’s theoretical exposition developed this branch. Quantum Statistics has enabled scientists to solve several problems scientifically and by cogent reasoning.
Bose sent another paper to Albert Einstein.
The distinguished scientist was at a loss to understand how the solution offered by Bose could be used in physics. He published an article giving expression to his doubts. Bose felt it would be more appropriate to meet the great scientist Einstein and discuss the paper with him than to correspond with him. While he was still planning a visit the news of the sudden death of Einstein stunned him.
Bose had taken Einstein as his ‘Guru’ (the master). He had specially prepared a paper for his meeting with Einstein. He had decided to dedicate this article to him. It was a bitter disappointment to him that his Guru was not alive to accept his offering. In a burst of grief, he tore into pieces the article itself.
The able guidance of the mighty and celebrated scientist Albert Einstein had enabled Bose to explore fresh fields of research. Bose had accepted Einstein as his Guru. In all the correspondence with him, he addressed him so.
Einstein, in turn, had responded with affection.
Every time Bose took a problem to him, Einstein would help solve it, as a teacher solves his students’ problems. A large portrait of Einstein always adorned the room where Bose worked.
A Wide Range of Interests
In those days when there was little encouragement for scientific research, Bose successfully carried on research in physics and discovered Boson and Bose Gas.
Preparing some photo chemicals himself and with the help of X-ray, he started the study of the structure of crystals. In 1954, a conference on crystallography was held in Paris. Several students of Bose had done significant research in this field. At this conference, Bose arranged an exhibition relating to their work.
It is true that all his great research was in Mathematical Physics. But he was interested in many other subjects, too. He had made a serious and deep study of several other branches of science – chemistry, geology, zoology, anthropology, engineering and others. In biochemistry also, he had attained high proficiency. His interest ranged from the manufacture of artificial manure to the manufacture of scents from roses.
The Partition of Bengal
India attained independence in 1947. But the country was split into two and Pakistan was created. Bengal, Bose’s home state, was cut into two. This greatly pained him.
From his boyhood, Bose had loved Bengal deeply. He had traveled throughout the length and breadth of Bengal. He was fascinated with its history and literature. He liked the works of Madhusudan Dutt. No less was his attachment to Rabindranath Tagore’s stories and poems. The art and music of Bengal were dear to him. He had high hopes about the political and economic future of Bengal. But the partition of Bengal dealt a severe blow and shattered all his hopes and aspirations.
An image of Free India was engraved on his heart. But that image was dimmed. He came to feel that the partition of the country had diminished the fruits of freedom. He was afraid that the partition would seriously harm the cause of science. But, fortunately, the partition did not in any way adversely affect scientific work in India.
Interest in Society
Social science was a living ideal in the life of Bose. Without running after wealth, he offered his all to the cause of science and in the service of students and the poor and the needy. He set a glorious example to others by dedicating his life to the service of the country.
It was his heart’s desire that his countrymen should set right the shortcomings of their society. He did not merely talk about this but worked actively. Distinctions of caste and creed, the feeling that one caste was superior and another inferior these he hated. He was convinced that hypocrisy had done great harm to society, and he hated it.
He welcomed with open arms all that was good in our ancient history. Whenever he had leisure he read books in Bengali, English and other languages. Buddhism made a deep appeal to him. He had on several occasions openly said,
“Of all the persons that have walked on this earth, I have the greatest regard for Gautama Buddha.”
He used to say often that everyone was endowed with some talent or the other and that one should find it out and by hard work and constant practice develop it. He was himself a shining example of what he preached.
Bose had great faith in the importance of science. It was his firm belief that the progress of society was bound up with the progress of science and that the progress of mankind had been brought about by the revolution that science had brought about.
He was fond of animals; cats were his favorites. In his old age, he spent his leisure hours playing with cats.
He warmly welcomed everyone who came to him, whatever their problems. It was a great virtue in him that he treated every one of them with affection and encouraged them. Even at the ripe age of eighty, he participated in social discussions.
Love of Literature and Music
Though Bose was primarily a scientist; he was a many-faceted personality. His interests lay not in one sphere or two but in many. He was much interested in literature. The study of literature and the practice of art and music were his hobbies. He could read and enjoy poems in Sanskrit, Bengali, English, French and Italian.
Bose had made a deep study of several works in Bengali and English literature. Besides, he had a good knowledge of French and German literature. He also translated some French stories. He had participated in several literary discussions.
When he was working with Madame Curie in 1926 his conversations and discussions with her were all in French.
He could play well on a Bengali musical instrument, ‘Esraj’, which is similar to the violin. Himself a gifted musician and critic of music had composed some new ragas (tunes).
Development of Science
Sathyen Bose was not content with solving scientific problems. It was his constant endeavor to develop scientific knowledge and the scientific attitude of the common man. For this purpose, he sought the guidance of experienced elders. He did succeed in this very difficult task of taking science to the masses.
At a time when English had glamour for the majority of educated people, Bose understood the importance of Indian languages. He was of the opinion that if science is to be understood by the layman, it has to be taught in his mother tongue.
A science association named ‘Bangiya Vijnana Parishat’ was founded by him in Bengal in 1948.
All its correspondence was carried on in the Bengali language. Right from its inception, it has been bringing out a periodical, entitled ‘Jnan o Bijnan’.
The Parishat has taken up the difficult task of propagating science among the people in their mother tongue, Bengali. For the past twenty-five years, it has been arranging several science exhibitions, lectures and essay competitions in Bengal for the spread of science. It has its own library. It has brought out some books about science in Bengali. Its Silver Jubilee was celebrated in 1974. Bose spared no pains in developing this institution.
The Mother Tongue
He was one of those champions who fought for the introduction of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction. He wrote some books in Bengali for this purpose. As Khaira Professor at Calcutta University in 1945, he taught physics to the postgraduate students in Bengali. His effort was ultimately successful and Calcutta University, at last, got the approval of the Government to impart instruction in the mother tongue.
Bose had believed that with the advent of freedom everything would run smoothly. But to his surprise, he found that the people themselves were not willing to learn in their mother tongue.
It was not easy to win them over. Many people complained that he was ruining the teaching of science. He had to face stiff opposition. But he did not lose heart. He tried his best to carry out his purpose.
Sathyendranath was of a stout build. He wore thick glasses. So he always looked sleepy. All the same, he was ever alert. At several meetings and functions, though he seemed sleepy, every minute throughout the proceedings he would be keenly attentive.
Stepping Into Politics
Bose tried his best to confine himself to the scientific field. But he soon realized that in this country, to work for the progress of science entry into politics was inevitable. So he was compelled to enter politics.
He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1952. He utilized this opportunity to work for the benefit of both science and society. His fight in the political arena was of immense benefit to science and society. He worked untiringly in the political field from 1952 to 1958.
The Ideal Professor
In 1916, he started his career as a lecturer in the Science College of Calcutta University, which had just then been opened. Besides physics, he had to teach his mathematics students several other subjects related to mathematics. In those days there was not a single textbook in English on those subjects. How difficult it is to teach students without books, isn’t it? And yet he solved every problem of the students and made everything clear.
Bose used to say that any student should have confidence in himself. He used to give his students this advice often; do not accept a method of solving a problem just because it comes from someone in authority; accept it only if you are convinced it is correct. He often advised them that they should not be satisfied with reading only the books, which they had to read; he told them they should be interested in several subjects and enlarge their knowledge.
Students could freely approach him after college hours for guidance. Even when he was tired with the day’s strenuous work in the college, he cordially welcomed them and taught them.
Disciplined and fearless
His devotion to duty was exceptional. He never allowed his personal inconvenience and difficulties to interfere with his duty. Once, when he was the Head of the Department of Science at Dacca University, some postgraduate students came to him. They prayed for the postponement of the examinations. Bose did not agree to this.
“Examinations cannot be postponed without valid reasons”, he said. The students threatened that they would not work and go on a hunger strike if their demand was not conceded. Bose said, “I am prepared to resign; but, I am not prepared to postpone the examinations without valid reasons”. The students were not prepared for this reply. They did not wish to lose such a good teacher. So they quietly accepted his decision and went back.
It was impossible for Bose to put up with injustice done to the students. Once Asutosh Mukherjee set the same problem for the M.Sc.
Examination consecutively for three years. And in those three years, no one attempted to solve the problem. Placing this matter before the examiners, Mukherjee thundered, “Do you not teach the subject properly?” No one else had the courage to answer. But Bose was not afraid of speaking the truth. He stood up and said, “If the problem itself is wrong, how can the candidates solve it?” Many of his friends felt that Bose was indiscreet in having given such a reply. But Asutosh realized his mistake and commended Bose.
In India scientists of the caliber of Sathyendranath Bose are rare. His exceptional intelligence solved fresh problems and he kept widening the field of his interest. So he won worldwide fame.
Even at Oxford University, he was considered a very great personality. He was the President of the National Institute of Sciences. The Government of India conferred the ‘Padma Vibhushan’ award on him in 1954 and honored him. On his retirement from service in 1956, Calcutta University honored him by appointing him as Emeritus Professor.
In 1964, Delhi University honored him with the award of the degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.). Many other universities conferred doctorates on him. He became a scientist revered by one and all.
Bose is the author of ‘Light Quanta Statistics’, ‘Affine Connection Co-efficient’ and other works of science. He wrote ‘Albert Einstein’ and several other books in Bengali. Along with Meghnad Saha, Bose has translated from German into English, Einstein’s book on the Theory of Relativity. Several of his research papers have been published in well-known and standard foreign journals.
With all his greatness, he was extraordinarily modest and courteous. He was the President of the Indian Science Congress in 1944. In his presidential address, he made a review of the progress of science. Therein he was generous in praising the work of other scientists. He wrote just one sentence about his own work. A writer, Jagjit Singh by name, wished to write a biography of Bose. He went to Bose to get information from him.
“Why do you waste your precious time in writing my biography?” Bose said.
‘Indians are incapable of achieving anything great in science. At best, they are experts in subjects like philosophy’ – this was the impression people of the West had about us. Bose dispelled that impression. Devoting all his life to the service of the motherland, he did yeoman service in the fields of science, education, politics and social reform.
On the occasion of the celebration of his seventeenth birthday in 1964, a volume was brought out in his honor and many eminent scientists paid homage to him by contributing articles. His eightieth birthday was celebrated in 1974. At the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Quanta Statistics, which was held in the same month, he was felicitated.
Bose is no more
Within a few days, after he completed 80, Bose suffered an unexpected and severe heart attack. He lay ill for some time and breathed his last on the fourth of February 1974.
The death of Bose was a great loss not only to India but also to the whole world and especially to the world of science.
Bose left behind his wife, two sons’ five daughters.
Einstein and Madame Curie are among the world’s great scientists. Bose worked with them.
This itself clearly means that India has definitely secured a high place in the world of science.