The genius who won the Nobel Prize for Physics, with simple equipment barely worth RS. 300. He was the first Asian scientist to win the Nobel Prize. He was a man of boundless curiosity and a lively sense of humor. His spirit of inquiry and devotion to science laid the foundations for scientific research in India. And he won honor as a scientist and affection as a teacher and a man.
One day in 1903, Professor Eliot of Presidency College, Madras, saw a little boy in his B.A. Class. Thinking that he might have strayed into the room, the Professor asked, “Are you a student of the B.A. class?”
“Yes Sir,” the boy answered.
This little incident made the fourteen- year- old boy well known in the college. The youngster was later to become a world famous scientist.
Raman grew up in an atmosphere of music, Sanskrit literature and Science. He stood first in every class and was. Talked about as a child genius. He joined the B.A. class of the Presidency College. In the year 1905, he was the only boy who passed in the first class. He won a gold medal, too.
He joined the M.A. class in the same college and chose Physics (study of matter and energy) as the main subject of study. Love of science, enthusiasm for work and the curiosity to learn new things were natural to Raman. Nature had also given him the power of concentration and intelligence. He used to read more than what was taught in the class. When doubts arose he would set down questions like ‘How?’ ‘Why?’ and ‘Is this true?’ in the Margin in the textbooks.
The works of the German scientist Helmhotlz (1821 – 1891) and the English scientist Lord Raleigh (1842 – 1919) on acoustics (the study of sound) influenced Raman. He took immense interest in the study of sound. When he was eighteen years of age, one of his research papers was -published in the ‘Philosophical Magazine’ of England. Later another paper was published in the scientific journal ‘Nature’.
Officer – Scientist
Raman’s elder brother C.S. Ayyar was in the ‘Indian Audit and Accounts Service’ (I.A.A.S.). Raman also wanted to enter the same department. So he sat for the competitive examination. The day before this examination, the results of the M.A. examination were published. He had passed in first class recording the highest marks in Madras University up to that time. He stood first in the I.A.A.S. examination also.
On May 6, 1907, Raman married Lokasundari Ammal.
At the age of nineteen, Raman held a high post in the government. He was appointed as the Assistant Accountant General in the Finance Department in Calcutta. And the same year something happened to give a new turn to his life.
One evening Raman was returning from his office in a tramcar. He saw the name plate of the ‘Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science’ at 210, Bow Bazaar Street. Immediately he got off the tram and went in. Dr. Amritlal Sircar was the Honarary Secretary of the Association. There were spacious rooms and old scientific instruments, which could be used for demonstration of experiments.
Raman asked whether he could conduct research there in his spare time. Sircar gladly agreed. Raman took up a house adjoining the Association. A door was provided between his house and the laboratory. During the daytime he would attend his office and carry out his duties. His mornings and nights were devoted to research. This gave him full satisfaction. So he continued his ceaseless activities in Calcutta.
From Accounts to Science
At that time Burma and India were under a single government. In 1909, Raman was transferred to. Rangoon, the capital of Burma. When Chandrasekhara Ayyar passed away in 1910, Raman came to Madras on six months’ leave.
After completing the last rites, Raman spent the rest of his leave period doing research in the Madras University laboratories.
The Science College of Calcutta University was started in 1915.
There a chair for Physics was established in memory of Taraknath Palit, a generous man. Raman was appointed Professor. He sacrificed the powerful post in the government, which brought a good salary.
In 1917, at the age of 29, Raman became the Palit Professor. He continued research along with the new assignment.
Raman was very deeply interested in musical instruments such as the Veena, the Violin,the Mridangam and the Tabala. He began to work on them. Around 1918 he explained the complex vibrations of the strings of musical instruments. He later found out the characteristic tones emitted by the Mridangam, the Tabala etc.
Not a Minute to Waste
Absorbed in experiments, it was not unusual for him to forget food and sleep. Sometimes working late at night, he would sleep in the laboratory on one of the tables.
In the mornings too, most of his time was spent in the laboratory. He worked in informal clothes. At 9.30 a.m. he would rush home. After a shave and a bath he would dress up and send for a taxi. He would finish his breakfast in two or three minutes and get into the taxi. Racing over a distance of four miles, he would reach the class on time. He never wasted time.
The Congress of the Universities of the British Empire met in 1921 in London. Raman went to England as the representative of Calcutta University. This was his first visit abroad.
Raman lectured in the ‘Physical Society’ of London. People came in large numbers to listen to him. He was introduced to J.J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford, the famous English Physicists. Raman visited St. Paul’s Church in London. A whisper at one point of the church tower is heard clearly at another point. This effect, produced by the reflection of sound, aroused his curiosity.
The Blue of the Sea
Raman’s journey to England and back was by sea. In his leisure hours, he used to sit on the upper deck of the ship and enjoy the beauty of the vast sea. The deep blue color of the Mediterranean Sea interested the scientist in him. Was the blue due to the reflection of the blue sky? If so, how could it appear in the absence of light? Even when big waves rolled over the surface, the blue remained. As he thought over the problem, it flashed to him that the blue color might be caused by the scattering of the sun’s light by water molecules. He turned over this idea in his mind again and gains. Immediately after his return to Calcutta, he plunged into experiments. Within a month, he prepared a research paper and sent it to the Royal Society of London. Next year he published a lengthy article on the molecular scattering of light.
Sometimes a rainbow appears and delights our eyes. We see in it shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The white ray of the sun includes all these colors. When a beam of sunlight is passed through a glass prism a patch of these *color- bands are seen. This is called the spectrum. The Spectro- meter is an apparatus used to study the spectrum. Spectral lines in it are characteristic of the light passing through the prism. A beam of light that causes a single spectral line is said to be monochromatic.
When a beam of monochromatic light passes through a transparent substance (a substance which allows light to pass through it), the beam is scattered. Raman spent a long time in the study of the scattered light.. On February 28, 1928, he observed two low intensity spectral line corresponding to the incident mono- chromatic light. Years of his labor had borne fruit. It was clear that though the incident light was monochromatic, the scattered light due to it, was not monochromatic.Thus Raman’s experiments discovered a phenomenon which was lying hidden in nature.
The 16th of March 1928 is a memorable day in the history of science. On that day a meeting was held under the joint auspices of the South Indian Science Association and the Science Club of Central College, Bangalore; Raman was the Chief Guest. He announced the new phenomenon discovered by him to the world. He also acknowledged with affection the assistance given by K.S. Krishnan and Venkateshwaran, who were his students.
World-Wide Interest in Raman Effect
Investigations making use of the Raman Effect began in many countries. During the first twelve years after its discovery, about 1800 research papers were published on various aspects of it and about 2500 chemical compounds were studied. Raman Effect was highly praised as one of the greatest discoveries of the third decade of this century.
After the ‘lasers’ (devices that produce intense beams of light, their name coming from the initial letters of ‘Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) came into use in the 1960’s, it became easier to get monochromatic light of very high intensity for experiments. This brought back scientific interest in Raman Effect, and the interest remains alive to this day
The World Honors Raman
Raman received many honors from all over the world for his achievement. In 1928 the Science Society of Rome awarded the Matteucci Medal. In 1929 the British Government knighted him; thereafter Professor Raman came to be known as Professor Sir C..V. Raman. The Royal Society of London awarded the Hughes Medal in 1930.Honorary doctorate degrees were awarded by the Universities of Freiburg (Germany), Glasgow(England), Paris (France), Bombay, Benaras, Dacca, Patna, Mysore and several others.
The Nobel Prize, Too
The highest award a scientist or a writer can get is the Nobel Prize. In 1930, the Swedish Academy of Sciences chose Raman to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics. No Indian and no Asian had received the Nobel Prize for Physics up to that time. At the ceremony for the award, Raman used alcohol to demonstrate the Raman Effect. Later in the evening alcoholic drinks were served at the dinner. But Raman did not touch them. He remained loyal to the Indian traditions.