Success story of Satyendranath Bose – the Indian behind God’s particle

The discovery of a new subatomic particle, possibly the Higgs boson considered “a key to the cosmic riddle”, has put the spotlight once again on Satyendra Nath Bose,the Indian scientist from whose surname the word ‘boson’ is derived.

Satyendranath Bose was born on the first of January 1894 in Calcutta. Satyendranath was the eldest of his seven children; the rest were all daughters. His father Surendranath was employed in the Engineering Department of the East India Railway. He later set up his own chemical and pharmaceutical company.

Though Surendranath Bose lost his wife at an early age, without losing heart, he brought up all his children well.
Satyendranath Bose’s mother, Amodini Devi, had received little formal education but she skilfully brought up her large family of seven children.

His primary education began in the local English language school established by the British during the colonial period in India. When the British decided to divide the province of Bengal into two administrative units in 1907, his father transferred Bose to a Bengali-language secondary school. There he was encouraged in his interest in science by his headmaster and his mathematics teacher. An early influence was his physics teacher Jagadischandra Bose.

Satyendranath moved to the Hindu School in 1907. It was here that his interest in mathematics and science began, and as is so often the case, it was due to an outstanding mathematics teacher coupled with encouragement from the headmaster. 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 gave him more marks than the maximum. Zeal for work and eagerness to learn new things had taken root in him even in his childhood. Young Satyen loved to improvise apparatus for his experiments. At school, in collaboration with his fellow students, he constructed a telescope and other scientific instruments.

Bose later attended Presidency College, also in Calcutta, earning the highest marks at each institution while fellow student Meghnad Saha came second. At Presidency College, he met great scientists like Jagdish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Roy, who inspired him to take up a career in scientific research.

At the age of nineteen, Bose became a graduate. On the 5th of May 1914, at the age of twenty, In 1920, he completed his post graduation, getting the M.Sc. degree.

Bose started his career in 1916 as a Lecturer in Physics in Calcutta University. He served here from 1916 to 1921. He joined the newly established Dhaka University in 1921 as a Reader in the Department of Physics. In 1924,

Bose’s first important contribution in theoretical physics was a joint research paper with saha. The paper titled “on the influence of the finite volume of molecules on the equation of state”, was published in the philosophical magazine in 1918. The next year bose published two papers in the bulletin of the calcutta mathematical society. One was on “the stress equation of equilibrium” and the other “on horpolhod”. Both these papers were on pure mathematics. In 1920 he again published a joint paper with saha on the equation of state in the philosophical magazine. This was followed by bose’s paper “on the deduction of rydberg’s law from the quantum theory of spectral emission” in 1920. This was also published in philosophical magazine. Then there was no publication from bose for three years.

Along with Saha, Bose prepared the first book in English based on German & French translations of original papers on Einstein’s special and general relativity in 1919.

Between 1918 and 1956, Bose published only twenty-six original scientific papers, most of which dealt with mathematical statistics, electromagnetic properties of the ionosphere, x-ray crystallography, thermoluminescence, and the unified field theory.

While presenting a lecture at the University of Dhaka on the theory of radiation and the ultraviolet catastrophe, Bose intended to show his students that the contemporary theory was inadequate, because it predicted results not in accordance with experimental results. During this lecture, Bose committed an error in applying the theory, which unexpectedly gave a prediction that agreed with the experiment (he later adapted this lecture into a short article called Planck’s Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta).

The derivation of Planck’s formula had not been to Planck’s satisfaction, and Einstein too was unhappy with it. Bose was able to derive the formula for radiation from Boltzmann’s statistics. The paper, and his method of deriving Planck’s radiation formula, was enthusiastically endorsed by Einstein who saw at once that Bose had removed a major objection against light quanta.This paper was only four pages long but it was highly significant. This little article brought about a great change in the life of Satyendranath.

Bose sent his paper to the philosophical magazine but to his disappointment this time his paper was turned down.
Under these circumstances, Bose re-sent the paper to Albert Einstein in June 1924, with a fervent appeal for his perusal and opinion. “Though a complete stranger to you, I do not feel any hesitation in making such a request,” he wrote.

Einstein immediately recognised the significance of this paper. This paper was going to substantiate and revolutionise his theory of photoelectric effect. Einstein himself translated Bose’s paper into German and sent it to Zeitschrift für Physik with his endorsement for publication. With his demigod status, Einstein’s words carried much weight. It was promptly published, and immediately Bose shot into prominence.

Einstein extended Bose’s treatment to material particles whose number is conserved and published several papers on this extension.

Bose’s “error” is now called Bose–Einstein statistics. This result derived by Bose laid the foundation of quantum statistics, as acknowledged by Einstein and Dirac.S. N. Bose’s work on particle statistics (c. 1922), which clarified the behaviour of photons (the particles of light in an enclosure) and opened the door to new ideas on statistics of Microsystems that obey the rules of quantum theory, was one of the top ten achievements of 20th century Indian science.
His work was wholeheartedly supported and appreciated by the leading lights in quantum theory, such as Louise de Broglie, Erwin Schroedinger, Paul Dirac and Heisenburg.

In honour of Bose’ Paul Dirac coined the word ‘Boson’ for those particles which obey Bose’s statistics. In atomic theory, only Fermions (named after Enrico Fermi) and Bosons were named after physicists. What a wonderful distinction conferred on our great scientist.

One kind of boson is the Higgs boson. It is described by physicists in theory, but none has ever seen one yet. The ‘boson’ in the Higgs boson particle, whose search and ultimate detection was one of the longest and most expensive in the history of science, owes its name to Bose.

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.

In 1926, Satyendranath Bose was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Physics., he taught physics to the postgraduate students in Bengali.He was named Khaira professor of physics at Calcutta University in 1945. His students considered him an inspiring teacher and his ability to deliver lectures without notes was legendary. This was a skill he developed as a young man because of his poor vision.

Bose was president of the National Institute of Sciences of India in 1949-1950. He also founded the Science Association of Bengali in 1948. This organization was dedicated to popularizing science in his native language.

Bose became the dean of the Faculty of Sciences from 1952 to 1956. He left Calcutta to become vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal, and served in this position for three years. During 1953-55, at the age of sixty he performed a tour de force and published some important papers in Unified Field Theory, showing that his mathematical powers were still as keen as ever.”

Bose served in the upper house of the Indian parliament from 1952 to 1958. He received the Padma Vibhushan In 1958 he was elected fellow of the British Royal Society. In 1959, he was appointed as the National Professor, the highest honor in the country for a scholar, which he held for 15 years. In 1986 S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences was established by Government of India, in Calcutta in honour of this world renowned Indian scientist.

Bose was a great populariser of science. He strongly felt that it was duty to present science to the common man in his own language. For popularizing science Bose wrote in Bengali. This is the reason why his contribution in popularizing science is not known outside Bengal.


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  1. When his meticulously researched paper sent for publication was returned by the Philosophical Magazine from London with not-so-flattering remarks, Satyendranath Bose did not lose heart. He was so sure of his finding. This was in 1924.

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