Once the great scientist, Niels 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 Satyendranath 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 Satyendranath 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 Satyen Bose (S. N. Bose).
Satyendranath Bose was born on the first of January 1894 in Calcutta. His father Surendranath was employed in the Engineering Department of the East India Railway. Satyendranath 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 all his children well. It is said that, when Satyen was hardly three years old, a Bengali astrologer made this prediction: “This child will face many obstacles all through his life; nevertheless he will overcome 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 Satyendranath. 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.
Even in his school days, Satyendranath 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 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.
Satyendranath joined Presidency College of Calcutta for higher studies. 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 freedom fighter Netaji Subashchandra Bose also. Saratchandra Bose was his contemporary. These youths were fortunate in their teachers. Eminent scientists like Jagadishchandra Bose, Prafullachandra Ray, S. N. Maitra were their professors. J. C. Bose taught them 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 mould 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. At the age of nineteen, Bose became a graduate. On the 5th of May 1914, at the age of twenty, he married Usha Devi. The next year, he completed his post graduation, getting the 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 post graduate courses in Modern Physics and Modern Mathematics in Calcutta University. Among them were Meghnad Saha, Jnanachandra Ghosh, and Satyendranath 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 in 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 in this University. 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. This little article brought about a great change in the life of Satyendranath. Einstein 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 Schroedinger and Heisenberg. He participated in all the meetings and discussions held there. 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 Satyendranath? He is quite fit for the post.” It had the desired effect. In 1926, Satyendranath Bose was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Physics.
Bose served in Dacca University nearly twenty-five years as 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 in 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 in 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 Viswabharati 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 Viswabharati University. He represented India on many international committees. The scope of his research was vast and varied. His main field of work was mathematical physics.
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 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. Satyendranath 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. 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.
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. 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. 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 every one was endowed with some talent or the other and that one should find it out and by dint of 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.
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 literatures. Besides, he had a good knowledge of French and German literatures. 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, he had composed some new ragas (tunes).
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 Biggyan Parishad’ was founded by him in Bengal in 1948. All its correspondence was carried on in Bengali language. Right from its inception, it has been bringing out a periodical – entitled ‘Jnan o’ Biggyan’. Bose spared no pains in developing this institution. 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 in 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 smooth. 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. 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.
Once, when he was the Head of the Department of Science in 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 calibre of Satyendranath Bose are rare. His exceptional intelligence solved fresh problems and he kept widening the field of his interest. So he won worldwide fame. In Oxford University he was considered as a very great personality. He was the President of the National Institute of Sciences. The Government of India conferred the ‘Padma Bibhushan’ award on him in 1954. 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-effcients’ 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. He was the President of the Indian Science Congress in 1944.
‘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. At the age of 80, Bose suffered an unexpected and a 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.