Short Notes on Important Scientists

Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937)

India’s Sir J.C. Bose was one of the greatest interdisciplinary scientists. Sir Nevill Mott, Nobel Laureate in 1977, had remarked about him that he was at least 60 years ahead of his time.

He worked in a very poor research set-up and made some path-breaking discoveries both in Physics and Botany.

He is known to have made a public demonstration of long-distance radio communication in 1896 in presence of the then Governor of Bengal. Subsequently, the Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated trans-Atlantic radio communication in 1901 and got the Nobel Prize in 1909 jointly with Karl Ferdinand Braun for contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy.

Moreover, the receiving device used by Marconi was first invented by Bose and the details of the invention were presented to the Royal Society. That is why; many scientists strongly believe that Bose was not treated fairly.

Contributions of J.C. Bose in Physics and Physiology

  • Bose was a pioneer in the field of electro-magnetic waves and is widely regarded as the first scientist who demonstrated the phenomenon of wireless transmission of electromagnetic waves. The Daily Chronicle of England noted in 1896: “C. Bose has transmitted signals to a distance of nearly a mile and herein lies the first and obvious and exceedingly valuable application of this new theoretical marvel. Bose was also the first to use a semi-conducting crystal as a detector of radio waves.”
  • Bose’s work on plant response to stress and stimulus has opened up new opportunities in the area of stress physiology to develop crop varieties that are tolerant to drought, floods and salinity which are some of the serious consequences of climate change. His work on Mimosa and Desmodium helped establish that plants respond to stress and stimuli much the same way animals do. Bose explained why the lotus opens its petals at sunrise and closes them at sunset.

Yellapragada Subbarao (1895-1948)

Dr. Yellapragada Subbarao was from the West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. With a LMS Certificate from the Madras Medical College, he went to the US and got a diploma from the Harvard Medical School.

He is considered one of the brightest sons of mother India but also one of the most unfairly treated scientists. While working with Cyrus Fiske at the Harvard Medical School as a junior faculty member, he developed a method for the estimation of phosphorus in the body fluids and tissues. He discovered the role of Phosphocreatine and Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in muscular activity, and developed a method to synthesize Folic Acid (Vitamin B9).

We note here that first anticancer drug Methotrexate and the anthelmintic drug Diethylcarbamazine (which was later recommended by WHO for mass scale use for the clinical management of filaria) were discovered by Subbarao. His junior Benjamin Duggar discovered the first tetracycline Aureomycin working under him. But he did not enjoy the credit and recognition that he deserved.

His colleague, George Hitchings, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Gertrude Elion, said, “Some of the nucleotides isolated by Subbarao had to be rediscovered years later by other workers because Fiske, apparently out of jealousy, did not let Subbarao’s contributions see the light of the day.

In 1950, another scientist Doron K. Antrim observed, “You’ve probably never heard of Dr. Yellapragada Subbarao. Yet because he lived you may be alive and are well today. Because he lived you may live longer.” A new fungus Subbaromyces splendens was named in his honour by Cyanamid, an American chemical manufacturing firm.

G.N. Ramachandran (1922-2001)

Apart from playing several important roles in our body, the proteins are also used in therapeutics. However, what had kept the investigators elude over a long time was the complex structure of the proteins. India’s Dr. G.N. Ramachandran, a scientist from Ernakulam with a strong background in theoretical physics, made seminal contribution in understanding the structure of protein molecules.

In 1963, he published the Ramachandran plot, which thence after became an essential tool to assess structures of proteins and other molecules. Ramachandran Plot by Dr. G.N. Ramachandra provides inputs for understanding peptide structure/ Collagen Triple Helical model for collagen structure. It was one of the most notable scientific papers by Indian scientists.

He received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for Physics in 1961 and the Ewald Prize from the International Union of Crystallography for his ‘outstanding contributions to crystallography’ in 1999.

Leading scientists including Prof Linus Pauling and Prof Francis Crick regarded Prof Ramachandran as a scientist of Nobel Prize calibre. Unfortunately he never got it.

Subhas Mukherjee / Subhash Mokhopadhyaya (1931-1981)

On 25 July 1978, the world’s first human test tube baby, Louise Joy Brown, was born at Oldham General Hospital in England. The architects were Robert Edward and Patrick Steptoe. In the methodology followed by them, an ovum was collected using a laparoscope.

But Dr. Subhas Mukhopadhyay, a Kolkata-based physician, increased the number of ova using hormones. Without using a laparoscope, he collected the ovum by performing a small operation. The second test tube baby of the world and the first in India named “Durga” was born on 3 October 1978. However, the news triggered a controversy and his claim was rejected by a committee set up by the Government of West Bengal. Facing social ostracization, bureaucratic negligence, reprimand and insult instead of recognition, Mukhopadhyay committed suicide at his Calcutta residence on 19 June 1981.

Subsequently, Dr T.C. Anand Kumar, Director of the Institute for Research in Reproduction, Mumbai (a unit of the Indian Council of Medical Research) developed a test tube baby named “Harsha” (born 16 August 1986). Despite getting the honour of developing the first human test tube baby in India, he took the pain of going through all the research documents of Mukhopadhyay and was convinced that Mukhopadhyay was the architect of the first human test tube baby in India.

On her 25th birthday, Durga revealed her identity for the first time in a ceremony organized in the memory of Mukhopahdhyay. His work got recognition in India and abroad after his death. A film (Ek doctor ki maut) based on the events of his life received a national award.

Shambhu Nath De (1915-1985)

Cholera is a dreaded bacterial disease. The causative bacterium enters our body via the contaminated water and food, goes to the intestine, multiplies and produces a toxin which causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting. The patient dies of acute dehydration.

How this toxin works, was a puzzle for the scientists for a long time. In 1950s, Dr. Shambhu Nath De of Kolkata Medical College demonstrated for the first time that the toxin was secreted out of the bacterial cell and it worked within the intestine. Thus he nullified a long-standing misconception of many eminent scientists that the toxin spread through blood all over the body.

His paper was published in Nature in 1959. The paper Cholera toxin/determination of precise mechanism how cholera is caused by S N De is considered “a milestone in the history of cholera research”. He used a very simple experimental model involving ligation of rabbit ileum. According to the Nobel Laureate Prof. Joshua Lederberg, the oral rehydration therapy (ORT), which is saving innumerable lives today by remedying the massive fluid loss in cholera patients, should be considered a direct outcome of Dr S.N. De’s discovery of cholera toxin.

His work led to rapid progress in cholera research, but he remained an unsung hero and did not enjoy deserving recognition from the contemporary scientists.

Dr. Ashoke Sen (Born 1956)

In 2012, India’s Ashoke Sen became a millionaire overnight when he won the $3m (£1.9m) Fundamental Physics Prize, the world’s most lucrative academic award. He is a shy, reclusive Indian particle physicist working from a non-descript laboratory in the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in the not-so-happening town of Allahabad in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. (BBC News)

Fundamental Physics Prize was set up by the Russian internet entrepreneur, Yuri Milner. It is sometimes called Russian Nobel Prize. The prize money is three times of Nobel Prize in Physics.

About String Theory

String Theory is an esoteric branch of physics. It is a complex mathematical theory that hopes to explain almost everything we know about the matter and energy in the universe. The string theory as being based “on the idea that the elementary constituents of matter are not point particles, but one dimensional objects or strings. This theory automatically combines quantum mechanics, and general relativity – Einstein’s theory of gravity. It also has the potential for explaining the other known forces of nature – strong, weak and electromagnetic forces”. The mathematical theory itself still cannot be proved or disproved since atom smashers like those at CERN in Geneva have still not attained the enormous energies needed to test the string theory.

Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan

During his five-year stay in Cambridge, he published 21 papers, five of which were in collaboration with Prof. G.H. Hardy. His achievements at Cambridge include the Hardy-Ramanujan circle method in number theory and Roger-Ramanujan’s identities in partition of integers. He worked on composite numbers, algebra of inequalities, probability theory, continued fractions etc.

Once when Hardy visited him in the hospital, he mentioned as a way of greeting that the number of the taxi he had come in was 1729. He added that he thought it was “rather a dull number.” From his sick bed, Ramanujan protested. “No, Hardy”, he said, “it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number that can be expressed in two different ways as the sum of two cubes.” As usual he was right because 1729 can be written as 103+93 and also as 123+13.

Ramanujan’s “deathbed” puzzle is a cryptic formula that he believed came to him in dreams while on his deathbed. In his deathbed in 1920 he had written, in a letter to his mentor G.H. Hardy, about the formula outlining several new mathematical functions together with a theory about how they worked. Recently (2012) the American researchers claim that they have solved the “deathbed” puzzle after more than 90 years. The new findings, which prove the formula right, could explain the behaviour of black holes.

C.V. Raman (1888-1970)

Sir C.V. Raman is known to have placed India on the world Science map. He was the first person from Asia to be awarded a Nobel Prize in any field of science.

How Raman Effect was discovered? A glass of water has no colour. But a deep sea with the same water is a brilliant blue. Why is this so? This was the question that C.V. Raman asked himself in 1921 on seeing the colour of the Mediterranean sea from a ship. He immediately began to conduct experiments on board the ship using some simple instruments he had with him. At that time, scientists believed the sea was blue because it reflected the colour of the sky, but Raman found that it was the water itself that caused blue light to scatter more than other colours in light.

After returning from Europe, he started experiments to study how light behaved when it passed through various substances.

On February 28, 1928, one of the experiments gave a clear result. Light of only one colour was passed through a liquid, but the light that emerged had small traces of another colour. This meant that the molecules in the liquid were changing the colour of some of the light passing through it. The discovery created a sensation around the world and was named the Raman Effect.

In 1930, C.V. Raman became the first person from Asia to be awarded a Nobel Prize in any field of science. The date of the discovery, February 28, is now celebrated as National Science Day in India.

Applications of Raman Effect

The Raman effect has been very useful in many areas of science. It was found that when light was passed through a substance, a series of colours were seen that could be thought of as a fingerprint of the substance. This idea has been used in chemistry, medicine, biology and many other areas of science to find out what a substance is made of.

Raman Scanner

Raman spectroscopy is commonly used in chemistry, since vibrational information is specific to the chemical bonds and symmetry of molecules. Therefore, it provides a fingerprint by which the molecule can be identified. Raman Scanner can be pointed at a substance to tell what it is. Police have begun to use this scanner to find out if people are carrying any banned substances.

Homi Jehangir Bhabha (1909-1966)

Bhabha’s name is associated with Bhabha Scattering, which involves relativistic exchange scattering of electrons and Bhabha-Heitler theory, dealing with production of electron and positron showers in cosmic rays.  At the age of 31, he worked with great physicists like Bohr, Pauli, Dirac, Cockcroft and others, who later became Nobel Laureates.

In late 1930s, he joined the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, as a Reader in the Department of Physics, headed by Sir C. V. Raman and set up a cosmic ray research unit. In 1944, (two years after first experimental demonstration of a nuclear reactor was made in US) he wrote a historic letter to Tata Trust for support in setting up a centre for research work in nuclear science, which could play a central role in the development of nuclear energy. On the basis of this letter, Tata Trust supported him in setting up a laboratory at Kenilworth, Bombay. Subsequently, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was founded and large scale research in physics, chemistry, electronics and mathematics commenced.

Bhabha was instrumental in the formation of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948 and the Department of Atomic Energy in 1954 and he chalked out a focussed research and minerals exploration programmes for nuclear energy. He became its first head. India’s First atomic reactor, Apsara was also established under his guidance, thus he is known as Father of Nuclear Science in India.

In 1950s, he enunciated a three-stage nuclear programme to meet the energy security of the nation. This consisted of utilization of natural uranium, plutonium and abundant thorium resources in thermal, fast and advanced nuclear reactors with closed fuel cycle.

Vikram Sarabhai (1919-70)

The precursor to the current ISRO, Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was set up in 1962 under Dr. Vikram Sarabhai to formulate the Indian Space Programme.  Under Dr. Sarabhai, INCOSPAR took the decision to set up Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) at Thumba on the southern tip of India.

In 1963, under his guidance, India launched a small U.S.-built rocket from Thumba. This rocket did no more than shoot up to a height of about 200 km and release a cloud of sodium vapour which, set aglow by the light of a setting sun, could be seen from afar in the gathering dusk. This was the humble beginning of India’s space programme and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai is thus called father of Indian Space Programme.

In April 1968, Sarabhai set up a group to study the feasibility of developing a launch vehicle to carry a satellite weighing about 30 kg. Following its favourable report, design options for such a vehicle were studied in detail. The configuration of the launch vehicle was chosen after a thorough comparative study of three-stage and four-stage combinations. A four-stage configuration, closely modelled on America’s Scout rocket, was selected and came to be known as SLV-3. The SLV-3 was a small and relatively simple launch vehicle. The SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle) project was headed by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

The launch of first rocket ended in a failure. The second was a success but third was again a failure. After a fourth successful launch, SLV-3 formed the basis of the next-generation ASLV (Augmented SLV). Dr. Sarabhai also directed the launching of India’s first satellite Aryabhatta in 1975.

APJ Abdul Kalam

Dr. Kalam was the project head of the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3). This was India’s first experimental Satellite Launch Vehicle which put the satellite Rohini into orbit. As a director of DRDO, he steared the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), and five projects viz. Prithvi, Trishul, Akash,Nag and Agni were developed under him.

Satyendranath Bose

Satyendranath Bose was born in Calcutta; he was the eldest of the 7 children of his father Surendranath Bose. Bose was a specialist in mathematical physics. A fellow of the Royal Society, Bose was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 1954, incidentally, the Padma Vibhushan was awarded for the first time in 1954 only.

Bose never received a doctorate nor was he awarded a Nobel Prize. He is largely forgotten and Nobel Committee has recognized all other scientists that did work on the concept, whose historic father was Satyendranath Bose.

Contribution to Indian Science

  • SN Bose was born on January 1, 1894. Meghnad Saha was his classmate and J C Bose as his teacher. In 1921, he joined the then newly created Dacca University as Reader in Physics. While teaching, he wrote a paper for deriving the Planck’s Law. His paper was titled ‘Planck’s Law and Light Quantum Hypothesis.
  • In 1900, Max Planck had explained in the theory of black body radiation that light is emitted in discrete amounts (quanta) rather than as a continuous wave. But his derivation of this formula was not satisfactory to other scientists, in fact even to himself. Later, Albert Einstein explained the photoelectric effect based on Planck’s quanta as photons in 1905 in a paper. Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for this paper, not for his papers on Relativity!
  • However, many of his colleagues were not fully convinced of his yet-to-be-developed photon theory. Under these circumstances, Bose re-sent the paper to Albert Einstein in June 1924, with a fervent appeal for his perusal. 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.
  • After this, Einstein personally invited Bose to work with him, and their efforts culminated in the Bose-Einstein statistics, an important and seminal phenomenon in quantum physics. 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.

P. C. Mahalanobis (1893-1972)

Prasantha Chandra Mahalanobis was the first Indian statistician to receive world recognition.  In 1933, Mahalanobis founded the first Indian statistical journal Sankhya, along the lines of Biometrika, which had inspired him greatly.

  • The Government of India established a central statistical unit in 1949 to work under the technical guidance of Mahalanobis.
  • In 1954, the Prime Minister of India called on Mahalanobis to initiate studies in planning at the ISI to help in the formulation of five-year plans.
  • In 1959, the Indian Statistical Institute was declared as an Institute of national importance by the parliament and empowered to award degrees. Within a short span of time Mahalanobis, with his untiring efforts and high intellect, had been able to raise statistics to a high pedestal. Some also call this period the Mahalanobis era in statistics.

Mahalanobis was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, London in 1945. He was also a founder fellow of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA).

Mahalanobis and Indian Statistics
  • In India, statistics came to the centre stage in national life through sample surveys consistently conducted since the 1930s by Professor Mahalanobis and his colleagues in the ISI to understand complex problems of national development and social welfare.
  • This involvement was enhanced when, after independence, Professor Mahalanobis was appointed honorary statistical adviser to the Cabinet.
  • In 1950, through his initiative, the National Sample Survey was undertaken for a socio-economic survey of all-India coverage on a continuing basis. This provided the central government with a database for various developmental programmes for the first time, particularly with respect to the country’s five-year plans.
  • In 1951, the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) was set up at the initiative of Professor Mahalanobis. In 1954, Prime Minister Nehru entrusted him and his colleagues in the institute with the responsibility of preparing the draft Second Five-Year Plan.
  • During the Cold War era, Professor Mahalanobis was perhaps the only Indian scientist who was equally welcome in the USA and the USSR as well as in China and Japan. This should be a noteworthy precedent, which could have some relevance in the midst of the present cross-currents of globalisation.

Mahalanobis is known to have introduced innovative techniques for conducting large-scale National Sample Surveys, calculation of acreage, crop yields, irrigation requirements etc.

S. S. Bhatnagar (1894-1954)

Sir Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar was the Founder -Director of CSIR and first Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC).

Dr. Bhatnagar is known as Father of Indian Research Laboratories, remembered for having established various chemical labs in the country. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was a proponent of scientific development, after the independence in 1947, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was set up and he was the chairman.

Today, the CSIR has grown to become one of the world’s largest networks of scientific laboratories. He developed a total of 12 national labs, for example Central Food Processing Technological Institute, Mysore, the National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi, the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, the Central Fuel Institute, Dhanbad and National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jamshedpur.

His main area of research was emulsions, colloids and industrial chemistry, but his major contribution was in the field of magneto chemistry. He designed the Bhatnagar-Mathur interference balance, along with physicist R. N. Mathur which was later manufactured by a British firm. He also played an important part with Homi Jehangir Bhaba, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Vikram Sarabhai and others in building of post independence science and technology infrastructure and in the formulation of India’s science and technology policy.

Hargobind Khurana

Hargobind Khorana was a noble prize winning Indian-born American biochemist. He passed away in 2011. He shared the 1968 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with two other for research that helped to show how the nucleotides in nucleic acids control the cell’s synthesis of proteins.

Khorana was also awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University in the same year. He was born of Hindu parents in Raipur, a little village in Punjab, which is now part of eastern Pakistan in pre-independent India. Khorana lived in India until 1945, when the award of a Government of India Fellowship made it possible for him to go to England and he studied for a Ph. D. degree at the University of Liverpool and Cambridge and finally moved to US in 1960.

Meghnad Saha (1893-1956)

Meghnad Saha was a truly “stellar” scientist. His theory of thermal ionisation, captured in the Saha equation, was used to explain the long-standing puzzle of what was happening in the atmospheres of stars. It is considered one of the 10 most important contributions to astrophysics of all time. No wonder, Saha was accorded the rare honour of being elected an FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) at the young age of 34.

Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944)

P C Roy is known as Father of the Indian Pharmaceutical industry. In 1893, he started the Bengal Chemical & Pharmaceutical Works, ‘ India’s first chemical and pharmaceutical company which helped bring down the prizes of medicines.

Sisir Kumar Mitra (1890-1963)

Mitra is renowned for his contributions to the study of the ionosphere. Based on his researches Mitra found that the ultraviolet radiations emitted by the sun produced the E layer. This was a wonderful achievement as the presence of this layer had baffled scientists the world over.

Birbal Sahni (1891-1949)

Birbal Sahni, the greatest palaeobotanist India has ever produced, pioneered research in palaeobotany in India. He founded the Institute of Palaeobotany at Lucknow, now named after him, which is the only one of its kind in the world. So intense was his love for palaeobotany that he contributed his entire life’s savings for setting up the institute.

PK Iyenger

PK Iyenger was one of India’s top nuke scientists, who designed the first atomic bomb which was detonated at Pokhran in 1974. He passed away in 2011. He was director of BARC in 1984 and was chairman of the atomic energy commission (AEC) between 1990 and 1993. He started his career with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in 1952, joined the then atomic energy establishment in Mumbai in 1955, and was soon deputed to the Chalk River Laboratories of the Canadian Atomic Energy Establishment.

He had also played a major part in the design of the Dhruva reactor at Trombay.

Though Iyengar had contributed a great deal to various aspects of India’s nuclear programme, he is best known for the part played in the country’s first nuke test, code-named ‘Smiling Buddha’. A few hours before the N-test, Homi Sethna, then chairman of AEC was reported to have asked at Pokhran: “Whose head will roll if the device does not explode.” To this Iyengar replied: “If the laws of physics works, it will work.”

Dr. Tessy Thomas

Dr. Tessy Thomas, also known as “Missile Woman of India” is the Key Scientist for Agni-V in Defence Research and Development Organisation, Hyderabad. She is the first woman scientist to head a missile project in India. Tessy was associate project director of the 3,000 km range Agni-III missile project. She was the project director for mission Agni IV which was successfully tested in 2011.

Tessy was appointed as the Project Director for 5,000 km range Agni-V in 2009 and is based at the Advanced Systems Laboratory in Hyderabad.  The missile was successfully tested on 19 April 2012. In 2011, She received Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award, India’s top science prize. The media loves to call her India’s Agniputri.

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