Blazing minds in the field of science

They were minds that blazed the fields of physics, mathematics, chemistry, medicine and other scientific branches; and they were all Indians. Odyssey looks back at some of these world-famous scientists…


Homi Jehangir Bhabha (1909- 1966)

Known as the father of Indian Nuclear Science, Bhabha ushered in the atomic age in India. He did significant work in identifying the elementary particles called mesons. As a student, he made some fundamental discoveries in electricity, magnetism, quantum theory and the cosmic rays.

He was not only an eminent cosmic ray scientist, but also a skilled administrator; he was the first Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India. In his honor the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was renamed as the Bhabha Institute of Fundamental Research. The Bhabha Atomic Research Center was also named after him.


Jagdish Chandra Bose (1858-1937)

Famous as a botanist, Bose was also a physicist. He was among the first scientists to prove that plants have life. He developed an instrument called crescograph to detect the minute responses of living organisms, especially plants. He showed that plants responded to light rays and wireless waves. He proved that plants too have feelings and stimuli like animals and respond to wireless and ultraviolet waves that humans cannot see.

Bose has also been credited with the invention of the wireless before Marconi; but being a citizen of British India, he could not announce his discovery. The British Government knighted him in 1917; the same year, he founded the Bose Research Institute in Kolkatta. He was honored as Fellow of Royal Society in 1920.

He has authored Response in the Living and Non-living and The Nervous Mechanism of Plants.


Vikram A Sarabhai (1919-1971)

Sarabhai was the main figure behind the launching of India's first satellite, Aryabhata in 1975. He is well known in the field of cosmic rays. He studied under the eminent scientist Dr. C.V. Raman; his studies revealed that cosmic rays are a stream of energy particles reaching the earth from the outer space, being influenced on their way by the sun, the atmosphere and magnetism. This study helps in observing terrestrial magnetism and the atmosphere, the nature of the sun and outer space.


Sarabhai was the brain behind the formation of the Physical Research Laboratory, virtually the cradle of Indian space program. He was also the chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission and the Indian Space Research Organization.


Birbal Sahani (1891-1949)

Sahani was India's most famous palaeobotanist, the study of fossil plants. He is well known for his studies of the Gondwana Flora and the problem of the age of the Saline Series of the salt range.

Palaeobotany helps in solving the problems connected with the formation of the earth and evolution of plants. It also throws light upon questions of changes of climate in the past.

Sahani's love for science was legendary; when asked to become a secretary to the Ministry of Education, he refused saying that he had dedicated his life to a scientific institution. He was a professor in Lucknow University.


Subramanyan Chandrashekhar (1910-1995)

Nephew of the great physicist, C V Raman, Chandrashekhar was India's second Nobel laureate. He received the prize for his outstanding researches in the field of astronomy. In the early 1930s, he theorized about Black holes. He also demonstrated that there is an upper limit (known as 'Chandrasekhar Limit') to the mass of a White dwarf star. White dwarf is the remnants of a dead star. Prior to 1930, the common scientific notion was that stars, after burning up their fuel, became faint and would leave remnants known as white dwarfs. Today, the works done by Chandrasekhar form a central part of astrophysics.


He emigrated to the USA in 1937 and joined as Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Chicago and remained there till his death. During his lifetime, he wrote dozen books describing the results of his investigations; he was also the editor of the Astrophysical Journal and supervised Ph.D. research for more than 50 students.


Apart from his works in astrophysics, he also contributed to other scientific fields, including rotational figures of equilibrium, stellar interiors, radiative transfer of energy through the atmospheres of stars, hydro magnetic stability and many others.

NASA's premier X-ray observatory was named the Chandra X-ray Observatory in his honor.


Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920)

One of India's greatest mathematicians, this genius made outstanding contributions in the field of number theory, algebric inequalities and fractions. It is said that both his published and unpublished works have some of the best mathematical brains in the world busy even to this day.


He learned mathematics on his own; he found out new formulas for solving mathematical problems and wrote articles about them. Professor Hardy, a scientist in the Cambridge University chanced on one of his articles and impressed by his knowledge, took Ramanujan to England. In 1914, while working in Trinity College, Ramanujan developed the 'Number Theory' and for his valuable contribution, was elected fellow of Trinity College three years later. He returned to India in 1919 and devoted his time to research.


Chandrashekhar Venkata Raman (1888-1970)

India's first Nobel laureate, C V Raman won the coveted prize in 1930 for his research on scattering of light in different media - this phenomenon is knows as the Raman Effect (The discovery that monochromatic light ray in the incident beam can be split up into a number of components with wave length smaller or greater than that of the incident ray). The Raman Effect has helped in better understanding of the interior structure of molecules and atoms. It has also unveiled mysteries in optics, acoustics, and colloids.


He also explained the blueness of the ocean with a very simple experiment; he said the blue of the sea was due not only to the reflection of the sky, as proposed by Lord Rayleigh, but mainly to the scattering of light by water molecules.

Raman's publications are: Molecular Diffraction of Light, Mechanical Theory of Bowed Strings and Diffraction of X-ray's, Theories of Musical Instruments' and many more.


Raman was elected fellow of the Royal Society in London in 1924; he was knighted by the British Government in 1929. He was also the founder of the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore.

Raman became the professor of Physics at the Calcutta University in 1917. After 15 years service at the Calcutta University, Raman shifted to Bangalore and became the Director of the Indian Institute of Science in 1933.


Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944)

P C Ray is well known in the field of pharmaceuticals. He began manufacturing chemicals at home in order to prevent foreign companies to make excessive profits. His works also laid the foundation of a pharmaceutical company that came to be known as Bengal Chemical Works.

He is credited with the discovery of Mercurous Nitrite, when scientists did not know that such a chemical could exist. He also authored The History of Hindu Chemistry.

His scientific contributions apart, Ray also helped the industrialization of the country.


Meghnad Saha (1893-1956)

Meghnad Saha was known as one of the most original astrophysicists. He was a researcher in nuclear physics, cosmic rays and spectrum analysis. He is also best remembered for his equations connecting a star and an atom; the equation is called 'equation of the reaction - isobar for ionization', known as Saha's "Thermo-Ionization Equation". This would also lay down the foundation for several branches in astrophysics. He also invented an instrument to measure the weight and pressure of solar rays. His theory of thermal ionization brought him world fame. He was the chief architect of river planning in India. He prepared the original plan for Damodar Valley Project.


He has authored History of Hindu Science. He was the leading person behind scientific societies like the National Academy of Science (1930), Indian Institute of Science (1935) and the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (1944).


Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974)

Best known for the Bose-Einstein statistics, Bose was a world famous physicist, specializing in mathematical physics; he also worked in tandem with the likes of Einstein and Marie Curie.


Bose worked in radiation and showed that photons or light units were identical and expressed the thermodynamic properties of an assembly of photons. He also solved several equations and formulae of Max Planck's laws on thermodynamics.

The Bose-Einstein statistics was a new type of quantum statistics, which was developed by him along with Albert Einstein. The particles that obey this statistics are called after him as Bosons. Bose got world attention when Einstein realized the importance of Bose's discovery and translated it into German.

Apart from physics he also did some research in biochemistry and Bengali and English literature. He made deep studies in chemistry, geology, zoology, anthropology, engineering and other sciences.


Hargovind Khorana

Khorana is a world-renowned scientist in the field of biochemistry. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, along with Marshall Nierenberg and Robert Holley in 1968 for breaking the genetic code. During his research he developed the method of synthesis of DNA and RNA.

Khorana also produced the first man-made gene - building it partly with a gene of a yeast cell in his laboratory. The man-made gene when inserted into a bacterium worked like a natural gene, paving the way for modern-day genetic engineering; in fact he was among the pioneers that paved the way in modern-day Genetic Engineering.


Khorana became a US citizen in the 60s. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington as well as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1971 he became a foreign member of USSR Academy of Sciences and in 1974 an Honorary Fellow of the Indian Chemical Society. He currently works and teaches in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).