1st January 1894: Satyendra Nath Bose, Indian physicist, was born

An Indian physicist best known for his work on quantum mechanics, Satyendra Nath Bose was born on January 1, 1894, in Calcutta. His work on the subject led to the development of Bose–Einstein statistics and the Bose–Einstein condensate theory. Bosons, a class of elementary particles that obey Bose–Einstein statistics, are named after him.

Bose’s father Surendranath was employed with the East Indian Railway Company.

After completing his matriculation in 1909 Bose studied science at Calcutta’s prestigious Presidency College, which boasted of names such as Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sarada Prasanna Das, Meghnad Saha and P.C. Mahalanobis among its faculty and students at the time. Satyendra Nath Bose went on to secure BSc and MSc degrees in applied mathematics from the University of Calcutta. He got married at the age of 20.

In 1916 he joined the varsity as a research scholar, focusing on the exciting new branch of relativity that had taken the world of science by storm in 1905 after Albert Einstein published several papers that revolutionized physics. At the time when Bose started his research, some physicists in Europe had taken baby steps towards the bold new world of Quantum theory.  

Bose taught for about five years at the University of Calcutta. In 1921 he joined the physics department at the University of Dhaka(now a part of Bangladesh) and played an important role in updating the infrastructure and syllabi of the department at the newly-established university. 

In 1924 he wrote a four-page paper titled “Planck’s Law and the Light Quantum Hypothesis”, which would eventually lead to the creation of the field of quantum statistics. Bose sent the paper to Einstein, who had won the Nobel Prize in physics three years before, along with a letter that said that he had derived “Planck’s law independent of classical electrodynamics.” In the letter to Einstein Bose added, “Though a complete stranger to you, I do not feel any hesitation in making such a request [of getting the paper published if you think it is worth publication]. Because we are all your pupils though profiting only by your teachings through your writings.”

Instantly recognising the importance of the paper, Einstein himself translated it into German and submitted it to the prestigious science journal Zeitschrift für Physik on Bose’s behalf. It was published with an accompanying note by Einstein that stated: “Bose’s derivation of Planck’s formula appears to me an important step forward. The method used here gives also the quantum theory of an ideal gas, as I shall show elsewhere.”

In 1925 Bose sailed to Europe, heading first to Paris where he stayed for a year. Here he worked at the laboratory of the renowned scientist Madame Curie. He was also briefly involved with a group of Indian students in France who were campaigning against British rule in India. After Paris he went to Berlin and met some of the greatest physicists of the time including Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger.   

After returning to India Bose became the head of department of physics at the University of Dhaka. He continued to teach and do research in fields such as X-ray spectroscopy, optical spectroscopy and unified field theories. Before Partition he returned to Calcutta and rejoined the University of Calcutta where he taught till 1956. He was later vice-chancellor at Visva Bharati University. Bose was passionate about teaching science in Bengali and his interests extended far beyond physics.  

He held several important posts including advisor to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research; president of the Indian Physical Society; and president of the Indian Statistical Institute. He was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha. He died on February 4, 1974 in Calcutta.

Reflecting on Bose’s contribution to the world of science, the technology writer Sreedhar Pillai wrote in 2012: “His [Satyendra Nath Bose’s] greatness . . . lies in the fact that most of his work was done in his own god given faculties, in a world which had no computers, software or internet, and in a country far away from Europe, where the mainstream scientific advancement was taking place.”

In an interview that appeared in the North American Bengali Conference Brochure in 2007, Bose’s grandson Falguni Sarkar, who has researched the life and times of the legendary scientist, said: “Bose is a uniquely Bengali figure. He spent 25 years in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I visited Dhaka, and found that Bose is a great hero in Bangladesh, in many ways more than in Kolkata. In Dhaka there is still a great reverence for intellectuals, especially since Bose put Dhaka University on the world map. Satyen Bose is a rare figure that transcends our national boundaries and makes you remember a time when the struggle was for all of Bengal.”

Also on this day:

1950 — Deepa Mehta, Indo-Canadian film director and screenwriter, was born

1951 — Nana Patekar, Indian film actor, was born 

1953 — Salman Khurshid, External Affairs minister and Congress leader, was born

1971 — Jyotiraditya Scindia, Congress leader and union minister, was born

1975 — Sonali Bendre, Indian film actress and model, was born

1978 — Vidya Balan, Indian film actress, was born

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