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A Series on Indian Scientists.

  1. Dr. C V Raman "Use a 10-Kilowatt Brain"

  2. Jagdish Chandra Bose. Beyond Contemporary Comprehension.

  3. For other columns in Hindustan Times, click here.

Indian Scientists

"Use a 10-Kilowatt Brain"

A research student of Physics was conducting an experiment using a one-kilowatt power X-ray tube. On hearing that a scientist in England was experimenting on the same problem with a five-kilowatt X-ray tube, he grew dejected. When his Professor got to know of this, he walked up to the student and with supreme confidence and a smile, said: "There is a very simple solution: use a 10-kilowatt brain on the problem.”

Professor Chandrashekhar Venkata Raman was speaking from experience. He had won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930, with simple equipment barely worth Rs 300. He was also the first scientist from Asia to win the Nobel Prize. Yet his intellectual odyssey to the Nobel Prize started on his return journey to India from England by sea. The year was 1921. The Universities of the British Empire met in London, and Professor C V Raman went on his first visit abroad as the representative of Calcutta University. On his return journey, as he enjoyed the magnificent beauty of the vast Mediterranean Sea around him, he wondered: Is the sea blue due to the reflection of the blue sky? Yet even when big waves rolled over the surface, the blue remained. Lost in his caravan of thoughts as the ship glided through the expanse of water, an idea flashed in him. Perhaps water molecules are scattering the sun’s light, causing the blue color. The idea seized him like a powerful emotion. Barely a month after his return he sent a research paper to the Royal Society of London. Within a year, he published a detailed article on the molecular scattering of light.

Newton had earlier showed in his famous prism experiment that light is made of an infinity of colors. Using a prism, Newton dispersed light into a spectrum of colors. But Raman’s research was focussed on what happens when one such light beam of ‘monochromatic’ or one color, passes through a transparent substance, like water for instance. Naturally, the beam scatters in random directions, but one tiny part of the scattered light changes its frequency from that of the initial color. On February 28, 1928, he finally observed two low-intensity spectral lines that confirmed his theory. The phenomenon he observed is called the Raman Effect.

Raman’s Effect on Alcohol

Within the first twelve years of its discovery, about 1,800 research papers were published and about 2,500 chemical compounds were studied by researchers and scientists around the world. These included, pure water, vapors, gases, crystals, quartz, ice, and even alcohol. Indeed, at a banquet in France in 1948 honouring Raman, Prof. Cabannes, a famous French physicist, proposed the toast and everyone present held a glass of sparkling wine in their hands. Raman, however picked up a sparkling glass of water and said, "Sir, I know what my effect on alcohol is, but I certainly don’t want to try the effect of alcohol on me". So saying, he drank the glass of water to the toast.

As Prof. Raman continued his passionate research into various branches of science, the accolades, awards, and recognition for his genius poured on him throughout his life. Raman’s research centered around sound and light. Born on 7th November, 1888 in a town on the banks of the river Cauvery, called Tiruchirapalli, C V Raman was born to a school teacher who was a scholar in Physics and Maths. The little boy grew up surrounded by music, science, and sanskrit. Little is known of his interest in sound. Raman collected many musical instruments. He published two papers on the amazing sound qualities of ancient Indian instruments like the mridang, tabla, tanpura, and the veena. Using fine grains of sand sprinkled on them he watched the sand patterns as he tapped the instruments. Raman made fascinating insights. The intuitive understanding of our forefathers into the nature of sound and acoustics stunned Raman. Later, Raman also studied the impact of ultrasonic sound waves on light in a liquid. This is known as the Raman-Nath theory. His fascination with the science of light and colors took him to extremes. Once he bought sarees of different colors. He collected a range of crystals, diamonds, rocks, sand that had melted due to lightning, rubies, sapphires, and also grew flowers at his home. He worked all his life till the age of 83, until his death on 21st November, 1970. Beyond his Nobel Prize, the sum total of his life is best expressed in his own words: "I regard as the greatest feature of the world Nature herself. She is the supreme artist; she creates forms of beauty, loveliness and color, unsurpassable and this has been so from the beginning of time. She is the inspiration of not only of artists, painters, sculptors and engineers, but also of men of science."

09 August © niyam bhushan

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