From this week onwards we begin a new column on anecdotes from the lives of world-renowned mathematicians and scientists. Anecdotes are remembered mostly for what they are intended?entertainment. But our aim is slightly different in introducing this column. We want to convey through anecdotes that scientists were not only great discoverers, unlike you or me but were humane and blessed with humour, humility and humanism, quite like all of us. We shall be carrying incidents from the lives of scientists regularly in this column and would love to receive feedback from you on your reactions to what we write. In case you wish to relate some interesting anecdote from a scientist'slife, we would be only too happy to include it in this column.?Ed.
The genius of Satyendra Bose
Satyendra Nath Bose was a mathematician who brought fame to India for his contribution to quantum statistics. He, along with Nobel laureate Albert Einstein suggested a statistical description of quantum mechanical systems in which there is no restriction on the way in which the energy of particles gets distributed. This theory came to be known as Bose-Einstein statistics.
Satyendra Nath was born in Calcutta (Kolkata) on January 1, 1894 in a Kayastha family. He was a gifted child and it was a happy coincidence that his inborn talent found a congenial atmosphere to develop mentally. Wherever his father went out of Calcutta, he gave his son sums to do on the cemented floor of their store-room. Here young Satyendra would keep writing numbers and keep himself amused. He had weak eyes since childhood, yet he was a voracious reader. His favourite poets were Lord Tennyson and Rabindranath Tagore. He knew Kalidasa'sMeghdoot by heart.
Young Satyendra went to the then famous Hindu School with a great tradition behind it. The mathematics teacher of the school was quick to recognise the signs of genius in the boy and once gave him 110 marks of 100 in a test, his argument being that Satyen did not skip any of the alternatives available for solving the problems. Apart from working out all the sums from textbooks, Satyen would solve similar sums from subsidiary books and by diverse methods. Satyen did most of his studying at night, by the light of an earthen lamp. During the day he was seldom alone, for he adored the company of good friends.
Satyen went on to become a bright star of Calcutta University. He later got himself transfered to the physics department and studied physics on his own. In 1919 he acquired the Premchand Roychand studentship and submitted his D.Sc. thesis and left for Europe in mid 1920. Soon he returned to Dacca.
As a reader in physics at Dacca University in 1923, he submitted a paper in quantum physics for publication in a research magazine but it was rejected. Undaunted, he sent the paper to none other than Einstein for publication in the German journal Zeitschrift fur Physik, with a request to translate it in German. Einstein not only translated and had it published, he appended it with a line: ?Bose'smethod of derivation, in my opinion, signifies a forward step.?
On one occasion Danish Nobel laureate in physics, Niels Bohr, was delivering a lecture; S.N. Bose was in the chair. Bohr was explaining a point on the blackboard, but finding it a difficult task, turned to Bose to ask, ?Can Professor Bose help me??
Bose had been sitting with his eyes closed throughout the lesson. A titter ran through the crowd. To everyone'sastonishment, Bose opened his eyes, got up, solved the problem, sat down and closed his eyes again!
However, fame eluded him for long. It was 34 years after his discovery of the behaviour of radiation that he was elected fellow of the Royal Society.