17July2019

Boson boffin ‘a forgotten hero’

SCIENTIST Satyendranath Bose, after whom the Higgs-Boson is named, has not been given his due, India has said

Left out: Indian scientist Satyendranath Bose is a "forgotten hero" in the celebrations over the discovery of  the Higgs boson "God particle", the Indian government has said. Picture: AP AP

Left out: Indian scientist Satyendranath Bose is a “forgotten hero” in the celebrations over the discovery of the Higgs boson “God particle”, the Indian government has said. Picture: AP AP

While much of the world was celebrating the international cooperation that led to last week’s breakthrough in identifying the existence of the Higgs boson particle, some in India were smarting over what they saw as a slight against one of their greatest scientists.

Media covering the story gave lots of credit to British physicist Peter Higgs for theorising the elusive subatomic “God particle,” but little was said about Bose.

The scientist in question, Satyendra Nath Bose, worked with Albert Einstein in the 1920s and made discoveries that led to a kind of particle being named for him.

It was Peter Higgs, a British physicist, who in the 1960s made advances in the field, resulting in the naming of  Higgs boson.

Indian newspapers have been unhappy that their star scientist’s name has somehow been forgotten in all of this.

For a start, only the “H” in Higgs boson is capitalized in most cases. In many cases, it’s referred to as the Higgs particle, erasing all allusion to the Indian scientist.

Despite the fact that Bose had little direct involvement in theorising the Higgs boson itself, in India the lack of attention given to one of their own was seen as an insult too big to ignore.

“He is a forgotten hero,” the government lamented in a lengthy statement, noting that Bose was never awarded a Nobel Prize though “at least 10 scientists have been awarded the Nobel” in the same field.

The annoyance marks yet another case in the ever-growing list of perceived global snubs Indians feel they suffer, from the US airport searches of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan to the naming of a superbug after New Delhi, where it was found.

“Indians are touchy about this. All post-colonial societies are touchy about this,” said political psychologist Ashis Nandy of the Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

“The sooner we get out of that, the better.”

Mr Nandy, who interviewed Bose before his death in 1974, said the scientist himself was “least concerned about rankings and prizes.”

The Times of India opined: “Unfortunately, no one seems to care about, at least conveniently forgets, Satyendra Nath Bose, the late Indian physicist whose last name bears the mark of a set of particles including the elusive Higgs boson.”

The boson is named in honour of the Kolkata-born scientist’s work in the 1920s with Albert Einstein in defining one of two basic classes of subatomic particles.

The work describes how photons can be considered particles as well as waves – such as in a laser beam. All particles that follow such behaviour, including the Higgs boson, are called bosons.

Higgs, the English physicist, and others proposed the Higgs boson’s existence in 1964 to explain what might give shape and size to all matter. Laymen and the media sometimes call it the “God particle” because it existence is key to understanding the early evolution of the universe.

By then, Bose was living in his Indian city of Kolkata after 25 years running the physics department at Dacca University, in what is now Bangladesh. Bose died aged 80 in 1974. The Nobel is not awarded posthumously.

Indian newspapers decried the fact that Bose was mostly ignored last week when scientists announced the Higgs boson breakthrough, made using a giant atom smasher at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland.

Bose “remains unmentioned in most news stories about this discovery,” read an opinion piece in the Hindustan Times written by Yale University professor Priyamvada Natarajan, who says Western scientists often gain credit for major discoveries.

“It is harder for scientists to be recognised if they are seen as outliers and if their gender, race or work do not let them belong,” she said.

The Sunday Times of India noted other eminent Indian scientists who “never got their due,” including physicist G.N. Ramachandran who died in 2001 after making biological discoveries like collagen’s triple-helix structure and 3-D imaging used in studying the human body.

Was Satyendranath Bose Merely Lucky to Have the Bosons Named After Him?

Do you know who discovered oxygen? Even though you know oxygen is all around you and that you will die without it, you probably would have died without ever knowing who discovered it. That’s because no one bothered to name the gas ‘Scheelgen’ after the Swedish pharmacist Scheele, who is widely credited with its discovery. (The credit is usually shared between the Swedish pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, and the British clergyman Joseph Priestly.)
However, with a week which passed by, in which the world media was inflated with Higg’s Boson, you are more likely to know the Scottish professor who predicted the existence of the ‘God particle’ which was named after him and that Boson itself is named after Satyendranath Bose of India, who predicted, nearly a century back, the existence of a group of sub atomic particles called Bosons.

While much of the media focus itself was on the ‘God particle,’ very little has been mentioned about the work of Satyendranath Bose, which had far reaching implications on the advancement of particle physics which has lead up to the investigation to find the Higg’s Boson. If Bose hadn’t postulated on this group of sub atomic particles, we might have been, in all possibility still a long way from finding the God particle.

Was Satyendranath Bose Merely Lucky to Have the Bosons Named After Him?

Though India and the Indian government had recognized his greatness by awarding him various honours and positions while he was alive when the Nobel committee itself had failed to acknowledge it, Bose remained a forgotten name, unknown to the new generation Indians and to the world at large, until the discovery of the God particle, announced last week.

In fact, after his death in 1974, the Indians and most of the world outside scientific community weren’t aware of his contribution or achievement. A couple of generations have never heard of him. This was mainly due to the very esoteric nature of his work and contributions to science, which not everyone can understand.

It took a genius like Albert Einstein to recognize the genius in Bose and eventually jointly produce scientific contributions like Bose-Einstein condensate in particle physics. Perhaps the most important of all work of Satyendranath Bose is his short paper with statistical postulations on Max Planck’s quantum mechanics, which Einstein recognized as explaining a gaping hole in the theory and which predicted the existence of sub atomic particles called Bosons, later named after him, in recognition.

Respected Sir, I have ventured to send you the accompanying article for your perusal and opinion. You will see that I have tried to deduce the coefficient … in Planck’s law independent of classical electrodynamics.

What makes Satyendranath Bose the greatest scientist India has produced is his mathematical prowess, a record not broken in the University of Kolkota where he did most of his work, which he applied to postulate his theories about the nature of a set of sub atomic particles, no one had ever seen, until after several years. His greatness, like that of Einstein and many other eminent scientists of the past, 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.

Part of the reasons, other than the implicit difficulty to explain his work to the people, why Bose was not universally recognized or given a Nobel Prize might have been his nationality, like in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, who was never awarded the prestigious price.

Not that Satyendranath Bose and his work would have gone in to oblivion even if the Bosons weren’t named after him or no one really would have searched and found the God particle. His work was undoubtedly a corner stone of modern physics and one way or the other, if not now sometime in the future would have revealed and shown itself as future scientists would have strived for answers to the secrets of the universe.

Now that God particle has reinvented his greatness for the world, it has become all the more important that a modern and emerging India do everything to unearth the greatness and increase the awareness of its immortal scientist to instil ambition and purpose in its youth and future generations. That only can atone a grate scientist who had the misfortune of being born an the wrong place at the wrong time.

A thousand years from now, like oxygen, Bosons will still be around reminding everyone about Satyendranath Bose and his contribution to science, while Professor Higgs, credited with the prediction of Higg’s Boson itself, the God particle everyone went gaga about, might be forgotten as it will be broken down, dissected and analyzed, extending the frontiers of human knowledge.

But that is not why Bose will be remembered. His name will stand out because, if greatness is to be judged by the contribution to the advancement of scientific knowledge, Satyendranath Bose is undoubtedly, the greatest scientists India has produced in recent times.

What Next?

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

You must be Logged in to post comment.