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Sir C. V. Raman: The Pioneer Of Modern Science In India

  • 07 Nov 2022

At a time of distress when the entire nation was struggling to be free from the shackles of oppression and cruelty, a man of science was busy making space for India on the globe.

“Look at the resplendent colours on the soap bubbles! Why is the sea blue? What makes diamond glitter? Ask the right questions, and nature will open the doors to her secrets.”

These are the words of Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, also known as Sir C V Raman, whose inquisitiveness and incessant efforts to find the answers made him the first Asian physicist to receive the Nobel prize in 1930.
7th November marks the birth anniversary of this revered scientist who discovered the Raman Effect. His discovery enabled the scientific community to move forward and better understand various natural phenomena.

Sir C V Raman was born in 1888 in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. His father was Chandrashekhar Ramanathan. He was a lecturer of Mathematics and Physics at the Presidency College at the University of Madras. He graduated at the age of 16 from the same college. He was a brilliant student and a gold medalist. After obtaining Masters' in Physics, he secured a government job in Indian Finance Department. He continued experimental research in acoustics and optics in the laboratory of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS). He also published his work in leading Physics journals.

In 1917, he left his government job and became a Palit Professor of Physics at the University of Calcutta. He continued studying acoustics, the sounds of stringed instruments like violin and veena and percussion instruments like tabla and mridangam. His work earned him a good reputation among his peers in the country and internationally. On his first trip to London in 1921, he received a warm welcome from English Physicists J. J. Thomson and Lord Rutherford.

While returning to India from London via sea route, the blue colour of the sea caught his attention. Dissatisfied with Lord Railey’s explanation that the colour of the sea was blue due to the reflection of the colour of the sky, he decided to investigate the reason behind it. With his mentee K. S. Krishnan, he started studying light scattering.

His sincerity, dedication, and contribution towards the discipline of physics got recognition from the Royal Society of London when he was elected a fellow of the society in 1924. He got invited to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the United States by Nobel Laureate Robert Millikan, where he spent four months studying the scattering of light. On 28th February 1928, he finally got his answer when he discovered Raman Effect, according to which the light changes its wavelength and frequency when it gets deflected by molecules. The day has been commemorated as National Science Day every year since 1987

Sir Raman was already a renowned name in the field of science but discovering the Raman effect strengthened his position in the community. He received a knighthood from the Royal Society of London in 1929, and the following year he became the first Indian scientist to be honoured with the Nobel Prize. He also headed the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore as the first Indian director.

Sir Raman was educated in India; he did most of his research work here and went on to earn the reputation of an internationally celebrated physicist. Ernest Rutherford, who discovered the nucleus, referred to Raman’s Spectroscopy in his presidential address to the Royal Society of London.

Sir Raman dreamt of building a society in India like the Royal Society of London and other entities in the world to inculcate scientific temperament in the Indian youth. In 1934 he founded the Indian Academy of Science (IAS) in Bangalore to further the cause of science. After retiring from IISc, Sir Raman founded Raman Research Institute (RRI) to continue his research. He remained the director of RRI until his death on 21st November 1970.

He expressed his disappointment in Indian talent leaving the country to find better opportunities abroad when he said:

“My life has been an utter failure. I thought I would try to build true science in this country, but all we have is a legion of camp followers for the west.”

But he remained open to working with western physicists like Max Born and Erwin Schrodinger, both of who were Nobel Laureates. He persuaded German scientist Max Born to come to India and work for the country. He stayed for some time at IISc, but Sir Raman’s efforts to prolong his stay could not fructify.

Sir C. V. Raman was honoured on numerous platforms for his incredible contribution to advancing the sciences. After India became independent, he became the first national professor of India. He was awarded Bharat Ratna in 1954. He remains one of the few recipients to receive both the Bharat Ratna and the Nobel Prize. He received Lenin Peace Prize in 1957 in Kremlin. Several buildings and roads are also named after him in Russia.

Today, the Raman effect is used in medicine, surgery, and medical diagnosis like cancer detection. It is being used in remote sensing, geology, and mineralogy. It is used for ensuring quality control in the pharmaceutical industry. Police are also using it for forensic work. The most visible public use of Raman spectroscopy can be seen at airports, metro stations, malls, or other places of security where scanners are used to detect explosives and drugs.

Sir C. V. Raman’s discovery has proved to be a significant stepping stone to the world of science. He left us half a century ago, and his discovery will also be a century old in a few years. Still, his ideas will always remain relevant and encourage curious minds to unravel the secrets of nature.

Priyanka Todariya

Priyanka Todariya is a Public Administration post-graduate and a communications professional who has extensively worked for several government entities and state governments like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.


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