S N Bose Project is a grandson's biographical research on the life and times of Professor Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974) — Indian mathematical-physicist, humanist, and multi-faceted genius ... a polymath in diverse fields of science, education, literature, music, politics, social reform, and philanthropy.

25 January 2007

Part I: Bose and Saha First to Translate Relativity to English

Last January (2006) I attended a function at Calcutta University (officially the University of Calcutta), the alma mater of Satyendra Nath Bose. The gathering was one of many ongoing celebrations to commemorate 150 years of the existence of the University — or what they more accurately (and cleverly) call the Post Centenary Golden Jubilee. It was in 1857 that University of Calcutta, the University of Madras, and the University of Mumbai, were founded.

On that day, among the speeches by dignitaries, including the Governor of West Bengal and the Chief Minister of West Bengal, the University formally released a reprint of a book that was originally published by the Calcutta University in 1920. The book is titled: The Principle of Relativity. Original Papers by A. Einstein and H. Minkowski, translated into English by M.N. Saha and S.N. Bose with a historical introduction by P.C. Mahalanobis.

It is generally accepted, although not commonly known, that this publication was the first English translation from the original German of these famous papers — anywhere in the world. When I first learned this fact it struck me as remarkable that two young Lecturers of Physics and Applied Mathematics — Saha was 26 years old and Bose 25 — both entirely self-taught in physics, located in the far outskirts of the British Empire, a colonized people living under colonial rule, with very little access to the latest scientific publications coming out of Europe, were cognizant enough of the happenings in the world of science to embark on such a task in 1919-20.

It seemed even more remarkable when I learned that while Saha knew passable German, Bose had to learn German to do the work. The 176-page publication includes the following Table of Contents :
  1. Historical Introduction
    (By Mr. P.C. Mahalanobis)
  2. On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies
    [Einstein's first paper on the restricted (Special) Theory of Relativity, originally published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905. Translated from the original German by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
  3. Albrecht Einstein
    [A short biographical note by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
  4. Principle of Relativity
    [H. Minkowski's original paper on the restricted Principle of Relativity first published in 1909. Translated from the original German by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
  5. Appendix to the above by H. Minkowski
    [Translated by Dr. Meghnad Saha]
  6. The Foundation of the Generalized Theory of Relativity
    [A. Einstein's second paper on the Generalised Principle first published in 1916. Translated from the original German by Mr. Satyendra Nath Bose]
  7. Notes
Even more remarkable was that when Saha and Bose did their translations, the Theory of Relativity was not yet a wholly accepted theory. The world did not completely accept it until the famous solar eclipse of May 29, 1919. That was when the English astrophysicist Arthur Eddington travelled to the island of Príncipe off the west coast of Africa to take pictures of the sun during the eclipse.

Einstein's radical theory predicted that light from stars would curve during the eclipse due to the gravitational pull of the sun. Eddington published his observations verifying Einstein's predictions in 1920. But as soon as word got out of Eddington's findings, it was, as Einstein biographer Abraham Pais proclaimed in his classic book, Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein (Oxford University Press 1992), the day Einstein was canonized — becoming the first celebrity scientist of the 20th century.

Eddington is to have said that verifying Einstein's theory was the "greatest moment in his life." Eddington was a proud man. An often repeated anecdote is recounted by Michio Kaku in his book Einstein's Cosmos (2004) :
According to legend, as Eddington left the assembly, another scientist [sometimes the story involves a reporter - Falguni] stopped him and asked, "There's a rumour that only three people in the entire world understood Einstein's theory. You must be one of them." Eddington stood in silence, so the scientist said, "Don't be modest, Eddington." Eddington shrugged, and said, "Not at all. I was wondering who the third might be." (p. 115)
When I first read this, I smiled to myself and thought, only half jokingly, that the mysterious third person(s) might have been Bose and Saha!

Part II: A Historical Novelty or Getting It Right?

Saha and Bose's translation of Einstein's Principle of Relativity was the first English translation available anywhere in the world.

All this is not to say that there weren't "issues" or problems with the translations. The critics were not kind, noting the lack of literal translation of the text, problems with the mathematics, pagination problems, missing footnotes, etc. However, while there were problems, it was generally appreciated that this work had been done as early as it was, and by such young thinkers.

Later, as others began to do translations of Einstein's relativity theories, Calcutta University was asked to stop the publication of these works. As Professor Jagdish Mehra, the remarkably prolific historian of quantum theory — including the multi-volume The Historical Development of Quantum Theory (Springer 1982) and The Golden Age of Theoretical Physics (World Scientific, 2001) — recounted in his interview with Bose near the end of Bose's life (published in his Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 1975 on the occasion of Bose's death in 1974) :
Bose translated Einstein's 1916 paper on the foundation of the general theory of relativity. (Quoting Bose) "Relativity was of course a magnificent structure already. Special theory was a fascinating thing, four-dimensional representation, the work of Minkowski, just splendid. We studied all these papers and translated them.

"Later on other people took up the translation of Einstein's relativity papers. Einstein had given the translation rights to the Methuen people. They wanted to stop the distribution of our work. Einstein was very generous. He said that as long as the book remained in circulation inside India, he had no objection. After the excitement of the first year or so people dropped making inquiries about the book. It is out of print."
— reprinted in The Golden Age of Theoretical Physics, p. 506
Many years later, Physicist Partha Ghose, a Bose biographer and one of his last students, while conducting his diligent work preparing for Bose's Birth Centenary Celebrations in 1994, received a communication from Professor Max Jammer of Bar Ilan University in Israel. In it he replied to an inquiry by Professor Ghose about the 1919 translations, saying that while the work had many amateur qualities and mistakes, there was one item of note that makes the Saha-Bose translations more than just a historical novelty. He writes:
The M.N. Saha and S.N. Bose translation of Einstein's papers on relativity, published in 1920 in Calcutta, does not contain the error which C.B. Jeffry and W. Perrett committed in their well-known 1922 translation. It concerns Einstein's definition of simultaneity at the very beginning of the kinematical part of Einstein's famous 1905 paper 'On the electrodynamics of moving bodies' (Annalen der Physik, vol. 17). The British translators misread Einstein's 'nun' as 'nur' and rendered thereby erroneously a sufficient condition as a necessary condition, thus excluding the possibility of alternative definitions of simultaneity, a possibility contended by the proponents of the so-called conventionality thesis of distant simultaneity (Reichenbach, Grünbaum and others).
— Letter dated 10 October 1993.
— Reprinted in S.N. Bose: The Man and His Work, Vol. 2, p.29, published on the occasion of Bose's Birth Centenary celebrations in 1994 by S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata

If Bose and Saha were alive today, I think they would have taken a certain pride in the fact that at least this part of their work had shown them to be more correct than the British.

Part III: Saha, Mahalanobis, Einstein and Tagore

After being the first to translate Einstein's Relativity theories from German to English, Saha and Bose continued to blossom in their career. They, along with P.C. Mahalanobis, who wrote the introduction, went on to have illustrious careers.

Meghnad Saha (1893-1956; Fellow Royal Society 1927; also here) went on to become world famous for his Saha Equation on the thermal ionization of elements, a basic tool to determine the spectra of stars and to determine the ionization elements of the stars. Among his many other notable achievements was the development of numerous scientific institutions in India, including the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, the journal Science and Culture (published by the Indian Science Association and started by Saha in 1934), and being in charge of river management and development for the Government of India. Saha and Bose were classmates since their childhood, and had a sometimes contentious, but always close, lifelong friendship.

Bose went on to discover Bose Statistics (1924), Fellow Royal Society 1958, and other things that we will cover in this Blog.

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis (1893-1972, Fellow Royal Society 1945) is considered the father of applied statistics in India, and was one of India's leading planners. He was, among other things, the founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, as well as personal secretary to the Poet Rabindranath Tagore (Asia's first Nobel Laureate winning for Literature in 1913). Indeed, there is a widely repeated anecdote that when Einstein met Tagore (possibly in 1930) and asked "How is that bright young man Bose?" Tagore was perplexed since the Bose that he did know (the famous physicist Jagadish Chandra Bose) was far from being a young man at that time. He is said to have asked his secretary, PC Mahalanobis, about this Bose, and Mahalanobis was said to have proclaimed, "Oh, he means Satyen Bose!"

Tagore was intrigued, and said that he would like to meet this Satyen. Mahalanobis facilitated an introduction that lead to an ongoing relationship till Tagore's death in 1941. Bose's mother was said to have said with pride that "it was Albert Einstein who told Gurudev about my son, and Gurudev himself asked to meet him..."

The relationship between Bose and Tagore blossomed around a mutually held passion of teaching science (and literature) in the "mother-tongue" of Bengali. Indeed, one of Tagore's last works was Viswa-Parichay [বিশ্ব-পরিচয়] (Our Universe 1937, translated by Indra Dutta 1958), a science primer written in Bengali, which he dedicated to Bose. Many years later, Bose went on to be appointed Vice-Chancellor of Tagore's university, Viswabharati (Santiniketan) in 1957.

But that's another story...

23 January 2007

"From the human point of view, Bose was the best of them all..."

About a year ago, Professor Kameshwar Wali published a nice article on Bose and Einstein in the Fall 2005 History of Physics Newsletter published by the American Physical Society. Professor Wali reviews of the history of Bose's fundamental contribution and highlights Bose's impact. He also touches upon Bose's relationship with Einstein.
To appreciate Bose’s accomplishment and Einstein’s own realization of its importance and its extension to ordinary matter, one needs to take a look at the struggle over several decades to unravel the true nature of blackbody radiation, that ultimately would lead to one of the two fundamental (Bose-Einstein) statistics based on the New Quantum Mechanics, the other being the Fermi-Dirac Statistics.
Bose and Einstein (html version — scroll down to last article)
Bose and Einstein (full PDF version of History of Physics Newsletter.
Bose and Einstein is on page 9)
Professor Wali is Emeritus and Research Professor at the Department of Physics at Syracuse University and Fellow American Physical Society. He is known for his well-received biography of physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar titled Chandra: A Biography of S. Chandrasekhar (University of Chicago Press, 1992). Chandrasekhar won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his work on the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars.

As an interesting historical side note, Chandrasekhar knew S.N. Bose during his time in Calcutta. His uncle, C.V. Raman and Bose were at Calcutta University at the same time in the early part of the century. Raman also won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930 for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of what is known as the Raman Effect.

In an interview with Chandrasekhar published in Chandra, Chandrasekhar is quoted as saying:
Chandrasekhar: Satyen Bose was one person who, when Raman made the discovery [of the Raman Effect], did not associate himself with the others by belittling it. I think you have noted my recollection of Raman telling me what Bose had said to him after seeing the spectra, "Professor Raman, you have made a great discovery. It will be called the Raman Effect, and you will get the Nobel Prize." Bose in some ways, from the human point of view, was the best of them all. He was very generous, gentle, easygoing, and not particularly caring about the glamorous aspects of science. (p. 250)

21 January 2007

Bose-Einstein Condensate runs circles around magnetic trap

From PhysOrg.com [first published: September 07, 2005]

Physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, have the universe's coldest substance running in circles.

The UC Berkeley team has created a Bose-Einstein condensate of rubidium atoms and nudged it into a circular racetrack 2 millimeters across, creating a particle storage ring analogous to the accelerator storage rings of high energy physics. This ring, the first to contain a Bose-Einstein gas, is full of cold particles at a temperature of only one-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, travelling with energies a billion trillion times less than the particles in a high-energy storage ring.

Full article after the jump...
[Image]: This 180-millisecond time-lapse movie shows a Bose-Einstein condensate circling in a magnetic trap as the blob of supercold gas spreads out into a beam.
— Deep Gupta / UC Berkeley

14 January 2007

Falguni Meets Nobel Laureates

I had the pleasure of meeting Drs. Wieman and Cornell during a visit to the University of Colorado at Boulder on July 11, 2006. Below is text that appeared on a local Boulder newspaper:

A grandson of famed mathematician and scientist Satyendra Nath Bose, who prompted Albert Einstein's 1924 prediction of Bose-Einstein condensate, met with the Nobel Prize-winning physicists who created the condensate on July 11. Falguni Sarkar, 40, of San Francisco (center) met with Carl Wieman (right) and Eric Cornell (left) at JILA, a joint institute located on the CU Boulder campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Sarkar is writing about his grandfather. Wieman is a distinguished professor in the CU-Boulder department of physics and Cornell is a senior scientist at NIST and an adjoint professor of physics at CU Boulder. The two JILA fellows led a team of physicists that created the condensate, a new form of matter, at just billionths of a degree above absolute zero on June 5, 1995.

Next I'd like to meet Wolfgang Ketterle of MIT. Of the three, he's the one who continues to do work in the area of BEC.

7 January 2007

Bose Einstein Wins a Nobel Prize

While this is old news (2001), this post does provide some background on the significance of Bose Einstein Condensation in the world of Physics. This is copied from the Nobel Prize page on www.snbose.org. More information is directly available on the NobelPrize.org website. Bose Einstein Condensate is explained on Wikipedia.

The first Nobel Prize in Physics in the 21st Century was awarded jointly to Professor Eric Cornell and Professor Carl Wieman of JILA and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Boulder, Colorado, USA, and Professor Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, for the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates.

Below are some links to information about the Nobel Prize, mostly from the NobelPrize.org website. All linked content (video, etc.) are copyright © Nobel Web AB 2001 and are presented here as hyperlinks.

Nobel Prize Interview:

Nobel Laureates in Physics interview with Drs. Cornell, Wieman and Ketterle with Joanna Rose, science writer on 12 December, 2001.

The Laureates talk about their memories of the day of the discovery, the importance of competition (5:51), the significance of producing the condensate (11:44), big issues in physics (15:01), receiving the Nobel Prize at an early age (21:49) and their future work (25:36).

Carl E. Wieman Nobel Lecture:
Bose-Einstein Condensation in a Dilute Gas; The First 70 Years and Some Recent Experiments (8 December 2001)

Eric A. Cornell Nobel Lecture:
Bose-Einstein Condensation in a Dilute Gas; The First 70 Years and Some Recent Experiments (8 December 2001)

Dr. Wolfgang Ketterle:
When Atoms Behave as Waves: Bose-Einstein Condensation and the Atom Laser

1 January 2007

S.N. Bose Blog Launched!

This WebLog (Blog) is launched in January 2007, 113 years after the birth of my grandfather, Professor S.N. Bose (1894-1974), fondly also remembered as Satyen Bose by many — best known as the founder of Bose Statistics (also often referred as Bose Einstein Statistics), a fundamental component of modern quantum theory and the basis of Bose Einstein Condensation.

A lot has happened in these 113 years, and a lot continues to happen especially in the frontiers of physics and science in general.

Over the next weeks and months we will document and discuss news on Bose Einstein, share stories of interest in the world of science, and periodically recount vignettes of my illustrious ancestor S.N. Bose, a remarkable figure who lived a colourful life which very few people know about. I hope that this blog will be informative, entertaining, and even a bit inspiring.

The SN Bose website has more information about S.N. Bose and the S.N. Bose Biography Project. Please visit www.snbose.org.