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.

11 December 2007

Satyen Bose in Berlin

Satyendra Nath Bose was not known to talk or write very much about himself. That is why there is very little first hand account of his activities and experiences. It is evident that he was uncomfortable discussing himself, and always, whether in conversation or writing, deflected the topic away. As such, few know extensive details about Bose's life from Bose himself. Many who knew Bose have written their recollections in memoir form, but beyond their narrow experience, few can convey the expanse of his life.

One person who has a deeper understanding of Bose is one of his leading biographers, Dr. Purnima Sinha . Dr.
Sinha was a student of Bose at Calcutta University College of Science in the early 1950s. She received her doctorate in physics under Bose in 1956-7, and has the distinction of being the first Bengali woman to receive a Ph.D. in physics. She is a pioneer in her field, and has also as written extensively on music, biography, and popularizing science in the vernacular. She has also written books and articles on Bose. [Pictured at right is Dr. Sinha as a physics student in 1954. She is flanked by Bose (r) and PAM Dirac (l). This picture was taken by Mrs. Dirac in front of the Great Banyan Tree at the Botanical Gardens in Kolkata, India during their visit. Photo courtesy of Dr. SupurnaSinha.)

Sinha is the maiden offering in our new Guest Contributor series! We have republished an article she wrote on Satyen Bose in Berlin on the S N Bose Project. We are honored to have Dr. Sinha as our first contributor.

Little is known about Bose's time in Europe during his first visit in the years 1924 - 1926. After writing his celebrated 1924 paper on
Planck's Law and the Light Quantum Hypothesis, the seminal moment in Bose-Einstein Statistics (which eventually becomes the basis of the Bose-Einstein Condensate), Bose received a post card from Einstein. In it, Einstein states that he would translate Bose's paper into German and publish it in the leading scientific journal of the day, Zeitschrift für Physik. Einstein exclaimed Bose's work to be a "beautiful step forward."

Bose showed the postcard to the German consulate, and immediately received a visa to travel to Germany. Based on his paper and Einstein's favorable response, the
Dacca University awarded Bose two year study leave to go to Europe to meet the master.

Bose set sail to Europe from Bombay, and reached Paris on 18 October 1924. There he met leading scientific and intellectual figures of the day, including Madame Curie, Paul
Langevin, Maurice de Broglie, Sylvan Levi, and many others. After spending a year in Paris, he set off to Berlin to meet Einstein in 1925.I will write more about Bose's stay in Paris elsewhere, but in Berlin, Bose met Einstein (although he had to wait a few weeks since Einstein was traveling outside of the country, apparently in South America, when he arrived). While there, Bose had access to the leading laboratories of Berlin, as well as the fantastic libraries of the University. He met the leading scientific figures of what could be considered the capital of the quantum revolution. He gave lectures at seminars attended by some of the giants of quantum theory, Einstein, of course, but also Max Planck, Walther Nernst, Max von Laue, Fritz Haber, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and many others. He had long discussions with Einstein, and formulated close friendships with many others.

Dr. Sinha publishes an interview with Professor Herman Mark, an internationally recognized chemist who became friends with Bose during this time. Professor Mark formed a warm friendship with Bose that lasted over 50 years, in fact for the rest of their lives. The interview was taken in 1974, and conducted by Dr. Jagdish Sharma, a student of Bose who worked at the Naval Laboratories in Washington D.C., USA. Professor Mark taught at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, where he founded a strong polymer program.

Some interesting moments from the interview include:

Mark: Well, maybe, when he was in Vienna you know, that was in 1926 and he gave a seminar and I mentioned that there was Schrödinger, and many very good physicists in Vienna. And that was already when Schrödinger was thinking on wave mechanics you know, because his paper came out in 1926, there was a very interesting conversation. Louis de Broglie's thesis was published ... then of course, everybody realised that it was Bose that was the forerunner...it was the statistical expression of the wave nature of an electron and then the question was, "Okay, what are we going to do now?
Along with Professor Mark, Dr. Sinha met and corresponded with Bose's close friend Madame Jacqueline Eisenmann, whom he met in Paris. Madame Eisenmann gives a fond recollection of Bose's genius for science, passion for music and his love for the Bengali language. Madame Eisenmann spoke of Bose's meetings with Madame Curie, Paul Langevin, and the famous French Indologist Sylvan Lévi. She gives special insight into other aspects of Bose's personality, as when she says:
Sylvain Lévi, the great Indianist and Sanskritist, was a freind of my father (Dr. Leon Zadoc-Kahn who was in 1943 assasinated by the Germans with my mother). Learning from my father that I intended to work in Physics, Lévi said he would make me know 'un jeune physician genial." I was very impatient to meet this genius. When he came to my lab, accompanied by another Indian named Tendulkar, he [Lévi] did not tell me so as to tease me, who was the physicist. Bose was so unassuming that I didn't find out immediately who was who! From that day I saw him very often. He always went to [Paul] Langevin's lectures. Langevin gave many lectures. Louis de Broglie came later, Langevin told Madame Curie about him. Bose worked in Madame Curie's lab and in Maurice de Broglie's lab for sometime. He went very much to the museum, loved nature, particularly the alps, went to see and live in the countryside....

He talked much about Bengali ... writing science in Bengali -- to teach the students in Bengali. He impressed me very much by his great love for his country. He never went to England until India was free. In 1953 he went to England and lived with [Paul] Dirac.
It was a great joy to know Bose at all. He was so wonderful, so gifted, knew so much about Hebrew literature and religion. He had an extraordinary heart! He had nearly feminine reaction! He had no ambition for himself, too modest and humble a young man.
Finally, Dr. Sinha ends this remarkable article by quoting the famous mathematician André Weil of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. Weil, who spent time in Dacca University in the 1930s, when asked about Bose's contributions, he replied
I do not agree with those who suggest that his career and reputation was based on a piece of luck viz, the fact that Einstein took up his early contribution to theoretical physics. The quality of his intelligence was such that he deserved whatever position and honours came to him. One can only deplore that, for lack of a suitable environment, he was unable to realize his potentiality fully.There is no doubt in my mind that, given more favourable circumstances, he was well fitted to play a most important role in laying the foundations for scientific research in India.

We are very excited and honored to have Dr. Purnima Sinha's recollections and interviews as our first Guest Contributor article.

Look for future publications by S N Bose Project of prominent personalities and their recollections of
Satyendra Nath Bose.

Read the full article on the S N Bose Project site! If you have any thoughts, comments or feedback, please do email us at the Project, or submit a blog comment below!