Satyendranath Bose: An Einsteinian Breakthrough

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What happens when a science teacher from Calcutta writes a letter to Albert Einstein? Well, not only was history created but it also led to the making of a legend in the world of physics. The man in question was none other than Satyendranath Bose.

SN Bose with other scientists at Calcutta University
SN Bose with other scientists at Calcutta University

Bose wrote to Einstein in 1924, about a breakthrough he had made in Quantum Mechanics, urging him to get his research paper (which he had attached along with his letter) published in the German journal Zeitschrift fur Physik, if he found it worthy enough.

Letter exchanged between Bose and Einstein
Letter exchanged between Bose and Einstein

Bose’s letter read:

“Though a complete stranger to you, I do not feel any hesitation in making such a request [because] we are all your pupils, though profiting only by your teachings through your writings.”

Satyendranath Bose
Satyendranath Bose

Bose had derived German physicist Max Planck’s Quantum Radiation Law without any reference to classical physics. The scientific world was shaken by this breakthrough. Thoroughly impressed, not only did Einstein get Bose’s paper published as requested, he also added a note.

It read:

“Bose’s derivation of Planck’s formula appears to me an important step forward. The method used here also gives the quantum theory of an ideal gas, as I shall show elsewhere.”

And in that instant, Satyendranath Bose shot to fame in the scientific community.

Bose visited Europe the next year, where he and Einstein did some groundbreaking work and developed what is today known as the ‘Bose-Einstein statistics’. This was a set of mathematical rules that described the behaviour of certain fundamental particles.

Bose with Bertrand Zadoc-Kahn, Niels Bohr and Paul Dirac
Bose with Bertrand Zadoc-Kahn, Niels Bohr and Paul Dirac

These particles were later named ‘Bosons’ in honour of Satyendranath Bose. This recognition was hugely important at a time when India was struggling under British rule. It marked a crucial milestone in settling India’s course on the path of progress.

Bose playing the Esraj
Bose playing the Esraj

After he returned to India after working with Einstein, Bose continued to teach and conduct research. He was appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha after Independence and began to popularise the teaching of science in vernacular languages. He died at the age of 80 in 1974.

Stamp commemorating Satyendranath Bose, issued by the Government of India in 1994
Stamp commemorating Satyendranath Bose, issued by the Government of India in 1994

After 39 years of being almost forgotten, Bose’s name was revived in 2013, when Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the Nobel in Physics, for their discovery of the ‘Higgs-Boson particle’. It helped solve some of the mysteries of the universe and was a major milestone in physics.

Peter Higgs and Francois Englert
Peter Higgs and Francois Englert

Peter Higgs left his mark on the world of physics, making Satyendranath Bose, after whom the second part of the particle is named – ‘Boson’ – live on forever.

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