Satyendranath Bose

Satyendranath Bose (1894-1974) was a major figure in the development of quantum statistics and theoretical physics. Albert Einstein built upon his ideas to develop a system of quantum mechanics that became known as Bose-Einstein statistics. Bosons, sub atomic particles of finite mass studied in quantum physics, were named after him.

Satyendranath was born in Calcutta, India, on January 1, 1894, to Surendranath Bose and Amodini Raichaudhuri. As the only son and eldest of seven children, Bose was raised comfortably as a member of the Kayastha caste. His father, an accountant in the executive engineering department of the East India Railways, later was a founder of the Indian Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works. His mother had little formal education but was able to manage a large family. His primary education began in the local English language school established by the British during the colonial period in India. When the British decided to divide the province of Bengal into two administrative units in 1907, his father transferred Bose to a Bengali-language secondary school. There he was encouraged in his interest in science by his headmaster and his mathematics teacher.

After graduation from secondary school, Bose completed a Master of Science degree in mathematics at Presidency College in Calcutta in 1915, ranking first in his class. An early influence was his physics teacher Jagadischandra Bose (no relation). Because Indians were not allowed to enter administrative government service, Bose continued to study physics on his own despite a lack of current textbooks and laboratory materials. Two years later Bose became a lecturer in physics at the University of Calcutta in the college of science that had been established in 1914. This was the first college in India that offered advanced degrees in science. Bose helped establish the physics department and saw that it was properly equipped and had current textbooks. After reading a book by J. Willard Gibbs concerning phase space and Boltzmann statistics, Bose developed a special interest in statistical mechanics. In 1914, Bose married Ushabala Ghosh. The union eventually produced two sons and five daughters.

During the years he taught at the University of Calcutta, Bose worked with Meghnad Saha. In 1919, the two men coauthored one of the first anthologies in English of Einstein's scientific papers on relativity. The next year, Bose published his first paper on quantum statistics in the Philosophical Magazine.


Created Ground Breaking Theory for Quantum Statistics

Bose became a reader in physics at the newly created University of Dacca in East Bengal in 1921. He turned his attention to the statistics of photons, a quantum of electromagnetic energy that has no charge or mass but carries energy, such as light and x-rays, in both wave and particle form. By now he had studied Planck's theory of heat radiation. He became interested in Plank's radiation formula, the expression that gives the distribution of energy in the radiation from a black body. Bose commented in an interview with American physicist William A. Blanpied in the American Journal of Physics, that he had "spent many sleepless nights" contemplating Planck's law. Finally, while teaching a class, he thought of a new theory for quantum mathematics. By 1923, he had written Planck's Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta, but was unable to get it published. Bose was able to substantiate Einstein's proposal that electromagnetic radiation had an atomic structure made up of a measurable, or quantum, amount of electromagnetic energy. Even Einstein had been unable to prove his own theory.

The subject of Bose's paper was how to derive Planck's black body radiation law, in which the black body is a theoretical ideal body that absorbs all radiation and reflects none. Planck's equation describes the spectral energy distribution from such a body. Einstein's 1905 paper questioned Planck's assumption that his law could be applied ad hoc to classical electrodynamics (a discipline concerned with the inter-relatedness of electric and other currents and magnets). In Einstein's thermodynamic approach, the quantum structure of electromagnetic radiation could be viewed the same as an ordinary gas and its atomic structure. Without reference to classical electrodynamics, Bose used a phase space approach that treated radiation as an ideal gas in order to show that Einstein's model was consistent with Planck's law. This ultimately pointed the way for future developments in electrodynamics. Because his background was in mathematics, Bose failed to see the far-reaching ramifications his work had in the field of physics, especially in the areas of electrodynamics and quantum gasses. As a result, he did not gain the prestige that Einstein and Planck did.


Bose and Einstein

Though his paper was only four pages long, it had far reaching consequences. In fact, it was his single greatest contribution to science. Isolated in India and unable to get his paper published, Bose turned to Albert Einstein and asked him to examine his work and see if he could help. Though he had never met Bose, Einstein was impressed. The paper was translated it into German and Einstein used his considerable clout to get it published in Zeitschrift fur Physik in 1924. Einstein stated in the journal, "In my opinion, Bose's derivation of the Planck formula signifies an important advance. The method used also yields the quantum theory of the ideal gas as I will work out in detail elsewhere." This paper and support from Einstein established Bose's place in the world of physics. It enabled him to get a two-year paid leave of absence from Dacca University in order to study in France, where he met Langevin, Madame Curie, and the de Broglies and in Germany where he heard talks by Max Born about the new quantum mechanics. In 1925, Bose was able to meet briefly with Einstein. He had hoped to work closely with Einstein, but that never materialized. Einstein continued to build upon Bose's work and developed the foundation for the Bose-Einstein statistics. This approach to quantum physics was the first of two approaches to determine the distribution of certain subatomic particles among the various possible energy values. Depending on the approach used, the particles that adhere to these mathematical laws are known as bosons—named after Bose—or fermions, named after Enrico Fermi.


Revered Scientific Leader in India

Bose returned to Dacca in 1926 as professor and head of the physics department. He devoted himself to teaching and was named Khaira professor of physics at Calcutta University in 1945. His students considered him an inspiring teacher and his ability to deliver lectures without notes was legendary. This was a skill he developed as a young man because of his poor vision. Bose became the dean of the Faculty of Sciences from 1952 to 1956. He left Calcutta to become vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal, and served in this position for three years. Bose was president of the National Institute of Sciences of India in 1949-1950. He also founded the Science Association of Bengali in 1948. This organization was dedicated to popularizing science in his native language.


Indian Nationalist

Throughout his life, Bose was an ardent nationalist. He supported the independence of India from Great Britain. When given the opportunity, Bose served in the upper house of the Indian parliament from 1952 to 1958. He received the Padma Vibhushan, or national professor of India award from the government of India in 1958. That same year, he was elected fellow of the British Royal Society. Between 1918 and 1956, Bose published only twenty-six original scientific papers, most of which dealt with mathematical statistics, electromagnetic properties of the ionosphere, x-ray crystallography, thermoluminescence, and the unified field theory. He loved poetry, which he could read and recite fluently in Bengali, English, French, and Sanskrit. He was a member of the Bengali cultural renaissance, presided over by Rabindranath Tagore, all of his adult life. Bose died in Calcutta, on February 4, 1974, at the age of eighty. Jagadish Sharma, who studied physics under him, commented in Physics Today that his rise to "the highest echelons of science" must be viewed in the context of an India that was ruled by Great Britain and that offered few opportunities in science for the native Indian.


Further Reading on Satyendranath Bose

Dictionary of National Biography, 1971-1980, Oxford University Press, 1986.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Volume XV, Supplement I, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists, edited by Emily J. McMurray, Gale Research Inc., 1995.

The New York Times Biographical Service, Arno Press, 1974.