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Updated: October 12, 2013 02:26 IST

Much ado about the Bose in the boson

Vasudevan Mukunth
Comment (27)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Satyendra Nath Bose’s name was conferred on the class of particles called bosons. Photo: PTI
Satyendra Nath Bose’s name was conferred on the class of particles called bosons. Photo: PTI

At a conference in Kolkata in September 2012, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), said, “I always spell boson with a capital letter.” He was responding to demands from a section of Indian academia for the ‘B’ in ‘bosons’ to be capitalised, just as the ‘H’ was in ‘Higgs boson’. Dr. Dieter Heuer leads the experimental efforts of the world’s largest physics experiment. Kudos to him, then, for so deftly fending off the trivial insecurities of some of his peers.

These demands weren’t voiced in isolation but belonged to a greater rhetoric pervading India — online and offline — about how Satyendra Nath Bose had been slighted because his contributions to this year’s Nobel physics Laureates’ achievements had been left out by the Nobel Prize committee. Bose’s name was conferred on the class of particles called bosons, colloquially called force-carriers, by Paul Dirac, a contemporary British physicist, in honour of Bose’s collaborative work with Albert Einstein in defining the properties of such particles in the 1920s.

Despite varied interests and a formidable self-taught proficiency, nothing else established Bose as genius as did his ground-breaking work with Einstein. Unfortunately, he wasn’t awarded the Nobel Prize in physics even though Einstein had been (albeit for some other work). One reason for this is that Bose worked during a boom time for theoretical physics, an era in which many of modern physics’ concepts were established by scores of researchers from around the world.

However, this is no cause to dredge up Bose’s name in 2013 or to make Bose a rallying point for all the achievements of Indians that have gone unnoticed by the award committees.

The physics being conducted at CERN has very little to do with what Bose accomplished. The Bengali was involved in drawing up a broad class of rules for bosons. At CERN, on the other hand, the focus of late has been on a theory of particle physics called the Standard Model, which deals with six kinds of bosons, six kinds of leptons, six kinds of quarks, not to mention at least 49 other less significant elementary particles. The 2013 Nobel physics Laureates concerned themselves with just one elusive boson. At this point, the act of asking for “just” recognition for Bose wouldn’t itself be just.

Marks of achievement

But for our own sake, we must remember that these prizes are only marks of achievement given out by some people to others, in no way intended to injure the efforts of those who lost out. The purpose of these scientists’ achievements was to further human understanding, and in that they took joy. In running after prizes or asking for particles’ names to be capitalised, we are snubbing the beauty of that joy, instead seeking to fatten our egos and sate the “sexy” side of our scientific curiosity with it.

vasudevan.m@thehindu.co.in

Blog: http://thne.ws/thecopernican

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Apart from the case of Rosalyn Franklin and Bose, the Nobel Prize Committee for Physics did not honour EC George Sudarshan for his work on the V-A theory of weak interactions. Fowler was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 for work that was mainly done by Fred Hoyle. Enrico Fermi's Nobel Prize in 1936 was for work that was totally wrong.

from:  G Krishnamurthy
Posted on: Oct 14, 2013 at 19:36 IST

Perhaps there is no dearth of mean minded people like Mr. Vasudevan who
places region and race before talent. So contributions of genius like
Sri Satyendranath Bose remain suppressed. The contribution of Sri Bose
in the Bose Einstein theory is aptly stated by Ms Dasgupta in her
comments.

from:  sumanta roy choudhury
Posted on: Oct 14, 2013 at 17:09 IST

The Nobel prize should not be considered as an international award. It is said to be given 'Internationally' by team belonging to a particular race. There is nothing surprise that the awards almost always goes to citizens from Europe or America. To felicitate and encourage scientists from our country we should have a well known (well advertised in other words) award of our own.

from:  Sathish Kumar Karunavel
Posted on: Oct 13, 2013 at 20:29 IST

Its true that the inventions and researches are done for welfare of
humanity and not for prizes but recognition certainly inspire the
younger generations to come forward and contribute. Also, ignoring the
work of one scientist in the same field whereas considering other's as
pioneer only indicates the mentality of discrimination that the
western world has.Moreover, it is not expected from the fellow
"Indian" intellectuals that they undermine the work of "sons of the
soil" just in a quest to justify what a nobel prize committee has done
which consists mostly, if not entirely of people with western
nationalities. If it is not so, can anyone justify, why any Indian
hasn't been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in last 100 years
despite the fact that they have been continuously rewarded at other
prestigious forums like Booker Prize and alike....

from:  Nitin Jaiman
Posted on: Oct 13, 2013 at 12:45 IST

The swedish academy has announced the prizes for physics for a particular discovery. That Is the decision of this body according to the facts collected by them. The onlookers have the right to comment on that and the views of the esteemed writer has to be viewed in that Light. This writer came across another article, wherein the Share of S N BOSE, was also referred with great respect. The American physical society has given the highest prize in Physics for the same discovery to six , including the two now NOBELES. The APS, has given the prizes on the facts before them. One fact remains. All the scientists have done Research , with a mission to advance knowledge for the betterment of humanity, and their Aim was only A DISCOVERY and NOT THE PRIZE. The committees throughout the world Should OBJECTIVELEY assess the achievements of scientists, before announcing the awards to establish their CREDIBILITY and to protect their IMAGE.

from:  C p Chandra das
Posted on: Oct 13, 2013 at 04:45 IST

Prizes and recognitions matter in real life. There is no greater recognition than name a particle in the name of a scientist. Bose got his recognition. Nobel committee made several mistakes and in particular not giving Nobel Peace Prize to Gandhi. In making these awards, there is some degree of bias if the work is originated outside the western world. It is like profiling the scintists.

from:  KVRao
Posted on: Oct 13, 2013 at 02:05 IST

It would have made a better read if the article were not justifying the non awarding of Nobel Prize or name boson by lessening the impact of the work done by Dr. Satyendra Nath Bose. You should be able to make argument of not being upset at the "slight" to Dr. Bose without slighting his work.
I also fail to understand of why it is too late to give credit where it is due. In my view - It is never too late and if it takes scientists from an entire country to make that happen, then so be it. I don't see an point of telling these scientists that proper credit isn't due or it is too late.

from:  Meg
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 23:51 IST

The writer could have managed without labeling the "demands from a section of Indian academia for the 'B' in bosons to be capitalized" as 'trivial insecurities'.

from:  Amar Singh
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 22:42 IST

I feel pity for Mukund for his ignorance .! He should have written about
Bose-Einstein Statistics. A original thinker and a Scientist of multi-
various interest , Bose is not yet given an identity that is due to him
even in India !

from:  Prof R Krishnamurthy
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 20:28 IST

@Uma Dasgupta
Malala’s Nobel Peace prize award would have been too premature, as it is awarded for a life-time achievement in peace and humanitarian effort. Although she endured the violence by Talibans when they shot her, that would not be enough to be considered as a life-time achievement. The Nobel Peace Prize awards for Mother Theresa and Dalai Lama exemplify this. If Malala works for emancipation of girls in her country for years, then it will be justified to consider her for this Prize. But she seems to be happy living in Birmingham; The media is making a big premature issue here. There cannot be bigger miss than that of Mahatma Gandhi. Many wondered about the Nobel Peace Prize given to Obama, but the Committee wanted to recognise his achievement as the first black president of USA, and wanted to encourage him to work for world peace.
As for Nobel Peace Prize itself, it is awarded in Oslo, by a Nobel Peace Committee. The Science Nobel Prizes are awarded by the Nobel Committee in Stockholm. There were many misses too there. But there were successes like Nobel Prize awards to Raman, Khorana, Chandrasekhar and recently to Venki Ramamkrishnan, all deserving Nobel Prizes.

from:  Simon
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 18:56 IST

I fully agree with Uma Dasgupta, that it was S.N.Bose who gave the
direction not only to Einstein but also to Erwin Schrodinger, who were
struggling in the formulation of quantum mechanics. Erwin, completely
taken aback by the ingenuity of the Bose's approach, practiced Hinduism
for some years, before he moved on. Nobel Committee is definitely swayed
by racial infirmities. Higgs Boson may not have anything to do with
S.N.Bose, but the very Quantum Theory's founding architect is definitely
S.N.Bose

from:  Rangarajan
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 16:36 IST

The sound of this article doesn't sound right to me! Although I
personally agree with my little understanding of quantum physics that
Bose's Boson is different from Higgs Boson and that both of them are
significant contributions, and I really cannot judge which one is more
worthy of a Nobel prize. But one thing that concerns me more is the
lack of another S.N.Bose in India i.e. the lack of contribution to
theoretical physics from India. And I believe a lot has to do with the
general idea of what is more 'cool' to study in India. Media/TV has a
role to play here by having more article/program on the brilliant
academicians that India has produced in general, rather than delving
on this sensitive issue of whether S.N.Bose was deprived of a Nobel
prize. Nevertheless what is least needed is such a demoralizing
article as this one. It neither uplifts hope of an young Indian nor
resolves the controversial and unnecessary topic of discussing
worthiness of Bose's contribution to win Nobel prize

from:  Rajdeep
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 16:19 IST

I agree with Ms. Dasgupta. Nobel or no Nobel Bose was great ; beyond Nobels. As my favourite author Jayakanthan always says Prizes determine the quality of the giver and not that of the receiver . There have been Indians beyond Nobel Prize. My list is here.
1. Poet Subramanya Bharati - for the range, for the depth, for the spirit , for the simplicity he was one of the greatest
2. Mahatma Gandhi - I would be demeaning him by writing anything about him.
3. Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose - A forgotten Bose who established that plants too have life and feelings.
I remember a sentence in " Daily Mail" a British Tabloid when last year Nobel Prizes were announced. The Nobel Prize committee does have a sense of humour. First it was Al Gore, next Obama and this time European Union!

from:  Swaminathan R
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 15:40 IST

I think V. Mukunth is not fair in assessing the contribution of
Satyandranath Bose.Just mentioning Bose as "The Bengali" shows our
regional biases. This is not a fiction that Acharya Satendranath Bose
was a "National Professor" and not just another Tom, Dick or Harry. No
one is asking for the Nobel Prize for Acharya Satendranath now but we
are also aware of the occidental biases in recognition of works of
merit. Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose bore the brunt of it and so
happened with many others. It is not the question of flattened egos.
The same logic can be applied to the Western world.Why the West cannot
be so philosophical about new scientific discoveries and enjoy what
poor "niggers" like us discover?

from:  Madhulika Samanta
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 15:05 IST

It is more of an honor to Bose for the word 'boson' NOT to be capitalized. It means that he discovered something fundamental. Consider chemical elements such as einsteinium, fermium, curium - they are named after Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, and Marie Curie, respectively. But they are not 'Einsteinium', 'Fermium' or 'Curium' with capital letters. The contention that Bose was slighted and underestimated by his contemporaries is true, but the insistence on capitalization is misguided and shows psychological insecurity of these academics.

from:  Andrew
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 14:47 IST

@Uma Dear ma'am, I don't suggest that Bose's work in quantum mechanics was trivial. On the contrary, in fact. I only say that the world of science has moved on to other problems, some consequentially much bigger and, today, much more important.
As for Malala not receiving the Nobel Peace prize: I'd like to say that she has been involved in a struggle that other recipients of the prize have been involved in for years to decades. Awarding her the prize now would be premature.
Last: On both counts, resorting to the occasional, albeit inadmissible, fallacy of a prize to elevate the stature of a scientist or his/her work would be a mistake. My point is that we're forgetting how to celebrate science for what it is: the furthering of human knowledge.

from:  Vasudevan Mukunth
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 14:29 IST

Tenor is most unfortunate and indicates deliberate belittling of an Indian Scirntist. Referring to him as a Bengali displays stark parochialism that the writer suffers with. Before writing on science related issues, writer should factor the sensitivities of a particular community. More shocking is 'Hindu' carrying this write up totally bereft of any objectivity or balance.

from:  Shantanu
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 14:16 IST

The tenor of m.vasudevan's article is snide. His use of the sentence,"The Bengali was involved in drawing up a broad class of rules for bosons.."smacks of bad taste.Just as another posted comment has pointed out the western orienation and bias of the Nobel awards in general,anyone familiar with the politics of Indian science is aware of the regional groupings and the accompanying propoganda carried out by groupies of particular regional cliques.vasusdevan though he wishes to paint his point of view in etheral colours of trancedental joy of science and scientific discovery,appears to be more of a groupie with a not so pure agenda.

from:  parthosarothy mukherji
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 14:13 IST

Well written. Great scientists do not care whether they are honoured by the Nobel
prize or other. The Nobel prize is like the Oscar. A film does not become poor simply because it did not make the Oscar list.
The fact that Bose's name has become immortalised after the boson has lots more to cheer about, irrespective of whether some spell it with a capital B or otherwise. Bose was an extraordinarily humble man; he would not have cared for any of these accolades or the naming. And the best way to remember him is to respect that sentiment in him and imbibe his quest for truth and share his joy of discovery.

from:  DR.R.VENKATARAMAN
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 13:27 IST

Mukunth seems to be in hurry to show that Bose's contribution to
quantum mechanics is not much. I would like to put the record
straight.
While in Dhaka, Bose wrote a paper deriving Planck's quantum
radiation law without any reference to classical physics by using a
novel way of counting states with identical particles. This paper was
seminal in creating the very important field of quantum statistics.
Einstein, recognizing the importance of the paper, translated it into
German himself and submitted it on Bose's behalf to the prestigious
Zeitschrift für Physik.
So, the statement that he merely collaborated with Einstein is blatant
lie.
That he did not receive the nobel was a different issue. How the
racial and political factors influence nobel committee is aptly
demonstrated in not choosing Malala for this years peace prize.
Workers in field of science know that it helps to be male and
Caucasian in this supposedly objective field. He can study the case of
Rosalin Franklin.

from:  Uma Dasgupta
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 12:07 IST

You have a point Mr.Vasudevan. Scientific pursuits are not made for recognition but for the sheer thrill of it. Conversely, these recognitions become part of the legacy of an individual and over time the collective of a state/civilization. What would you say to Mr.Baudhayana, Mr.Aryabhatta - whose original work now serenades in the name of mathematicians who may after all have been "inspired". Trivial as it may seem, these are things that propel a nation's self-esteem and the national consequently forward.

from:  Krishnan
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 11:21 IST

The author may be right in his argument that ' In running after prizes or ....... scientific curiosity with it'; but there will be pain in those who lost out. For the very same reason mentioned by the author, many of those who lost keep quiet. It is true that a scientist derives real pleasure in what he has done and if that alone is sufficient, then why we should have such honours? It is difficult to rewaed each
work; but those who could not get into the boat will definitely feel isolated and this feeling of isolation is unavoidable which come out in such expressions.
The worst thing about scientific achievements is that on most occassions it is the team leader who gets recognition and the team is left out. It is beyond any question that an 'idea' is very important; but putting that idea to shape is equally or more important. The former belongs to the leader and the latter is that of the team. Leaving out the team is a big mistake that has been happening around for decades!

from:  D. Darwin Albert Raj
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 10:52 IST

Excellent article. While I greatly admire Dr. Satyen Bose for all his contributions, Nobel prize award was for much more than just the Boson particles. Let us not not take credit away from the recipients of Noble prize award just because we think our countryman, however great he was should have been given the credit.
I met Dr. Satyen Bose at The Science College in Calcutta when I as applying for admission to Masters degree Physics and I still remember the humble yet awe inspiring figure with heavy rimmed glasses. I am sure he would agree with the article Vasudevam Mukunt has written.

from:  SHEKAR RAO
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 09:13 IST

How come such articles are being published in The Hindu? Recognizing a scientist is not the point here, man. Gandhi was never given a Nobel. Barack Obama has received one.

from:  SK Maiti
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 08:00 IST

What more honor or recognition does Bose need? His name has been immortalized when a fundamental particle has been named after him, namely the Boson. He is the only scientist to have been bestowed such an honor, the other being FERMI, an Italian physicist who proposed the Theory of beta decay. Fermions are fundamental particles (like electron) named in his honor.
Besides why this cry now? Till the God Particle became a news even the most talented graduates from Indian IITs did not even know who Bose was. Some thought that Bose was from Israel. The problem is we just idealize and worship a couple of our scientists but never even try to understand their work in science and try to make original contributions in science.

from:  Vijay Camasamudram
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 07:46 IST

Fantastic unifying CONTEXTUALIZATION and DIFFERENTIATION in one piece.

from:  Raghuram Ekambaram
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 06:48 IST

Very well articulated wake up call to those chest thumpers who take
offense at the slightest of opportunities. They have proclaimed India's
economic growth last few years as if India becoming a developed country
is a self fulfilling prophesy! Now that this illusion is deflated, they
have started with Sateyn Basu and boson. I hang my head in shame by this
pettiness and insecurity of my countrymen!

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Oct 12, 2013 at 02:35 IST
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