Glory of Bharath  »  Scientists of Bharath - Part Fifteen
Meghnad Saha
Meghnad Saha's place in the history of astrophysics and in the history of modern science in India is unique. Saha's theory of thermal ionisaiton, which explained the origin of stellar spectra, was one of India's most important contributions to world science during the 20th century. It was an epoch-making discovery. Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944), while writing on stars in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, described Saha's theory of thermal ionisaiton as the twelfth most important landmark in the history of astronomy since the first variable star (Mira Ceti) discovered by Saha made important contributions in different branches of physics. Saha (jointly with B.N. Srivastava) wrote the renowned textbook, entitled, Treatise on Heat, which was originally published in 1931 under the title, A Text Book on Heat.

It was Saha who first started the teaching and training in nuclear physics in the country. The first cyclotron in the country was built with Saha's initiatives. Saha was a great institution builder. Among the institutions that he built were: National Academy of Sciences, India, at Allahabad, Indian Physical Society, Kolkata, National Institution of Sciences of India (which was later renamed Indian National Science Academy), New Delhi, Indian Science News Association, Kolkata, and Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata. Saha was an active member of the National Planning Committee constituted by the Indian National Congress in 1938 with Jawaharlal Nehru as its Chairman. He was the Chairman of the Indian Calendar Reform Committee constituted by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1952. He was an elected Independent Member of the Indian Parliament. He advocated large-scale industrialization for social development.

Meghnad Saha was born on the 6th of October, 1893 in a village named Shaoratoli near Dhaka in Bangladesh. His father Jagannath Saha was a grocer in the village. Meghnad was acquainted with extreme poverty from his early days. He was admitted in the primary school of the village and had to attend the family shop and manage time to go to school. After primary education, he got admitted into a middle school which was seven miles away from his village. He started staying in a doctor's house near the school and had to work in that house to maintain the cost of living. He ranked first in the Dhaka middle school test and got admitted into Dhaka Collegiate School.

Saha got involved with the turbulent political situation of the country. During this time protests were going on against the British plan to divide Bengal. Fuller was the Governor of East Bengal. One day he came to visit the collegiate school. Along with other students Meghnad also went in the agitation and as a result he was suspended from the school and his scholarship was terminated. He got admitted into Kishorilal Jubili School.

Meghnad passed Entrance exam from this school and ranked first in Eastern Bengal region with highest marks in Mathematics, English, Sanskrit and Bengali. In 1909, he was admitted in Dhaka College and in 1911 he ranked third in the ICS exam. In the same year the first rank in ICS exam was taken by another famous personality, Satyendranath Bose. Both of them took admission in Presidency College with Mathematics honours. In those days Presidency College was a center of academic talents. Among his teachers was Jagadish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra Roy etc. His batch mates include S.N.Bose, Jnanchandra Ghosh and P.C.Mahalanbis was one year senior. In Presidency College, Meghnad met Subhash Chandra Bose. In 1913 he graduated from Presidency College with Mathematics major and got the second rank in the University of Calcutta whereas the first one was taken by S.N. Bose. In 1915, both S.N.Bose and Meghnad ranked first in M.Sc. exam, Meghnad in Applied Mathematics and Bose in Pure Mathematics.

During 1913 through 1915, while studying in Presidency College, Meghnad got involved with Anushilan Samiti to take part in freedom fighting movement. Bagha Jatin, a famous freedom fighter, was used to visit his hostel for building student organization.

Meghnad decided to do research in Physics and Applied Mathematics. But there was no proper infrastructure in Calcutta University for higher research. In 1916, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee requested Meghnad and Satyendranath to teach in the newly established Science College. There was pressure from students for including new sections in higher studies curriculum in science subjects. Most of the new developments in Physics were being done in European countries like Germany. Meghnad's duty was to teach Quantum Mechanics. Within few days of starting teaching, Saha and Bose translated the papers published in German by Einstein and Minkowski on relativity into English versions. Later this was published as a book from Calcutta University. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis wrote the preface to this book.

In 1919, American Astrophysical Journal published - "On Selective Radiation Pressure and its application" - a research paper by Meghnad. Slowly his expertise became astrophysics and "Saha ions theory" was published. By 1920, Meghnad Saha established himself as one of the leading scientist in physics. Saha went abroad and stayed for two years. He spent time in research at Imperial College, London and at a research laboratory in Germany.

In 1927, Meghnad was elected as a fellow of London's Royal Society. He wanted to set up a modern research laboratory in Calcutta University, but was not very successful. He moved to Allahabad University and in 1932 Uttar Pradesh Academy of Science was established. He returned to Science College, Calcutta in 1938. During this time Saha got interested in Nuclear Physics. In 1947, he established Institute of Nuclear Physics which later was named after him as Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics. He took the first effort to include Nuclear Physics in the curriculum of higher studies of science. For the sake of development of science he joined politics and in 1951 was elected as a member of the Parliament. This great scientist died in 1956.

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