Posted on August 2, 2011


Sathyendra Nath Bose

Bose’s letter to Einstein (click to enlarge)

How many of us really know that the famous Bose – Einstein condensate theory really originated from an Indian Scientist. Here is the story in short.

The famous Bose Einstein Condensate Theory was first derived by Dr. Sathyendra Nath Bose. His paper was translated to German by Einstein and he extended this theory to many other particles and published. We know Einstein but not Bose!!!

In 1900, Max Planck explained in the theory of black body radiation that light is emitted in discrete amounts (quanta) rather than as a continuous wave. But his derivation of this formula was not satisfactory to other scientists, in fact even to himself. However, his formula held true to everyone’s surprise.

Albert Einstein’s Nobel Prize-winning paper explained the photoelectric effect based on Planck’s quanta as photons in 1905. (Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for this paper, not for his papers on Relativity!) But many of his colleagues were not fully convinced of his yet-to-be-developed photon theory. The world was waiting for a new theory on fundamental particles to fill the gaps.

Under these circumstances, as a teacher for the post-graduate students at the Dhaka University Bose felt dissatisfied with the existing derivations of plank’s radiation law and developed a logically satisfactory derivation based entirely on Einstein’s photon concept. In earlier cases he sent his papers to the philosophical magazine but this time his paper was not accepted. Bose was disappointed due to the failure of his hard work. Albert Einstein was an influential scientist those days. Then he decided to send the paper to Albert Einstein with a request to arrange its publication in ‘zeitschrift für physic’. It was really a bold decision since Bose was entirely a strange to Einstein. Bose’s letter to Einstein has become important document in the history of science. Bose in his letter dated June 04, 1924 wrote:

“I have ventured to send you the accompanying article for your perusal and opinion. I am anxious to know what you think of it. You will see that I have tried to deduce the coefficient 8p v2/c3 in Plank’s Law independent of classical electrodynamics, only assuming that the elementary regions in the phase-space has the content h3. I do not know sufficient German to translate the paper. If you think the paper worth publication I shall be grateful if you arrange for its publication in Zeitschrift für Physic. 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. I do not know whether you still remember that somebody from Calcutta asked your permission to translate your papers on Relativity in English. You acceded to the request. The book has since published. I was the one who translated your paper on Generalised Relativity.”

Einstein, not only a great scientist but also a true humble person not only acknowledged the receipt of Bose’s letter but also translated Bose’s paper into German and it was published in August 1924 issue of Zeitschrift für Physic under the heading “Plancksgesetz Lichtquantenhypothese” (Its English title was “Planck’s Law and Light Quantum Hypothesis”) with the following comment of the translator: “Bose’s derivative of Plank’s formula appears to me to be an important step forward. The method used here gives also the quantum theory of an ideal gas, as I shall show elsewhere.” This is how quantum statistics was born. It may be noted here that statistical ideas entered physics through the work of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79) and Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann (1844-1906) on the kinetic theory of gases, more than a century ago.

Einstein applied Bose’s method to give the theory of the ideal quantum gas, and predicted the phenomenon of Bose-Einstein condensation.

When Bose was trying to re derive Planck’s Law he himself was not even aware that he would make a revolutionary discovery. Planck’s Law had been known for well over twenty years and there were a number of derivations including the one by Einstein. Bose said to J. Mehra: “I had no idea that what I had done was really novel. I thought that perhaps it was the way of looking at the thing. I was not a statistician to the extent of really knowing that I was doing something, which was really different from what Boltzmann would have done from Boltzmann statistics. Instead of thinking of the light quantum just as a particle, I talked about these states. Somehow, this was the same question that Einstein asked when I met him. How had I arrived at this method of deriving Plank’s formula? Well, I recognized the contradictions in the attempts of Planck and Einstein, and applied the statistics in my own way, but I did not think that it was different from Boltzmann’s statistics.” It may be noted that even Einstein could not foresee the full potential and application possibilities of Bose’s idea, which, along with its subsequent development by Fermi provided the basis of categorizing the fundamental particles into two groups –bosons after Bose and fermions after Fermi.

Einstein should his gratitude by placing Bose’s name in first as ‘Bose – Einstein theory’.

One thing that makes us feel bad is that Einstein is credited by all of us but Bose still remains unknown to the world. However it is worth feeling ashamed of us that while he is known to most westerners he still stands unknown to us.

Today we all how many centuries have Sachin recorded, How many Oscar’s did Rahman receive, How many awards did Kamal Hasan receive and we pray for the health of Rajni kanth. There’s nothing wrong, but it is important to know about the real heroes like Dr.S.N.Bose and their contributions to the world.

A worthy appeal is that the government should also include these communications between Bose and Einstein in the text books of the students, at least in one or two sentences and give equal importance to Mr.Bose. Only then these histories can be prevented from becoming a mystery.

Let us spread this by sharing this post.

– Yogesh Karthick.S

Mysteries Explored

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Posted in: The Legends