The Desi roots of the God Particle

If any of my fellow Dan Brown readers’ remember, Robert Langdon, when asked whether he believes in God, says,

“Science and religion were not enemies, but rather allies – two different languages telling the same story”

One of the examples, if you may, of this statement is the Higgs-Boson particle– or in more famous parlance, the God particle. This particle is  associated with the Higgs field, which imparts mass to all other fundamental particles, such as the electron.

As much as I would love to be someone who understands quantum physics, the fact of the matter is that having an immense appreciation and fascination for physics does not render me a student of this branch of science. The one thing that is within my field of understanding, or rather, knowing, is the brain behind the discovery of the God particle.

Back in 2012, researchers found evidence of the Higgs Boson particle in Large Hadron Collider, the particle accelerator  at the largest particle physics laboratory of the world, at CERN , located at the Franco-Swiss border. It was a massive eureka moment for all physicists. However, it’s not like the Higgs boson had not already achieved somewhat of a celebrity status by then. Science, of course, and mainstream media were no strangers to it, and neither were they strangers to the Higgs part of the name- Peter Higgs. The boson part of the name is in honor of the Indian theoretical physicist Satyendra Nath Bose who discovered the boson in the first place (duh), but never really enjoyed too much of the spotlight.

(Source: Remembering the Classical Academician’s Spirit of Satyendra Nath Bose )

Although not as renowned as his contemporaries (or other Bose-s, for that matter), S.N. Bose was undoubtedly one of the 20th century’s most influential scientists. Physics turned a new chapter because of  his groundbreaking way of interpreting photon activity and photon statistics, later known as Bose statistics. Einstein, whose name often often pops up while talking of Bose, played a vital role in getting Bose’s work recognized and published. The boson was what they found from what is now known as the Bose-Einstein condensate and Bose-Einstein statistics. I might be digressing a little bit here, but the term Bose-Einstein statistics stands a grim witness to the racist prejudice in science. Unless a Western scientist supports any scientific theory, it does not gain the global attention that it deserves, by virtue of its merits. 

A loss of ideas

In order to teach his class, Bose read Planck’s papers on the subject  blackbody radiation, and was troubled by the ad hoc assumption upon which Planck’s derivation rested. In 1924, he came across  Einstein and Paul Ehrenfest’s Quantum Theory of the Equilibrium of Radiation and its relation to Einstein’s  Quantum Theory of Radiation publication. This led him to develop Bose statistics and applied it to his derivation of Planck’s radiation law

Bose went on to write two papers, furthering Planck’s previous works, namely, Planck’s law and the theory of light-quantum  and Thermal equilibrium in the presence of matter in the radiation field. He submitted these as single units to the prestigious English scientific journal Philosophical Magazine and never heard back from them. Bose reached out to Einstein saying,

“If you think the paper worth publication, I shall be grateful if you arrange for its publication in Zeitschrift für Physik. 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.”

(Source: SN Bose’s letter to Albert Einstein on Quantum Mechanics )

Einstein acceded and published both papers in the Zeitschrift für Physik, but not completely in the way that Bose had hoped for. Einstein was excited about Bose’s first paper and regarded the thesis as an important contribution. Einstein’s remarks on the second paper (Thermal equilibrium in the presence of matter in the radiation field)  were somewhat different, stating that Bose’s principle did not sit right with certain conditions. Einstein replaced one of Bose’s arguments with an alternate argument of his own, and Bose felt that his theory thus lost its core idea and was misunderstood by Einstein. Bose somewhat lost his interest in going through with his research, and for the next 12 years did not produce any original work in the field of theoretical physics.

Bose-Einstein condensate

Einstein expanded on Bose’s work and statistics,  and, on 10 July 1924, 8 January 1925 and 29 January 1925, sent three papers on this thesis to the Prussian Academy of Science in Berlin, with Bose having no knowledge of this, much less having provided his consent. In addition, Einstein wrongly quoted Bose’s figures in two of the papers, referring to Debendra Mohan Bose, a physicist.

The 8th January paper showed that, below a critical temperature, there is a transition to a quantum state with no kinetic energy.

 “A separation occurs; one part ‘condenses,’ the rest remains a ‘saturated ideal gas.’ ”

(Source: Volume 14: The Berlin Years: Writings & Correspondence, April 1923-May 1925 page lxix)

In 1938, Fritz London took this from being an idea on paper to reality. The Bose-Einstein condensate enabled physicists to make observations of quantum fields and behavior  at a macroscopic level and examine many fundamental aspects of matter.

Legend, in vernacular

A polyglot himself, he pushed to normalize teaching science, even advanced science, in a vernacular language of instruction. Bose taught university classes in Bengali, paying no heed to the mockery surrounding it, and translated several pacers t0 his mother tongue. His inspiration for this came from Japan, where it is rather common for even the complex of subjects to be taught in Japanese, and for it to be the language of scientific discussions and seminars. 

Even at post-graduate and research levels, Bose’s lifelong interest in using the native tongue as a medium of science instruction was indomitable. His ambition to popularise science through the vernacular medium led him to establish Bangiya Bijnan Parishad and to launch the Jnan o Bijnan (1948) science magazine, perhaps India’s first in a vernacular language.

Bose, unlike  Saha, Homi Bhabha, Mahalanobis or Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, was not an institution builder. He has been a professor in various branches of science, mathematics and statistics, literature, language and music all his life, with profound interests. He was a man with true passion, and a legend we forgot to remember.

-Team Complimentary, With Compliments

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