Nikunja Bihari Sahu
he National Science Day is celebrated in India to reminisce the landmark discovery of the Raman Effect by eminent physicist Sir CV Raman February 28, 1928 and his subsequent felicitation of the Nobel Prize as the first Asian in Physics. The life of CV Raman has several important points to be chronicled that should be reflected upon and imbibed by our young generation today.
First, Raman published his first scientific paper entitled ‘Unsymmetrical diffraction bands due to a rectangular aperture’ in the British journal ‘The Philosophical Magazine’ in 1906 while he was a graduate student and only 18-year-old. This shows that inclination for path-breaking discoveries should be occupied in one’s mind at the very early age.
Second, Raman contradicted with Lord Rayleigh, the eminent British physicist of that time, regarding the explanation for the blue colour of the sea which he believed was due to the reflection of the blue sky. Rather than being dogmatic in accepting the prevailing view, Raman tried to verify the theory during his voyage from Southampton to Bombay in 1921. While passing through the Mediterranean aboard the steamship SS Narkunda, he was so intrigued by the blue colour of the sea that while most of his co-passengers were enjoying the thrilling voyage, he immediately carried out a series of improvised experiments on the deck with a few tools from his pocket to conclude that the blue colour of the sea was actually due to the predominant scattering of the blue wavelength of the sunlight by the water particles. It theoretically proved the Rayleigh explanation wrong and, hence, represented the unfolding of a revolutionary idea from the Eastern world breaking the monopoly of the scientific supremacy of the West.
Thirdly, Raman quit the lucrative post of Assistant Accountant General in 1907 held in the Indian Financial Service in Kolkata (then Calcutta) to join as the Palit Professor of Physics in the University of Calcutta for nearly half the salary just for the sheer love he had for scientific research. Fourthly, although two contemporary Russian physicists — GS Landsberg (1890-1957) and LI Mandelstam (1879-1944) were also working on the same field of scattering of light by liquid particles and had almost discovered the effect, it was Raman who mailed the paper first to the British journal ‘Nature’ for publication.
Finally, the fact that Raman discovered the Effect with the help of a spectrometer that cost hardly five hundred rupees at that time proved that path-breaking discoveries in science can also be achieved even by one’s own ingenuity and original approach rather than the instrumentation superiority of a country.
However, it is lamenting to note that despite this rich legacy in scientific pursuit, Indian youth currently are more attracted to careers in technology rather than fundamental research in pure science. This is the reason why the country is now lagging far behind in the field of scientific research compared to other nations. It is also shocking to note that the country has not been able to produce any world class scientist to bag the world’s coveted prize even 90 years after Raman.
The state of poor research in India is evident from the fact that the country has reportedly only 140 researchers per 1,000,000 population as compared to 4,651 in the US and that India ranks 34th in global spending on scientific research and development. India’s Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) in Science and Technology stands around 0.7% of its GDP which is far lower compared to nations like Israel (4.6 %), South Korea (4.5%), Japan (3.2%), Germany (3%), the USA (2.8%), France (2.2 %), the UK (1.7%), Canada (1.6%), China ( 2.1%), Brazil (1.3%) and Russia (nearly 1%). Indian research and manufacturing industries, both in private and public sectors, filed only 1428 international patent applications in 2014 as compared to 42,381 by Japan, 25,548 by China, and 13,117 by South Korea.
The dismal performance can be attributed to the poor quality of research work in India, pitiable market value for its products and the lengthy period of research by an individual.
For a country, scientific research is not just a revenue generator, but a long-term asset expected to bring about new technological innovations as a fillip to the economy. India should not only be investing more on scientific research by expanding its research base, but also should assert to its younger citizens that a career in this domain is indeed rewarding. Raman’s legacy would go a long way to take our scientific research to new heights in days to come.
The writer is Education Officer, Regional Science Centre, Bhopal. Views are personal.