The Nobel Prize can be as controversial as it is prestigious. Very often, many scientists are left out of the spotlight despite their hard work in the particular field. Richard Feynman, the winner of 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, once said that the concept of this prize is deceptive. Classifying someone’s research as “Nobel” isn’t a good idea. Every research is ‘Nobel’ in some way. Here are the stories of a few Indian scientists who contributed significantly to our understanding of the world, but who unfortunately, due to politics or otherwise, never won top honours in Sweden.
1. Jagdish Chandra Bose
Accomplishment: First Wireless Communication
The idea that there exists a spectrum of electromagnetic waves was first put forward theoretically by James Maxwell. But Maxwell died in 1879 and could not witness the experimental verification of his idea. This idea caught the attention of many people in the world, including J.C Bose in Calcutta. The first remarkable aspect of Bose’s follow-up microwave research was that he reduced the waves to the millimetre level (about 5 mm wavelength). He realised the disadvantages of long waves for studying their light-like properties.
During a November 1894 public demonstration at Town Hall of Kolkata, Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using millimetre range wavelength microwaves. Lieutenant Governor Sir William Mackenzie witnessed Bose’s demonstration in the Kolkata Town Hall. Bose wrote in a Bengali essay, Adrisya Alok (Invisible Light), “The invisible light can easily pass through brick walls, buildings etc. Therefore, messages can be transmitted by means of it without the mediation of wires.” Bose announced the development of a “iron-mercury-iron coherer with telephone detector” in a paper presented at the Royal Society, London.
However, Bose never won the Nobel for his work. It was awarded to Marconi in the year 1909.
2. Satyendra Nath Bose
Accomplishment: Foundation of Bose Einstein Statistics and the Bose Einstein Condensates.
A student of Jagdish Chandra Bose, S.N. Bose was a remarkable theoretical physicist. A self-taught scholar and a polymath, he had a wide range of interests in varied fields including physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, mineralogy, philosophy, arts, literature, and music. He served on many research and development committees in sovereign India.
S.N. Bose was nominated by K. Banerji (1956), D.S. Kothari (1959), S.N. Bagchi (1962) and A.K. Dutta (1962) for the Nobel Prize in Physics, for his contribution to Bose–Einstein statistics and the unified field theory. For instance, Kedareswar Banerjee, head of the Physics Department, University of Allahabad, in a letter of 12 January 1956 wrote to the Nobel Committee as follows: “(1). He (Bose) made very outstanding contributions to Physics by developing the statistics known after his name as Bose statistics. In recent years this statistics is found to be of profound importance in the classifications of fundamental particles and has contributed immensely in the development of nuclear physics. (2). During the period from 1953 to date he has made a number of highly interesting contributions of far-reaching consequences on the subject of Einstein’s Unitary Field Theory.” Bose’s work was evaluated by an expert of the Nobel Committee, Oskar Klein, who did not see his work worthy of a Nobel Prize.
As quoted by his colleagues, “The naming of Bosons after S.N. Bose is a greater honor than the Nobel.”
3. Narinder Singh Kapany
Accomplishment: Pioneer of Fibre Optics.
Narinder Singh Kapany was the most deserving Nobel Prize winner for the work related to the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication. But the award was given to Charles Kao. The word ‘Fibre Optics’ was also coined by Kapany in 1960. Read more about this legend here.
4. E.C.G Sudarshan
Accomplishment: Pioneering Work In Quantum Optics.
George Sudarshan began his work in the field of quantum optics at University of Rochester in 1960. However, his approach was criticized by Roy Glauber. “Glauber criticized Sudarshan’s representation, but his own was unable to generate any of the typical quantum optics phenomena, hence he introduces what he calls a P-representation, which was Sudarshan’s representation by another name”, wrote a physicist. Sudarshan was passed over for the Physics Nobel Prize on more than one occasion, leading to controversy in 2005 when several physicists wrote to the Swedish Academy, protesting that Sudarshan should have been awarded a share of the Prize for the Sudarshan diagonal representation (also known as Sudarshan–Glauber representation) in quantum optics, for which Roy J. Glauber won his share of the prize.
n 2007, Sudarshan told the Hindustan Times, “The 2005 Nobel prize for Physics was awarded for my work, but I wasn’t the one to get it. Each one of the discoveries that this Nobel was given for work based on my research.” Sudarshan also commented on not being selected for the 1979 Nobel, “Steven Weinberg, Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam built on work I had done as a 26-year-old student. If you give a prize for a building, shouldn’t the fellow who built the first floor be given the prize before those who built the second floor?
5. Meghnad Saha
Accomplishment: Saha’s Ionisation Equation
Meghnad Saha was an Indian astrophysicist best known for his development of the Saha ionisation equation, used to describe chemical and physical conditions in stars. Saha was the first scientist to relate a star’s spectrum to its temperature, developing thermal ionisation equations that have been foundational in the fields of astrophysics and astrochemistry.
Saha was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1930 by Debendra Mohan Bose and Sisir Kumar Mitra. The Nobel Committee evaluated Saha’s work. It was seen as a useful application, but not a “discovery.” Thus he was not awarded the Prize. Saha was nominated again for the Prize in 1937 and 1940 by Arthur Compton; and in 1939, 1951 and 1955 by Mitra. The Committee held to its previous decision.