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MEGHNAD SAHA- THE ASTROPHYSICIST

Meghnad Saha was a famous astrophysicist known for his theory of ionization explaining the origin of stellar spectra.

Meghnad Saha- The Astrophysicist

Meghnad Saha was born on 6th October 1893 in Shaoratoli, Dhaka, British India and died on 15th February 1956 in Delhi, India. Despite coming from a humble background of a village, he went on to carve a name for himself in the world. He was born in a poor background where he had to struggle in life for achieving the basic primary education. His attitude of never giving up in life and relentless dedication towards the field of science made him reach the heights. Despite having no means or laboratory with equipment, he continued his research work and devised Saha equation. Saha equation is known for describing the physical and chemical conditions in the stars.

EDUCATION

He belonged from a very poor family that struggled to make their ends meet. Owing to the meagre financial conditions, his parents couldn’t afford the education of their children. Despite the setbacks, he was extremely keen towards studies. His parents urged him to lend help in the family’s shop after completing his primary education but he didn’t give up.

He started working for a local doctor in the village, Ananta Kumar, in lieu of him sponsoring Saha’s education. In 1905, he shifted to Dhaka and joined Collegiate School. After passing with great marks, he joined Presidency College, Calcutta in 1911 where he got Satyendra Nath Bose, Jnan Ghosh, JN Mukherjee as classmates.

As fate would have it, his teachers included famous Jagadish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray at the college level who fuelled his interest in science. In 1913, he completed his Bachelors of Science in Mathematics and in 1915; he completed his Masters of Science in Applied Mathematics. He got a job in University College of Science in Calcutta after his college exams.

CAREER AND WORK

In 1916, he served as the lecturer at University College of Science in Calcutta in Department of Applied Mathematics. Yet again, he was accompanied by his prior classmate Satyendra Nath Bose, who joined the same university. Both worked in the physics sector only.

Meghnad Saha chose topics like spectroscopy, hydrostatics and thermodynamics for giving lectures. But teaching didn’t deter him from researching. Despite the lack of any research laboratory in the college to carry out experiments, he continued his research work.

He went on to write a lengthy essay in 1917 on ‘Pressure’ which was sent to Astrophysical Journal for publishing purposes. The journal publication house notified him that the essay could only be published if he could bear some of the cost of publication, which he couldn’t. Since he was poor, he couldn’t afford it and it remained unpublished. Only a short note about his research was mentioned in the journal.

In 1919, he got awarded by Calcutta University as Doctorate in Science. For his dissertation (original paper, a form of thesis) on ‘Harvard Classification of Stellar Spectra’, he achieved the Premchand Roychand Scholarship in 1919. By 1920, he could get four of his original papers published in Philosophical Magazine relating to the field of astrophysical research. His original theory relating to Thermal Ionization was explained in the papers for which he received the Griffith Prize in 1920 from Calcutta University.

Owing to the Premchand Roychand Scholarship, he could afford to go to Europe for research work. In London, he worked with Alfred Fowler before shifting to Berlin for working in the laboratory of Walter Nernst. In 1923, he joined Allahabad University. In 1925, he became the president of Indian Science Congress Association in the physics department.

In 1935, he established the Indian Science News Association in Calcutta. He was appointed as the Professor of Physics at Calcutta University in 1938. He started taking measures for improving the quality of education by including the subject of nuclear physics in the course of MSc Physics. He even initiated a post-MSc specialisation course in the field of nuclear science. He is also known for making the original plan for the Damodar Valley Project. He took measures for making a cyclotron. In 1950, he established the Institute of Nuclear Physics.

However, his most famous contribution remains to be the Saha ionization equation. The equation forms a relationship between temperature pressure and ions of an element. Spectral identification of the stars can be done by using the equation. This equation is used as a tool in the field of astrophysics. He is also known for inventing an instrument which could measure the pressure and weight of solar rays. Science and Culture was a journal founded by him.

Despite his work and contributions in the field of science, he could not become a Nobel Prize winner. He did, however, become a Fellow of the Royal Society. He is known to be an atheist who was killed by a heart attack. In 1943, to honour him, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Calcutta was formed.