2.6 Great scientists have a questioning mind


Great scientific minds are restless with questions. They keep asking, ‘Why does this happen ?’, ‘Can I make it better?’ or ‘What more can this do?’

 Let us study the life of a great scientist, who lived in the same era as Einstein but about 5000 kilometres east of Germany, in India.

 Born in Tiruchirapalli in southern India, in the year 1888, Raman grew up to be one of the greatest scientists in India. He was a bright student right from the start and was deeply interested in optical science and acoustics. This is what perhaps led him to discover that the mridangam and the tabla produced more melodious sounds than any other percussion instrument. He was fascinated by colourful things, be it a flower, butterfly or gem. He kept seeking knowledge about everything around him.

He became a scholar in sound and sound-related physics. One day, a ship sailed from the port of London towards Calcutta. On board was young C. V. Raman, who had delivered a lecture on the acoustics of the violin in London. He was now on the ship’s deck, gazing at the blue waters of the ocean

 As he glanced up at the sky, which was of the same shade as the ocean, a series of questions popped up in his head. ‘Why are both the sea and the sky blue in colour ? What is the science behind this occurrence ?’

His mind seemed to suggest that the reason could be the scattering of light by water molecules. However, his theory was yet to be proved scientifically.

 When the ship anchored at Calcutta, the young man immediately went on to conduct experiments to prove his theory. His research in optics, the science of light, resulted in the discovery of the Raman Effect. He announced it to the scientific world in March 1928. The discovery won him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930. It was the first time this prize was awarded to an Asian! The day he discovered the Raman Effect, 28 February, was later declared as National Science Day.

 Even before this, his contribution to the science of optics had been acknowledged and he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1924.

 You would have learnt about the ‘Raman Effect’ in detail at school. But do you know the discovery subsequently helped in determining the internal structures of some 2000 chemical compounds ?

And can you guess what the cost of the equipment that Raman used to prove his theory was ? A measly two hundred rupees!

 Raman strongly felt that scientists should not be confined to laboratories to solve scientific problems. They should search around themselves and find those answers in accordance with nature. For the essence of science lies in independent thinking and hard work and not in equipment. How true ! Though the oceans and the sky have always been blue in colour, it needed a questioning mind with a scientific outlook to find the reason behind it!