Sir C.V Raman – The First Indian Scientist to Win a Nobel Prize

Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman Image source
” We Indians (authorities and intelligence agencies) are suffering from moral anaemia & spiritual cancer. The honest, kind and upright man/woman is ridiculed in the midst of corrupt & spiritually malnourished ones.”
Did the same happen to Sir C.V. Raman?

“He was in a jolly mood and in the course of conversation told her with a loud laugh that he had got his first sliver of platinum when he smashed his Bharat Ratna medal with a hammer. This story is also said to have been used in one of his lectures where he talked about a series of experiments that required platinum; that in a rage at the government for their ill-conceived policies on science, he had taken a hammer to his Bharat Ratna medal, and when it broke, he had found the platinum.” Source Original source is newsletter from Sidin Sunny Vadukut. He sent this in his recent newsletter.

Sir C. V. Raman (7 November 1888 – 21 November 1970) worked at Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) during 1907 to 1933 on various topics of Physics making discovery of the celebrated effect on scattering of light in 1928, which bears his name, and that brought many accolades including the Nobel Prize (Nobel Lecture by Sir C V Raman and Presentation Speech  by Professor H. Pleijel, Chairman of the Nobel Committee) in 1930. The American Chemical Society designated the Raman Effect as an International Historic Chemical Landmark in 1998.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1930 was awarded to Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman “for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him”.

The Raman Effect

Raman and his students continued researching light scattering in gases, liquids and solids.

They used monochromatic light – sunlight that had been filtered to leave only a single color – and found that a variety of different liquids – sixty of them – did indeed change the color of the light. They first observed this in April 1923, but very weakly.

In 1927 they found a particularly strong color change in light scattered by glycerol (then called glycerine):

100-c-v-raman“…the highly interesting result that the colour of sunlight scattered in a highly purified sample of glycerine was a brilliant green instead of the usual blue.”

Nobel Lecture, 1930

Raman’s team observed the effect in gases, crystals and glass. The effect might have been mistaken for fluorescence, another phenomenon in which light has its color changed, but in Raman’s work the light scattered by liquids was polarized, which ruled out fluorescence.

Approximate Representation of the Raman Effect  (A) Blue light approaches a molecule, and then (B) Lower energy green light leaves the molecule. This is inelastic scattering: the light has given some of its energy to the molecule, causing it to vibrate more strongly.

What came to be known as the Raman effect – a color change accompanied by polarization – had never been seen before. The inelastic scattering at its heart was a further, very strong confirmation, of quantum theory.

An approximate representation of Rayleigh scattering in Earth’s atmosphere.  Rayleigh scattering is elastic. This means that photons of light lose no energy when they interact with gas molecules. The light, therefore, stays the same color.

The Raman effect is a very small effect compared with Rayleigh scattering. Only about 1 in ten million photons undergoes inelastic scattering.

Raman and his colleague K.S. Krishnan reported their discovery in March 1928 in Nature.

Raman was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics for “work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him.”

Raman Spectroscopy

Raman showed that the energy of photons scattered inelastically serves as a ‘fingerprint’ for the substance the light is scattered from. As a result of this, Raman spectroscopy is now commonly used in chemical laboratories all over the world to identify substances. It is also used in medicine to investigate living cells and tissues – even detecting cancers – without causing harm. Laser light rather than sunlight is used as the source of photons.

Source: C.V. Raman (Famous Scientists – The Art of Genius)

The Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), founded on July 29, 1876 by Dr. Mahendra Lal Sircar, is an autonomous Institute. It is the oldest research institute in India. The institute is devoted to the pursuit of fundamental  research in the frontier areas of  Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Energy, Polymer and Materials. In each field, IACS nurtures young and innovative research fellows in their doctoral programs.

Niels Bohr and C.V. Raman Image source

He was the first Indian to become Director of Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore (now Bengaluru), India. Raman succeeded Sir Martin Forster, FRS. He served IISc both as its Director (1933-1937) and head of the Physics Department (1933-1948).

Image source

For achieving academic excellence he himself gathered a team of talented students and started doing high quality research in many fields of physics. Raman also wanted to initiate basic research in fields like quantum mechanics, crystal chemistry and vitamins and enzyme chemistry by recruiting outstanding faculty. At that point of time many reputed scientists were forced to leave Germany because of Hitler’s racist policy. Raman wanted to bring some of these scientists to IISc. Raman had many names on his list, both foreign and Indian’. However, he was only successful in bringing Max Born, that too for a short time.

After retirement from the Institute he concentrated his attention in building an institute of his own – the Raman Research Institute (RRI) [Wikipedia]. Even before his retirement Raman had started to build an institute where he could retire and enjoy science.

To quote Raman :

“You know, I was to retire at 60. So two years before my retirement I started building this institute so that on the day I retired I took my bag and walked right into this institute. I can not remain idle for a single day”.

Raman had to gather money for building the Institute. Raman had lost most of his life’s savings including his Nobel Prize money in an investment. The Institute was built on a ten acre plot of land gifted by the Maharajah of Mysore way back in 1934, the land was given to the Indian Academy of Sciences, and for its related activities. Raman travelled extensively for raising donation for constructing the building for housing the institute. When Raman moved to the institute the facilities were far from complete. Raman was opposed to the idea of taking grants from the government for running the institute. To earn money for the institute he started a few chemical industries (in association with one of his former students). The dividends from these industries were sufficient to support the institute to start with. He gifted away most of his personal properties to the Academy for the benefit of the institute, as also the Lenin Peace Prize money. A museum was built to house Raman’s collection of crystals, gems, minerals, rock specimens, shells, stuffed birds, butterflies and so on. Raman had fascination for colours and so he collected everything that had colours.

Raman loved children and he derived immense pleasure in showing them his museum and the laboratories of the Raman Research Institute.

He believed that

“The true wealth of a Nation consists not in the stored-up gold in its coffers and banks, not in the factories, but in the intellectual and physical strength of its men, women and children.”

On a personal note, throughout my life, after having studied at various Indian institutions including the ones being administered directly or indirectly by Indian Armed Forces, I can summarise a fact that Indians are first class people being governed/administered by third class administrators and intelligence officials (irresponsible and insensitive), who have a destructive mindset with a complete lack of, or very little, compassion and empathy. They lack patience and will power. Though it is balanced somewhat by powers unknown. I feel, keeping a wise [wisdom – ability to apply knowledge, experience, understanding or common sense and insight; the quality of being prudent and sensible], honest, kind, sincere, upright and an intelligent human being amongst individuals who are rude, arrogant, overconfident, selfish and stupid, is a worst kind of torture. The insult and humiliation is further compounded when the latter  (corrupt/stupid individuals) are given an authority to exercise power over the former (wise). 

The biggest attitude of Indian authorities that has become a nemesis for innocent Indian citizens, is their intolerance. The moment one points out their blunders and mistakes, they try to bring harm to the complainant in the name of training or maintaining discipline.

Honour and insult differs from person to person, an honour for one can constitute an insult and humiliation for the other, under almost similar circumstances. The problem with Indian authorities is, they lack empathy and compassion, and tend to treat every human being as one and the same. For some money, rewards and awards can soothe the pain of insult and humiliation, whereas for others it is like adding salt to a burned wound. It also constitutes an insult and humiliation, if a gullible/innocent person is awarded a position, an award or honour which s/he is not worthy of, moreover s/he doesn’t have ability or skill to have an inkling about it, making a fool of himself/herself in front of the whole world.

Sadly, our authorities/institutions try to hide behind the veil of nationalism and socialism (though often workload is enormous) to hide their ineptitude, incompetence, and lack of empathy and compassion, and great people like Nobel Laureate Sir Professor C.V. Raman  and many other innocent individuals had to bear the brunt.

The traits of Nobel mind

  • When I am in the midst of great teachers, I thought of sharing with you an incident about Sir CV Raman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics for discovering Raman Effect. Sir Raman gives the view that the colour of sky is blue due to molecular diffraction which determines the observed luminosity and in great measures also its colour. This led to the birth of the Raman Effect. Sir Raman was in the first batch of Bharat Ratna Award winners. Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian honour, conferred for exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order by the Government of India. The award ceremony was to take place in the last week of January, soon after the Republic Day celebrations of 1954. The then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad wrote to C. V. Raman inviting him to be the personal guest in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, when C. V Raman comes to New Delhi, India for the award ceremony. Sir CV Raman wrote a polite letter, regretting his inability to go. Sir C. V Raman had a noble reason for his inability to attend the investiture ceremony. He explained to the President that he was guiding a Ph.D. student and that thesis was positively due by the last day of January. The student was valiantly trying to wrap it all up and C. V. Raman felt, he had to be by the side of the research student, see that the thesis was finished, sign the thesis as the guide, and then have it submitted. Here was a scientist who gave up the pomp of a glittering ceremony associated with the highest honour, because he felt that his duty required him to be by the side of the student. It is this unique trait of giving value to science that builds science.

From “Great Teachers Inspire the Youth” a speech by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Professor C.V Raman used this simple innovative instrument which led to the discovery of RAMAN EFFECT Image source

Sir Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan, FRS, (4 December 1898 – 14 June 1961) was an Indian physicist. He was a co-discoverer of Raman scattering, for which his mentor C. V. Raman was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics. Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan

It was speculated that Sir C. V Raman did not give due credit to his student K.S Krishan for his discovery, but as per my observation, analysis and reasoning this assumption was completely false. One can read his Nobel Lecture for more insight.

“Krishnan, who very materially assisted me in these investigations, found at the same time that the phenomenon could be observed in several organic vapours, and even succeeded in visually determining the state of polarization of the modified radiations from them. Compressed gases such as CO, and N2O, crystalline ice, and optical glasses also were found to exhibit the modified radiations. These observations left little doubt that the phenomenon was really a species of light-scattering analogous to the Compton effect.”

SIR CHANDRASEKHARA V. RAMAN- “The molecular scattering of light”

Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1930 lecture_sir_cv_raman.pdf

Many people know Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (more popularly known as C.V. Raman) because he was the first Indian Nobel Laureate in science. Till date Raman remains the only Indian to receive a Nobel Prize in science. There are two Indian-born scientists viz., Har Gobind Khorana and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (who became US citizens) got Nobel Prizes in science. Raman was also the first Asian to get Nobel Prize in science.

Towards the end of his life Raman chose to make himself a recluse. He not only built high walls around the Raman Research Institute but also put up a prominent signboard announcing that visitors were not welcome. He was not at all happy the way the Government was trying to build up science and technology in the country.

At the end of October 1970, he collapsed in his laboratory, the valves of his heart having given way. He was moved to the hospital and the doctors gave him four hours to live. He survived and after a few days refused to stay in the hospital as he preferred to die in the gardens of his Institute surrounded by his flowers. Two days before Raman died, he told one of his former students, “Do not allow the journals of the Academy to die, for they are the sensitive indicators of the quality of science being done in the country and whether science is taking root in it or not.” That same evening, Raman met with the Board of Management of his Institute and discussed (from his bed) with them any proceedings with regards to the Institute’s management. Raman died from natural causes early next morning on 21 November 1970. C. V. Raman

[this is the only account I could get from govt. sources, regarding final days of Sir C.V. Raman, moreover it is difficult to get an actual account of humiliation meted out to Sir C. V Raman, as Indian intelligence agencies are shrewd enough to clear any back up of their misdeeds, as soon as they can]

[It is said that authorities (the government;bureaucracy;executive), because of their ineptitude, incompetence and lackadaisical attitude, are in a habit of degrading, insulting and humiliating, genius and ingenious minds; also they cannot differentiate, what constitutes insult and humiliation, and what constitutes an honour, that thereafter every genius Indian who had the capability of winning a Nobel Prize in Sciences were sent to the U.S.A. Brain drain is better than brain in drain. It is only now that India (govt. and executive; bureaucrats; judiciary) have woken up to their importance and the advantages that such individuals can provide.]

“When the Nobel award was announced I saw it as a personal triumph, an achievement for me and my collaborators — a recognition for a very remarkable discovery, for reaching the goal I had pursued for 7 years. But when I sat in that crowded hall and I saw the sea of western faces surrounding me, and I, the only Indian, in my turban and closed coat, it dawned on me that I was really representing my people and my country. I felt truly humble when I received the Prize from King Gustav; it was a moment of great emotion but I could restrain myself. Then I turned round and saw the British Union Jack under which I had been sitting and it was then that I realised that my poor country, India, did not even have a flag of her own – and it was this that triggered off my complete breakdown.” C.V. Raman [Source: Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman]

“I have never seen anyone who enjoyed science so much. The sheer joy of seeing things and doing science filled him with exuberance and excitement. He had an incredible zest for life. He enjoyed his food, his jokes, his fights and quarrels. Yet the enjoyment he had for his science was something apart. In this pursuit it was as if his ego disappeared completely in the presence of effulgent Nature. Yes, he was truly lost in the wonder and beauty of what he was trying to comprehend.”——- S. Ramaseshan on C.V. Raman (quoted from C.V. Raman : A Pictorial Biography, Indian Academy of Sciences Bangalore)

Raman’s celebrated discovery, the Raman Effect, experimentally demonstrated that the light-quanta and molecules do exchange energy which manifests itself as a change in the colour of the scattered light. However, this phenomenon was earlier predicted theoretically by Hendrik Anthony Kramers (1894-1952) and Werner Heisenberg (1901-76). It was the most convincing proof of quantum theory of light. This does not diminishes the importantce of Raman’s discovery.

As Albert Einstein (1879-1955) wrote : “C.V. Raman was the first to recognize and demonstrate that the energy of photon can undergo partial transformation within matter. I still recall vividly the deep impression that this discovery made on all of us….”

Raman loved children and he derived immense pleasure in showing them his museum and the laboratories of the Raman Research Institute.

He believed that

“The true wealth of a Nation consists not in the stored-up gold in its coffers and banks, not in the factories, but in the intellectual and physical strength of its men, women and children.”

“To Raman, scientific activity was the fulfillment of an inner need. His approach to science was one of passion, curiosity and simplicity. It was an attempt to understand. To him science was based on independent thought. Combined with hard work, science was a personal endeavour, an aesthetic pursuit and above all a joyous experience.”

Raman believed that science can be promoted only by doing it. He did not see any role for professional organizers of science. “For such people” Raman thought “The So-called organization of science becomes more important than science itself or its values”.

Raman died on November 21, 1970. As per his desire he was cremated in the gardens of his institute.

The tree planted on the site at the campus of Raman Research Institue where Raman was cremated; Tabebuia donnell-smithii,this tree is located in the lawn of Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru (previously Bangalore), India. This tree is a memorial to Sir C V Raman. Image source


  1. The Raman Effect
  2. Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman: A Legend of Modern Indian Science
  3. Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS)
  4. Wikipedia – various articles.

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