There are few people who deserve the above exclamation, and Sir C.V. Raman is one among them. I just finished reading "Raman and his Effect" by Dr. G. Venkataraman, and it has left me dazzled by one of the most brilliant gems India has produced. I knew next to nothing about Sir C.V before I read this book. I knew that he was a great scientist, knew about his work on acoustics and a little about the Raman effect. What I did not know about the man was his ego, his passion for Science, his love for India, his admiration for roses and minerals and diamonds, and his ego...
Raman is most celebrated for the discovery of the Raman effect . The story of its discovery is interesting. On his way back from his first ever trip abroad, Raman saw the blueness of the Mediterranean sea and wondered why it was. At that time, it was thought that the sea reflected the sky, and the particles in the sea-water absorbed light themselves. The accepted theory was that together, they gave large water bodies their characteristic blue color. But now, Raman had his own doubts. He always carried useful instruments with him, and he made some experiments right there, on the steamer. He then concluded that the water molecules were scattering the light incident upon them. During scattering, the frequency of the light altered, giving rise to the blue colour of the ocean. Raman Effect was thus discovered, and now has its applications in optical communication and analysis of materials, among others.
Perhaps lesser known is the work Raman did on Acoustics. He discovered how the mridangam and the tabla could generate actual musical notes, unlike other drums. He poured fine sand on the instruments immediately after striking them, and by observing the patterns formed by the grains, made fascinating discoveries about the harmonic nature of sounds produced by these instruments.
As a scientist, Raman had to be content with the less-than-adequate amenities he was provided. He was a true engineer. When there were no electric lights in the institute, he used sunlight for his optical experiments. That was Raman, never daunted by mundane, practically un-solvable problems such as poor infrastructure. His solution was simple - supplement the lack of infrastructure with the brilliance of the mind!
Raman's ego was proportional to his brilliance as a scientist. This mammoth-sized-ego was probably justified, probably, because he really was one of the best physicists of the time... After successfully completing the interview for the Assistant Account General's position at Calcutta, Raman said -"I took one look at all the candidates there and knew that I was going to stand first", and indeed he did. And what can you say about the confidence, nay, ego of the man who reserved steamer tickets to Europe in July for the Nobel awarding ceremony, even though they were only going to be announced in November!
There are a few other interesting anecdotes in the book, a couple of which I would like to share. A small boy once asked Raman if he was not ashamed of his turban, while travelling abroad. Raman then related this experience of his. When in London, he attended a lecture of Ernest Rutherford's. He happened to reach the place a little late, and was looking for a seat in the benches at the back. Rutherford then addressed him by his name, and invited him to come and sit in the front. He had recognized Raman because of the Madrasi turban! How could he be ashamed of his turban when it had served as a mark of identification? Another anecdote goes thus. While at IISc, Raman gave a problem in Spectroscopy to his student. The next day, he found the student sitting dejected. When asked why, the student replied "Another person is working on the same problem at UK. He has a 100 kW light, whereas I have only a 10 kW light". To this, Raman retorted "It does not matter, put a 100 kW brain on it!". Simple, ain't it?
In addition to being a great scientist, Sir C.V was also appreciative of Nature's beauty and bounty. He loved to collect diamonds and other crystals (in keeping with his passion for
optics). He grew a variety of flowers both at home and at Raman Research Institute. He states "I regard as the greatest feature of the world Nature herself. She is the supreme artist; she creates forms of beauty, loveliness and color, unsurpassable..."
I hope I have given at least a snippet (however small it may be), of the man who was perhaps as wonderful a person as he was a scientist, inspiring respect and awe in millions of seekers of knowledge. As I am writing this, my head bows in reverence to his great intellect. Little wonder that we celebrate February 28th as the National Science day. That was the day when Raman announced his Raman Effect to the world.
A note about the book itself. This book is one of a series, 'Vignettes in Physics', written by Dr.G. Venkataraman. The author received the Padmashri for the popularization of Science. 'Vignettes in Physics' satiates the curiosity of the ordinary reader and arouses interest in those serious about Physics. The author fondly calls it the "Junior Feynman series". Though this is the first book in this series that I have read seriously, I feel that it is excellent for people like me - who really want to delve deeper into Physics but do not have the time to study the Feynman lectures. Other books in this series are about the Chandrasekhar limit (Note: Raman was Chandrasekhar's uncle), QED, Bhabha, Saha, Quantum theory, etc. I am quite sure that each and every one of them will be an interesting read.