15 Indian Scientists Who Changed the World!

15 Indian Scientists Who Changed the World!

In June 2022, we launched a 15-day campaign where every day we posted a story about one eminent Indian scientist whose work has impacted our lives. It was called the Deetya Inspirational Icon series. In this post, we curate each one of them so you can marvel at the contributions we have made to the society and the world at large.

Here we go!

Sir C V Raman
Sir C V Raman

The renowned physicist Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman is an inspirational figure world over, he was the sponsor of the Indian Academy of Sciences, and the founder of the Indian Journal of Physics.

Sir C. V. Raman published his first scientific paper at the age of 18 and carried out the first scientific study on Indian percussions. He is also known for being the first coloured person to win a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the scattering of light, which eventually led to the Raman Effect’s discovery, named after him.

He also achieved the first position and qualified for India’s most prestigious Government service at the time, the Indian Finance Services. C. V. Raman was honoured with India’s Highest Civilian Award, Bharat Ratna, during his lifetime in 1954.

Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Perhaps the most distinguished intellectual figure of the 20th century, Dr. Radhakrishnan served as the first Vice President and the second President of Independent India. But there is much more to his stature than that.

“When we think we know, we cease to learn,” Dr. Radhakrishnan used to say. Being a professor by profession, he had a passion for teaching and always kept alive his students' desire for learning. During his glorious lifetime, he also served as an ambassador to UNESCO.

He received numerous accolades, including the Bharat Ratna for his devotion and contributions to enhancing the value of education in our society.

Dr. Satyendranath Bose
Dr. Satyendranath Bose

Satyendra Nath Bose is one of India’s most celebrated scholars, mathematicians, and scientists. Born and brought up in Kolkata on January 1, 1894, Bose is most recognised for his works on Quantum Mechanics.

After being rejected by a scientific journal, Bose sent his quantum formulations to Albert Einstein, who valued his discovery and contributions to quantum mechanics. This led to the famous Bose-Einstein condensate that we are familiar with today.

The Indian Government also honoured Bose’s contribution to Physics and presented him with the Padma Vibhushan award.

A teacher by profession, Bose loved giving lectures in Physics. He was appointed as a National Professor and served as the head of many scientific institutions. His contributions led to many scientific discoveries, including the famous God Particle and the Particle Accelerator. In fact, the Boson particle is named after him.

Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose
Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose

Often referred to as the father of Modern Science in the Indian Subcontinent, Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose was a man with his name figuratively marked on the moon. He was the first Asian to be awarded a US patent.

He demonstrated the first-ever wireless communication through radio waves. The technology we use today in WiFi finds its roots in his research and experimentation.

During a November 1894 (or 1895) 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. In an essay, Bose noted the potential for wireless communications via radio waves.

Bose submitted his first scientific paper, ``On polarisation of electric rays by double-refracting crystals,`` to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in May 1895. His submitted his second, ``On a new electro-polariscope,`` to the Royal Society of London in October 1895, and it was published by The Electrician in December 1895. The paper described Bose's plans for a coherer, a term coined by Lodge referring to radio wave receivers, which he intended to ``perfect`` but never patented. The paper was well received by The Electrician and The Englishman, which in January 1896 commented

``Should Professor Bose succeed in perfecting and patenting his ‘Coherer’, we may in time see the whole system of coast lighting throughout the navigable world revolutionised by a Bengali scientist working single handed in our Presidency College Laboratory.``

Bose went to London on a lecture tour in 1896 and met Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who had been developing a radio wave wireless telegraphy system for over a year and was trying to market it to the British post service. In an interview, Bose expressed his disinterest in commercial telegraphy and suggested others use his research work. In 1899, Bose announced the development of a ``iron-mercury-iron coherer with telephone detector`` in a paper presented at the Royal Society, London

Using an interdisciplinary approach, Bose combined Botany and Physics to demonstrate that even plants responded to their environment. He also founded the first interdisciplinary research centre in India, the Bose Institute, serving as its Director until his death. Bose had a keen interest in literature, was a close friend of G.B. Shaw and was also one of the first Bengali Science fiction writers.

He was a pioneer, a writer and an inventor. The interdisciplinary approach he followed is today being incorporated into the National Education Policy.

Sir Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray
Sir Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray

Born on 2nd August 1861, Sir Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray dedicated his life to make India industrially self-sufficient. He was referred to with the honorary title of Acharya, which means “one who leads by example”.

Being a connoisseur of literature, PC Ray was keenly interested in books and read a plethora of them. He also learnt the languages Latin and Green when he was barely 10 years old.

Referred to as the Father of Hindu Chemistry, he was an inspiring teacher and researcher. His lectures were decorated with humour and wit. He encouraged his students to have a scientific, entrepreneurial, free and rational mind. His curiosity about the origins of Chemistry translated to over 150 international research papers on the subject during his lifetime.

So much was his love for science that PC Ray pledged 15 years of his income to develop the science department at the Calcutta University, the college where he taught.

A firm believer of industrialization and its potential in driving India’s success, he strongly upheld the power of industries in driving India’s success. Despite all odds against him, he started and successfully ran India’s first pharmaceutical company called “The Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works”. The company renamed as Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Limited is functional to this day.

With a relentless desire to make India industrially self-sufficient, he helped set up various businesses including textile mills, soap factories, sugar factories, chemical industries, ceramic factories and publishing.

Even though, he decided to name his autobiography, “Life and Experienced of a Bengali Chemist,” he lived a much larger life as a philanthropist, industrialist, patriot and an ardent teacher.

Homi Jehangir Bhabha
Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Dr. Homi Jegangir Bhabha, the Father of the Indian Nuclear Programme, is likely the most popular Nuclear Physicist of all time. A scientist, visionary and institution builder, Dr. Bhabha is well known for his work on Nuclear Physics and Cosmic Rays.

Born on January 24 1966, Dr Bhabha excelled in his studies. He has degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics and won many scholarships including the Isaac Newton Studentship. In 1933, Bhabha earned his doctorate in Nuclear Physics when he published his first scientific paper, “The Absorption of Cosmic Radiation”.
In 1945, he founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Bombay, and in 1954, he became the Director of the Trombay Atomic Energy Establishment (now known as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his loving memory) and Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India.

During his research, Bhabha also derived the correct expression for the probability of scattering positrons by electrons, which is called Bhabha Scattering in his honour.

Though he was a pioneer in Indian Nuclear Research, Bhabha always advocated the peaceful use of nuclear energy and argued against its destructive use at all international forums. During his lifetime, he worked with eminent scientists such as Neils Bohr, Pauli and Fermi. He was the nominator as well as the nominee for The Nobel Prize in Physics. Though he didn’t win the Nobel, in 1954 he was honoured with Padma Bhushan, one of the most prestigious civilian awards in India. He was also inducted as a Fellow of The Royal Society for his invaluable contributions to science and engineering.

Dr. Bhabha patronized art and music and had a vast collection comprising his favourites. He truly is an icon, among the few achievers born every century, improving millions of lives through their contribution.

Dr. Meghnad Saha
Dr. Meghnad Saha

Our today’s inspirational icon, Meghnad Saha was born in pre-independence India and had humble origins. To meet the family's financial needs, all the Saha brothers had to drop out. However, financial concerns did not deter him and he secured money for education in exchange for running daily errands at a doctor’s house. After clearing his intermediate exams, Saha joined the Presidency College in Calcutta, where greats like PC Ray and JC Bose taught him.

The year 1916 marked the beginning of his teaching career as a lecturer at Calcutta University. He was a dedicated teacher who gladly provided his time to his pupils.

Saha formulated the ``Thermal Ionisation Equation” which is considered to be outstanding discoveries of astrophysics. Also known as Saha’s Equation, the idea detailed how stars are classified based on their spectral properties. It’s considered as one of the ten outstanding discoveries of Astronomy and Astrophysics since the discovery of the telescope in 1608 by Galileo.

Saha’s thesis on the “Origin of Lines in Stellar Spectra“ earned him the Griffith Prize of Calcutta University in 1920.

Saha also devised equipment to detect the weight and pressure of sun rays and contributed to establishing various scientific institutes, including Allahabad University’s Physics Department and Calcutta’s Institute of Nuclear Physics. He designed India’s first-ever Nuclear Physics syllabus in MSc in 1940 and also built the first-ever cyclotron in India.

He started and served as the editor of the magazine Science and Culture until his death. He also led the formation of several scientific societies, such as the National Academy of Science.

To serve society, Saha stood in the Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate. He won the election and contributed to the cause of river management, power supply, education and other areas of long-term development. He was also the Chief Architect of River Planning in India.
Today, more than 125 years since his birth, we remember the fearless Meghnad Saha and his valuable work, which is revered by scientists to this day.

Dr. PC Mahalanobis
Dr. PC Mahalanobis

In today’s intricately woven world, data science is of more significance than ever to finding solutions to the existing problem. The pillar of this science is statistics, which received much-needed impetus under PC Mahalanobis, the Father of Indian Statistics.
Born in Calcutta in 1893, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis is most remembered for formulating the Mahalanobis distance and playing a significant role in formulating India’s strategy for its 2nd five-year plan — a keystone in India’s National Economic Planning.

Though he was a Physics student and graduated with honours in Physics from Calcutta’s Presidency College, he had a knack for Statistics and Planning. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, he sailed to Cambridge, where he met Ramanujan, our next inspirational icon in the series.

While Prof. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis faced many challenges in his quest to establish statistics as a discipline in India, he was fortunate to have unwavering support and assistance from a number of individuals. He defied all odds and explored new horizons in statistics. He and his group established the Indian Statistical Institute, followed by the National Sample Survey.

Interestingly, PC Mahalanobis shared a unique bond with Rabindranath Tagore, who had influenced and shaped his work in statistics. Prof. Mahalanobis’ analysis formed the basis of numerous planning projects. A Padma Vibhushan awardee and a respected fellow of the Royal Society. Prof Mahalanobis continues to inspire future generations across the world!

Srinivasa Ramanujan
Srinivasa Ramanujan

The Indian Mathematician and Autodidact, Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan has made remarkable contributions to the field of Mathematical Analysis, Number Theory, Infinite Series and Continued Fractions. Even without any formal education in Mathematics, Ramanujan solved mathematical problems that were considered unsolvable.

He struggled to demonstrate the significance of his discoveries to many renowned Mathematicians at the time because of the novelty of his work and unconventional ways of presenting them. When finding Mathematicians who’d understand his work, he started corresponding with G. H. Hardy, an English Mathematician from the University of Cambridge. Hardy was astounded by Ramanujan’s works and recognized his extraordinary talent and ground-breaking theorems, invited him to Cambridge and soon became his mentor.

Ramanujan compiled a total of 3900 results including identities, equations and more. A lot of them were entirely novel and unconventional. Some of these such as Ramanujan prime, the Ramanujan theta function, partition formulae and mock theta functions have branched out into new areas of work and research. A new scientific journal called The Ramanujan Journal was established to publish all works that were inspired by his work. His notebooks which included his published and unpublished results have been extensively studied by future generations of Mathematicians to seek new ideas.

He was the youngest to become the Fellows of the Royal Society and the second Indian to be awarded this position. His mentor, Hardy, often compared his brilliance in Mathematics with geniuses such as Euler and Jacobi.

One of his most popular discoveries is the magic number called the Hardy-Ramanujan number. So, what’s the story behind this?

When Hardy visited his ailing friend and mentee Ramanujan in hospital, he mentioned to him that the number plate on the taxi he took that day was 1729, and labelled it a rather dull number. To this, Ramanujan replied, “No Hardy, it's a very interesting number! It's the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.``

Here’s how:
The number can be written as the sum of cubes of 10 (1000) and 9 (729)
1000 + 729 = 1729

It could also be written as the sum of cubes of 12 (1728) and 1(1)
1728 + 1 = 1729

His life ended way too early at the age of 32 due to tuberculosis. His birthday is celebrated in India as National Mathematics Day.

Dr. Har Gobind Khorana
Dr. Har Gobind Khorana

The Nobel laureate and Interpreter of Genetic Code, Har Gobind Khorana was born in Raipur, India (present day Pakistan). Khorana’s family was practically the only literate family in their village. Despite living hand to mouth, his father ensured that his kids were educated.

Har Gobind was greatly influenced by his teachers whether it was Ratan Lal at D.A.V. School in Multan, or Mahan Singh, who was his supervisor at the Punjab University in Lahore where he obtained his M. Sc. degree. He later got his Ph. D. degree at the University of Liverpool under the supervision of Roger J. S. Beer. This was where Khorana was introduced to western civilization and culture.

It was when he returned to Cambridge to obtain a fellowship that his interest in proteins and nucleic acids started taking roots.

Khorana was the first scientist to crack the genetic code by demonstrating the role of nucleotides in protein synthesis. He was the first scientist to synthesize an artificial gene. He helped develop custom-designed pieces of artificial genes leading to the invention of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process. This was the biochemical technology used to amplify a single or a few copies of a section of DNA.

Khorana performed over 6 decades of research during which time he published more than 500 research papers in Chemistry and Biology. His work led to the creation of Genetic Engineering as a new branch of science.

In 1968, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He shared this award with two fellow scientists for their interpretation of the genetic code. Their discovery showed that the nucleotides in nucleic acids control the synthesis of proteins by cells.

Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar
Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar, known to everyone as Chandra, is an Indian American Astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983 for his theoretical studies on the important physical processes that impact the structure and evolution of the stars.

He dedicated his life to the study and research of a host of problems in physics. His work contributed immensely to our current knowledge of white dwarfs, stellar structure, stellar dynamics, stochastic process, radiative transfer and many more.

He proved that every dwarf star has an upper limit of mass. This limit came to be called the Chandrashekhar Limit, which is 1.4. This means a white dwarf can exist only if its mass is less than or equal to 1.4 times the mass of the sun. On exceeding this limit, they collapse under their own gravity and become black holes or neutron stars. Many contemporary theoretical models of the later evolutionary stages of massive stars and black holes could be attributed to his mathematical analysis of stellar evolution.

Born in October 1910 in Lahore, Punjab, Chandrashekhar obtained his early education at home from his parents and private tutors until the age of 12. He graduated at the age of 15 from the Hindu High School, and later secured a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Presidency College. His academic career as a student spanned across Cambridge University (England), Institut for Teoretisk Fysik (Copenhagen) and as a faculty at the University of Chicago.

He was one of the foremost scientists to combine the study of Physics and Astronomy, and became one of the first Astrophysicists. He published 10 books and was the editor of the Astrophysical Journal for 19 years. Four years after his death, NASA launched an X-ray observatory called Chandra in his honour.

SS Abhyankar
SS Abhyankar

Shreeram Shankar Abhyankar, a child prodigy, was deeply drawn to the mathematics books that his father, a Mathematics Professor had in his possession.

An interesting fact about him is that despite having an unparalleled aptitude in Mathematics, majored in Physics. When asked by a professor, young Abhyankar mentioned his fear of not knowing what to pursue if he lost his touch with Mathematics as the reason behind his decision. To this, Professor D.D. Kosambi led him to his true calling by replying, “Then you should kill yourself.”

Of course, this never happened, and India got a son who, in addition to making notable advances in Mathematics, was passionately working towards developing Mathematics in India.

He pursued his study in eminent institutes such as the Royal Institute of Science, TIFR and Harvard. At Harvard, the legendary Mathematician made numerous contributions to algebraic geometry, theory of functions and commutative algebra.

He performed breakthroughs in his research, published more than 200 research papers and held regular visiting positions in some of the most prestigious universities in the world. The worthily honoured Mathematician was elected as a Fellow of the National Science Academy, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the American Mathematical Society in recognition of his contributions.

Dr. Birbal Sahni
Dr. Birbal Sahni

A Botanist by profession, a seeker by heart. Birbal Sahni founded Palaeobotanical research in India.

Drawn deeply into his studies, Birbal received his early education in India, where he had the luck to study botany under the guidance of the Father of Indian Bryology, Shiv Ram Kashyap. He later sailed to England to continue his education.

He was born on 14 November 1891 at Behra, a small town in Shahpur District. His father, Ruchi Ram Sahni, was a devoted social activist and a professor of chemistry who had worked with giants like Neils Bohr and Ernest Rutherford. He instilled in young Sahni the love for outdoor life and trekking by taking him on treks to the Himalayas and traversing his youth.

An excellent student, teacher and researcher, Birbal Sahani, after returning to India with the degree of Doctor of Science for his research in the field of Palaeobotany the London University, served as a professor of Botany in reputed Indian Institutes. In 1921, he was elected as the Head of the Botany Department at Lucknow University and held it for a lifetime. He inspired generations of young Botanists throughout his long teaching career at the university.

Birbal literally left no stone unturned in contributing to palaeontology through his research on the subject. He threw considerable light on problems like the age of the Deccan Traps, the Saline Series and the timing of the Himalayan uplift.

For his contributions to the field, Sahni was elected as President of the Geology Section of the Indian Science Congress, a great honour at the time and a fellow of the Geological Society of Great Britain. Today, his cherished dream, The Birbal Sahani Institute of Palaeobotany, provides education to thousands of aspirational minds each year.

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai
Dr. Vikram Sarabhai

Truly an icon and a legendary, Vikram Sarabhai is widely remembered as the father of India’s Space Program. He pioneered nuclear power development and space research in India.

Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was born on 12 August 1919 in Ahmedabad and attended Gujarat College before moving to England to pursue his doctorate at Cambridge.

Sarabhai, an institution builder by nature, founded the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad when only 28. Sarabhai’s interests were diverse, and he was influential in establishing the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad in 1962.

At a time when the significance of a space agency in a country’s development was being questioned, Sarabhai stood up and persuaded the Indian government to establish Indian Space Research Organisation. Today, ISRO has achieved significant milestones recently, propelling India’s space growth engine to unprecedented heights.

Dr. Homi Bhabha assisted Dr. Sarabhai in laying the groundwork for the world’s first rocket station in Thumba. Sarabhai led several prestigious organisations throughout his lifetime, including the Atomic Energy Association of India and ISRO. As a result of Dr. Sarabhai’s interaction with NASA in 1966, an experimental satellite communications project called SITE (Satellite Instructional Television Experiment) was planned and launched jointly by the two agencies to take education to the farthest of lands and promote the empowerment of Indians.

Dr. Sarabhai’s was honoured with the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan awards. The lander of India’s Chandrayaan-2, Vikram, was named after him, and so was the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. Interestingly, the Sarabhai crater on the moon is named after him.

Vikram Sarabhai was an extraordinary individual with an unmatched capacity to keep working toward his vision.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is most fondly remembered for his down-to-earth demeanour and a lovable personality.

Young Kalam was born in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, on 15 October 1931. Being the son of an imam, he had the fortune of interacting with the religious heads of most religions and thus gained a greater perspective into India’s culture and sociology. To support the family, the young boy sold newspapers on a bicycle. Even as a kid, Kalam had a keen sense of self-responsibility and a burning desire to help society.

Abdul Kalam joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) soon after graduating from Madras University with a degree in Physics and Aeronautical engineering. He also worked for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and was involved in India’s civilian space programme and military missile development. As a result of his efforts in developing ballistic missile and launch vehicle technologies, he was fondly referred to as India’s “Missile Man”.

With the unanimous support of both the Houses of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, Kalam was elected India’s 11th President in 2002. He was known as the “People’s President” for his affectionate and caring attitude. After completing his term, Kalam returned to his civilian life of education, writing and serving the public. He received several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

No amount of words can prove efficacious in describing and honouring Dr Kalam’s life. Through his writings, work and lectures, he shaped India’s youth and empowered them to be the growth engines of India’s tomorrow. Deetya makes a humble attempt to share the life of APJ Abdul Kalam, the simple man with an Ignited Mind, who, covered in the cloak of humility, shaped India’s tomorrow.

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