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The Inspiring Journey of Meghnad Saha: From Village to Astrophysics

Born: 6 October 1893
Died: 16 February 1956
Achievements: Made an outstanding contribution to the field of Astrophysics.

He put forward an “ionization formula,” which explained the presence of the spectral lines. Meghnad Saha was an outstanding Indian scientist. He made a remarkable contribution to the field of Astrophysics.

Meghnad Saha was born on 6 October 1893 in Sheoratali, a village in the District of Dacca, now in Bangladesh. He was the fifth child of his parents, Sri Jagannath Saha and Smt. Bhubaneshwar Devi. His father was a grocer in the village. Meghnad Saha had his early schooling in the primary school of the village. As his family could hardly make ends meet, Meghnad Saha pursued his schooling only due to the generosity of a local medical practitioner, Ananta Kumar Das, who provided boarding and lodging in his house.

In 1905, British Government decided on the partition of Bengal. There was great political unrest in Bengal as popular opinion was against the partition. Sir Bampfylde Fuller was governor of East Bengal at that time. One day he came to visit the Collegiate school. Meghnad Saha, along with other students, boycotted his visit. As a result, he was suspended from the school, and his scholarship was terminated.

He took admitted to the Kishorilal Jubili School and passed the Entrance Examination of the Calcutta University in 1909, standing first among the student from East Bengal and obtaining the highest marks in languages (English, Bengali and Sanskrit combined) and in Mathematics. In 1911, he ranked third in the ISc exam, while the first position went to another great scientist Satyendranath Bose. Meghnad Saha took admitted to Presidency College Calcutta.

In 1913 he graduated from Presidency College with a Mathematics major and got the second rank at the University of Calcutta, while S.N. Bose took the first one. In 1915, both S.N. Bose and Meghnad Saha ranked first in the M.Sc. exam, Meghnad Saha in Applied Mathematics and S.N. Bose in Pure Mathematics. While studying at Presidency College, Meghnad got involved with Anushilan Samiti to participate in the freedom-fighting movement. He also came in contact with nationalists like Subhash Chandra Bose and Rajendra Prasad. 1917 Meghnad Saha joined as a lecturer at the newly opened University College of Science in Calcutta. He taught Quantum Physics. Along with S.N. Bose, he translated the papers published in German by Einstein and Minkowski on relativity into English versions.

In 1919, American Astrophysical Journal published – “On Selective Radiation Pressure and its Application,” – a research paper by Meghnad Saha. He put forward an “ionization formula,” which explained the presence of the spectral lines. The formula proved to be a breakthrough in astrophysics. He went abroad and stayed for two years. He spent time researching at Imperial College, London and at a research laboratory in Germany. In 1927, Meghnad Saha was elected a fellow of London’s Royal Society.

Meghnad Saha moved to Allahabad, and in 1932 Uttar Pradesh Academy of Science was established. He returned to Science College, Calcutta, in 1938. During this time, Saha got interested in Nuclear Physics. In 1947, he established the Institute of Nuclear Physics, which was later named after him as the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics. He took the first effort to include Nuclear Physics in the curriculum of higher science studies. Having seen cyclotrons used for research in nuclear physics abroad, he ordered one to be installed in the institute. In 1950, India had its first cyclotron in operation. In 1952 he stood as an independent candidate for Parliament and was elected by a wide margin. He died on 16 February 1956 due to a heart attack.

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