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|Meghnad Saha, FRS
6 October 1893|
Shaoratoli, Dhaka, Bengal Presidency, British India (in present-day Bangladesh)
|Died||16 February 1956
New Delhi, India
|Alma mater||Dhaka College
University of Calcutta
|Known for||Thermal ionisation
Saha ionization equation
|Awards||Fellow of the Royal Society|
|Fields||Physics and Maths|
University of Calcutta
Imperial College London
Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science
|Academic advisors||Jagdish Chandra Bose
Prafulla Chandra Ray
|Doctoral students||Daulat Singh Kothari|
Meghnad Saha FRS (6 October 1893 – 16 February 1956) was an Indian astrophysicist best known for his development of the Saha ionization equation, used to describe chemical and physical conditions in stars. Saha was the first scientist to relate a star's spectrum to its temperature, developing thermal ionization equations that have been foundational in the fields of astrophysics and astrochemistry. He was repeatedly and unsuccessfully nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics. Saha was also politically active and was elected in 1952 to India's parliament.
Meghnad Saha was born in 1893 in Shaoratoli, a village near Dhaka, in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency of British India (in present-day Bangladesh). Son of Jagannath Saha, Meghnad belonged to a poor family and struggled to rise in life. During his early schooling he was forced to leave Dhaka Collegiate School because he participated in the Swadeshi movement. His Indian School Certificate was earned from Dhaka College. He was also a student at the Presidency College, Kolkata; a professor at Allahabad University from 1923 to 1938, and thereafter a professor and Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Calcutta until his death in 1956. He became Fellow of the Royal Society in 1927. He was president of the 21st session of the Indian Science Congress in 1934.
Saha was fortunate to have brilliant teachers and class fellows. In his student days, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sarada Prasanna Das and Prafulla Chandra Ray were at the pinnacle of their fame. Amongst his class fellows were Satyendra Nath Bose, Jnan Ghosh and J. N. Mukherjee. In later life he was close to Amiya Charan Banerjee, a renowned mathematician at Allahabad University.
Saha died on 16 February 1956 of a cardiac arrest in New Delhi. He was on his way to the office of the Planning Commission in Rashtrapati Bhavan, when he collapsed a few yards away from there. He died on the way, when being taking to a hospital, at 10:15 a.m. (IST). Saha, it was reported, had been suffering from hypertension for ten months prior to his death. His remains were cremated at the Keoratola crematorium in Kolkata the following day.
Meghnad Saha's best-known work concerned the thermal ionisation of elements, and it led him to formulate what is known as the Saha equation. This equation is one of the basic tools for interpretation of the spectra of stars in astrophysics, and astrophysicists often use the phrase "to Saha correctly," making Saha one of the few scientists whose name is a verb. By studying the spectra of various stars, one can find their temperature and from that, using Saha's equation, determine the ionisation state of the various elements making up the star. This work was soon extended by Ralph H. Fowler and Edward Arthur Milne. Saha had previously reached the following conclusion on the subject.
Saha also invented an instrument to measure the weight and pressure of solar rays and helped to build several scientific institutions, such as the Physics Department in Allahabad University and the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Calcutta. He founded the journal Science and Culture and was the editor until his death. He was the leading spirit in organizing several scientific societies, such as the National Academy of Science (1930), the Indian Physical Society (1934), Indian Institute of Science (1935). He was the Director at Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science during 1953-1956. A lasting memorial to him is the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, founded in 1943 in Kolkata.
To actively participate in planning of education, industrialization, health, and river valley development Saha "decided to offer himself" as a candidate in the constituency of North-West Calcutta in the 1951 Loksabha election. He ran on the ticket of Union of Socialists and Progressives but Saha always maintained his independence. He was pitted against a very powerful and well funded candidate from Congress, Mr. Prabhu Dayal Himatsingka. Saha was not well funded for his campaign and wrote to his publisher in November 1951 to ask for a Rs 5,000 advance against the sale of his popular textbook Treatise on Heat "because I am standing for election in the house of the people from NW Calcutta". Saha won the contest by more than 16% margin.
Saha actively participated in the parliament in the areas of Education, Refugee and Rehabilitation, Atomic Energy, Multipurpose River Projects and Flood Control and long term planning. In the book "Meghnad Saha in Parliament" Saha is described as "Never unduly critical, Saha was so forthright, so incisive, so thorough in pointing out lapses that the treasury bench was constantly on the defensive. This is brought out by the way he was accused of leaving his laboratory and straying into a territory not his own. But the reason why he was slowly drifting towards this public role (he was never a politician in the correct sense of the term) was the gradually widening gulf between his dream and the reality—between his vision of an industrialised India and the Government implementation of the plan."
Saha was the chief architect of river planning in India and prepared the original plan for the Damodar Valley Project. His own observation with respect to his transition into government projects and political affairs is as follows:
Scientists are often accused of living in the "Ivory Tower" and not troubling their mind with realities and apart from my association with political movements in my juvenile years, I had lived in ivory tower up to 1930. But science and technology are as important for administration now-a-days as law and order. I have gradually glided into politics because I wanted to be of some use to the country in my own humble way.
Saha was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1930 by Debendra Mohan Bose and Sisir Kumar Mitra. The Nobel Committee evaluated Saha's work. It was seen as a useful application, but not a "discovery." Thus he was not awarded the Prize. Saha was nominated again for the Prize in 1937 and 1940 by Arthur Compton; and in 1939, 1951 and 1955 by Mitra. The Committee remained to its previous decision.
Even though he later came to be known as an atheist, Saha was well-versed in all religious texts— though his interest in them was purely academic.
a self-described atheist, saha loved swimming in the river and his devout wife loved the sanctity of the spot. swimming and walking were among the few things they could do together.
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