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Charismatic Dr Meghnad Saha (Dr M N Saha) was one of India’s eminent scientists and distinguished science teachers. This internationally acclaimed scientist was born on October 6, 1893, in Seoatall village in Dhaka (Dacca) district of Bangladesh (Bengal). He was the fifth child of a large, but economically weak family. His father Jagannath Saha, had a small provision store in the village. The family had to make do with the limited resources. His mother Bhuvaneshwaridevl was a cultured and able housewife, who managed to run the household smoothly.
Since Meghnad Saha hailed from the lower caste, he had to face caste-related insults many a time. This had brought about certain bitterness in him. Steeped in nationalism, this leading scientist during his lifetime had to face many injustices. He was admitted to the only primary school in his village and in a short time, came to be recognized as a brilliant student. After his primary education, on his teacher’s advice, his father admitted him to the middle school in nearby Sumulia village. The school was about seven miles from his house. So, he had to tread 14 miles every day. A solution was found soon. Impressed by his studiousness, a gentleman named Dr Anantkumar Das provided him boarding and lodging at his place. This had a positive bearing on his studies. Here too, Saha maintained his impression as a bright student and was especially clever in mathematics. He never forgot Dr Das who had provided him boarding and lodging.
In 1905, he appeared for the middle school examination and stood first not only in his school, but in the entire Dhaka district. This got him the government scholarship. Further education had become easier now. For higher studies he went to Dhaka and joined the Government secondary school. Taking into account his brilliance at school, he was exempted from paying his fees.
Meanwhile, the movement for the division of Bengal had begun. The people and students vehemently opposed the Partition of Bengal. In 1905, the Governor of Bengal. Sir Bumpfleld was to visit his school. Swept by the patriotic fervour, 12-year-old Saha along with other students actively participated in the programme to boycott the Governor. This resulted in the discontinuation of scholarship to him and he had to leave the school. He joined a private school, which posed a lot of difficulties for him. In 1909, Saha appeared for the matriculation
examination of the Kolkata (Calcutta) University. He stood in the first grade in entire Bengal. He was the top scorer in mathematics. Besides, he had scored extremely well in English, Bengali and Sanskrit. For further studies, he joined the Dhaka College. Here, besides science subjects he also studied German language. This proved to be beneficial later, for it was a time when Germany was a leader in the field of science.
In 1911, he passed his intermediate examination from Dhaka College with a first class. He stood first in mathematics and chemistry, and overall he was third in rank. He then joined Kolkata’s famed Presidency College. During this time his professors included Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray. The intelligent Satyendra Nath Bose and P C Mahalanobis were his friends and classmates. In 1913, Saha completed his graduation from Kolkata University with a first class and second rank. Thereafter in 1915, he cleared his post-graduation in mathematics with a first class and second rank.
To shoulder the financial responsibilities of his family, Saha decided to take up a job. He decided to appear for the Indian Financial Service examination. But it was not destined. He was accused of having ties with revolutionaries and hence, was not allowed to appear for the examination. Lack of any good job forced him to take private tuitions and earn his livelihood.
One year passed this way. Meanwhile, Vice Chancellor of Kolkata University, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, appointed Meghnad Saha and his batch-mate and first ranker Satyendra Nath Bose as lecturers in the mathematics department of the university science college. As Saha was outspoken by nature, he could not get along with the mathematics professor. As a solution, Mukherjee transferred Saha and Bose to the physics department Soon in 1917, C V Raman joined the department as professor of physics.
During research In physics some problems relating to astrophysics cropped up. As a solution, Saha wrote a j research paper titled Theory oj Thermal Ionization. With his formulae, astronomers could get information regarding physical properties like heat and pressure of planets. At the age of Just 25 years he had made such an important research.
Meanwhile, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was included in the post-graduate curriculum of physics. To make the new course material easier for the students, he I along with Satyendra Nath Bose began translating many of Einstein’s famous research papers published in German into. English. Later, Kolkata University published these translations in English in book form. This proved fruitful with Saha’s research paper on ‘Maxwell Stresses’ being published in the famous Philosophical Magazine in 1917. This was a great achievement at such a young age of 25 years. On account of his researches, he was conferred the Doctor of Science (DSc) degree.
In 1919, Kolkata University awarded him the Premchand Raichand Scholarship and he also received the travel aid fellowship. He took a two year trip to Europe for further study. On getting an invitation to work with Prof Fowler, he researched with him for five months on spectroscopy and astronomy. From there he went to Berlin. Here, he got an opportunity to work with world famous scientists like Max Planck and Albert Einstein In 1921, he returned to Kolkata. In appreciation of his research work, he was appointed professor of physics in the university. After serving here for two years he resigned in 1923, as he got a better opportunity to serve as professor and head of the department of physics. Allahabad University. Here he worked for 15 years. Giving only scant attention to practical physics, he diverted his attention to theoretical physics. His contribution to theoretical physics is unmatched in India. His student
and leading theoretical physicists, Dr D S Kotharl and Dr R C Majumdar have developed an active group of theoretical physicists and students at Delhi University. The credit goes to Saha for his unstinted efforts.
He once again got an opportunity to join Kolkata University as professor of physics and returned in 1938.
It was a good period for him. After coming to Kolkata he started taking an active interest in the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science. In 1944, he was elected as honorary secretary of the institute. In 1950, he became its president. Meanwhile, the institute was shifted from the Bow Bazaar Street premises to its present premises at Jadavpur. Saha played a major role in this shift.
Realizing the importance of nuclear physics, Saha established the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata. Later this institute was renamed and is now, popular as Dr Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics.
In 1927, Britain’s Royal Society elected him as a Fellow and honoured him. The Asironomical Society of France elected him as lifetime honorary member. He received many invitations from abroad for lectures.
He occupied high positions at the Indian Science Congress, Science Academy besides various other institutes. He was also a member of the University Grants Commission in the period 1948-49. He was elected independent member from Kolkata in the country’s first Parliament and put forward many worthy proposals. He made all efforts to develop science and technology. Because of his efforts the national almanac was developed. He played an important role in the calendar improvement committee and almanac improvement committee.
Ort February 13, 1956, he left Kolkata to take part in the budget session of Parliament in Delhi. On February 16, 1956, while taking Important papers to Rashtrapati Bhavan, he collapsed on the way and died while serving the country.