Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

  • Widely regarded as the Indian Einstein, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar expanded the scope of Indian astrophysics from planetary positions in the horoscope to the complex concepts of black holes.

  • A Tamilian born outside Tamil Nadu! He was born in 1910, to Subrahmanyan and Sita. His mother was a well-read person for her times and had translated various foreign language books to Tamil. Naturally, education was no big deal for Chandrasekhar. Before he was 20 years of age, Chandrasekhar finished his degree in Physics, at the Madras Presidency College. In 1993, he obtained his doctorate in Physics from the esteemed Cambridge University. In 1935, he decided to pursue his studies further and the Chicago University was more than happy to grant him a seat, on account of his doctorate from Cambridge.

  • Is it fair to compare him on the same scale as Einstein? Why not? Chandrasekhar’s 1.44 M☉ is no less than Einstein’s E = mc2. Chandrasekhar measured the expanse of the universe with mathematics as his tool. Despite his remarkable contributions, we see very less of Chandrasekhar’s works in our textbooks. Even researchers do not delve deep into his findings. This is because he was isolated by most of the peers of his field.

  • It is a tough task to condense Chandrasekhar’s findings in one page, but still, let’s give it a try. His research revolved around black holes. During his period, they were termed ‘Dark Star’. What are the characteristics of dark stars, why and how they turn so, what are the changes they cause in the galaxy during and after such transformation? – these are what Chandrasekhar was trying to find out. It is common knowledge that stars are huge gas-filled bodies, and mostly helium-filled. A star lives only till the helium inside keeps burning. As it runs out of helium, the star shrinks in size. Once the helium is over, the contraction stops. The question here is that what happens to the star after this point? Will it stay the same or will it explode? Chandrasekhar’s findings answered this question. A star that is 1.44 times smaller than the sun, in volume becomes a White Dwarf and stays the way it is. It doesn’t affect other bodies near it. But a star that is 1.4 times bigger than the sun is, in volume, becomes a dark giant and swallows and destroys everything around it, including light. His work faced great opposition when it was presented (in the 1930s). Einstein also dismissed Chandrasekhar’s work, stating that his calculations were wrongly based. It was only after 50 years, that is in the 1980s, that Chandrasekhar’s work was accepted by the scientific community.

  • In the 1930s, in addition to the Chandrasekhar Limit, he published various other research articles on Black Holes. Of such articles, ‘An introduction to the study of stellar structure’, ‘Principles of Stellar Dynamics’, and ‘The Mathematical theory of black holes’ give great insights on black holes and stars. They serve as the Bible to those who wish to research and study black holes.

  • Chandrasekhar was a scientist who never put a full stop to his learning process. From 1929 to 1939, he studied the structure of stars and black holes. From 1939 to 1943, he concentrated on finding the powers and properties of stars. From 1943 to 1950, he studied Radiative Transfer and Quantum theory. From 1950 to 1961, he studied the structure and properties of hydrogen. In the 1960s, he focused on equilibrium and three-dimensional study of objects. The year 1971 marked his return to the study of black holes. But this time his research was based on a mathematical approach. Post this phase, he studied colliding gravitational waves. As a result of his incessant learning process, today we have 400 research papers that show his remarkable contributions to the world of science.

  • An analysis of Chandrasekhar’s career would reveal the fact that he never received the recognition he evidently deserved. The Western World has never been able to agree to the fact that intelligent people exist beyond their borders. Even top filmmakers such as Spielberg have shown this mindset by portraying Indians as uncivilised tribes. To them, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ cannot be seen outside their land. To such people, Chandrasekhar’s progress was anything but acceptable. He was constantly underrated and he never received even half the support Einstein received, despite displaying equal prowess in the field. Not receiving recognition was one thing, but his findings were belittled and labeled as fiction by Arthur Eddington, who was regarded as Einstein’s disciple. It is also speculated that Chandrasekhar respectfully declined a job offered by Cambridge University. The Western Society learnt that it’s high time they accept that intelligence is not limited to a race and decided to honour Chandrasekhar’s prowess. They honoured Chandrasekhar with the Nobel Prize and Copley Medal.

  • Quite surprisingly, Chandrasekhar did not hold spite toward his western acquaintances. He has always held them in a respectful stance and his speech at the 1994 Nobel Prize stage proves just that. His speech outlines the concept that science is also an art and that Michelangelo and Newton are equals in terms of their respective contributions and their dedication to their field. Such comparison of artists and scientists was unheard of for most of the crowd.

  • In 1995, Chandrasekhar left for the heavenly abode at the age of 85. England’s renowned astrophysicist R J Tayler remarked, “Chandrasekhar was a classical applied mathematician whose research was primarily applied in astronomy and whose like will probably never be seen again.” This statement holds good till date!