Meghnad Saha

Meghnad Saha: The Forgotten Hero of Modern India and Astrophysics Pioneer

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” – Meghnad Saha

Known for his ‘Thermal Ionization Theory,’ which is considered one of the ten outstanding discoveries of astronomy and astrophysics, his contribution as a shaper of modern India seems to have been forgotten by his countrymen.

Meghnad Saha-a young physicist who eclipsed as an inspiring teacher, a builder of scientific institutions, and a public figure engaged in various activities from flood control to calendar reforms.

Born in an obscure village in Bengal to a lower-caste family with no educational background, he struggled to get primary education. But his sheer dedication and hard work pushed him not to give up, and he could pursue his education. Fate played a role in his development as he was taught by prestigious and eminent teachers like Jagadish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray.

He passed his college exams and started research at a time when he didn’t even have access to a well-equipped laboratory or research guide. He devoted himself to the study and research in physics and applied mathematics.

All stars produce a spectrum. Since the mid-1800s astronomers had been classifying stars into Linnaeus-like taxonomies based on similar spectra. However, no one knew what those groupings meant. Saha realized that the answer involved chemistry and determined that as rising temperatures strip more and more electrons out of atoms, the location and number of the dark bands change.

Saha also provided equations to describe thermal ionization. He gave the world the Thermal Ionization Equation, also known as the ‘Saha Equation,’ his most recognized contribution in astrophysics. All credit to him, as humankind understood what stars were-fiery balls of hydrogen for the very first time.

Saha always defended science as the key to pulling people out of poverty, and on his conviction, he won a seat in India’s parliament in 1952, where he took on projects as varied as nuclear power and calendar reform.

India’s first-ever nuclear physics syllabus in MSc was designed by Saha. He started the Indian Science News Association and the Institute of Nuclear Physics. He is also credited for drawing up the original plan of the Damodar Valley Project.

Science for the nation and for national liberation were major motivations for him throughout his life. His humble background afforded him a deeper understanding of the requirements of the common people. Today, even after hundred years after his path-breaking work on thermal ionization, Saha stands tall as a scientist.

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