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  • Published 28.09.07

Our Alma Mater: Celebrating the Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of the Theory of Relativity, Edited by A.M. Harun-ar-Rashid,
Dhaka Physics Group, $100

This book collects a variety of articles, including the classic 1905 paper by Albert Einstein on special relativity, Satyendranath Bose’s revolutionary paper of 1924 on quantum statistics along with its Bengali translation, and an article on the famous Tagore-Einstein dialogue on epistemology. Along with these, there are pieces on how Dhaka University came to be established, the development of physics there, reminiscences on the beautiful Curzon Hall (the building where the physics department is housed), and some recent writings by its alumni on diverse technical subjects such as cosmic strings, collapsing matter and wavelets, as well as popular accounts of Einstein’s theories and astrophysics.

A Bengali translation of Satyen Bose’s paper on the light-quantum hypothesis is welcome, as it can dispel many misconceptions among common people about the content of this revolutionary paper. Many still believe that Bose made an important correction to Einstein’s equations of relativity, which Einstein himself admitted. That it was just not so, but also an outstandingly original and novel contribution to quantum theory of light is hardly known.

A.M. Harun-ar-Rashid’s piece on the Tagore-Einstein dialogue is a valuable addition to Bengali scientific literature, although it is not clear why this article has found place in this volume because it has nothing to do with Dhaka University.

Ajay Ray’s article on the Hartog-Satyen Bose letters is historically valuable. It records how Bose came to be appointed by Dhaka University, the difficulties he faced regarding his salary, how he stuck to his principles leading to the formation of the Bose Committee, and eventually, not only were all his demands met by the university, but he was also given a two-year study leave to go to Europe on a loan of Rs 13,800 because of a postcard he had received from Einstein thanking him for his important contribution to the quantum theory of light-quanta. Bose had hit upon this remarkable discovery while going through a period of financial uncertainty and mental strain.

Other articles of historical value that have found place in the volume are Abdus Salam’s “Nuclear Physics in Pakistan”, S.R. Khastgir’s “Polarization of Ionospherically Propagated Radio Waves”, R.C. Majumdar’s “Dhaka Visvavidyalayer Katha”, Tagore’s address at the Dhaka University on “The Rule of the Giant” and Rathindranath Bose’s “Visvapadartha Vidyavarsha O Vijnanacharya Satyendranath Bose”.

One learns from other articles how, apart from S. N. Bose’s outstanding work, important contributions to physics were made in Dhaka by K.S. Krishnan, Kedareshwar Banerjee, S. R. Khastgir, and others. The university had stalwarts like Sir J. C. Ghosh in the chemistry department and R.C. Majumdar in the history department. Later Majumdar became the vice-chancellor of the university. A glorious record indeed.

Unfortunately, the volume is somewhat marred by the many typographical errors.

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