Sunday 14 April 2013

The Indian who discovered an optic effect decades before the West did so

India has produced outstanding men of science like J. C. Bose, C. V. Raman, and many of them like S. Ramanajun have died young. Another scientist who died young and who discovered a fundamental quantum optic effect independent of Sir C. V. Raman was S. Pancharatnam.
The work on fundamental quantum optic effect was one of the most outstanding original piece of research that came out of Raman Research Institute (RRI) at that time.
Incidentally, Pancharatnam was a nephew of Raman and he was working as a scientist working in the RRI when he made the seminal discovery.
This discovery proved for the first time that geometric phase exists in optics. Unfortunately, this outstanding work remained unknown to the outside world till a similar discovery was made by scientists elsewhere two decades later.
It was only then that the RRI could convincingly prove that Pancharatnam discovered the  quantum optic effect long ago and today this is called Pancharatnam Phase world over. In classical and quantum mechanics, the geometric phase, Pancharatnam–Berry phase ( S. Pancharatnam and Sir Michael Berry), is a phase acquired over the course of a cycle, when the system is subjected to cyclic adiabatic processes. This phenomenon was first discovered in 1956 and rediscovered in 1984.
Pancharatnam unfortunately did not live long enough and his brilliant career was cut short when he died in 1969 while in Oxford.
Pancharatnam was born in Calcutta in 1934. His mother, Sitalaxmi, was the sister of C V Raman and his father, Sivaramakrishnan, worked in the Indian Accounts Service and was transferred throughout India.
Pancharatnam was the last of the of  the five brothers. Two of them, Ramaseshan and Chandrasekhar, before him, did their basic honours degree from the Science College, Nagpur and went on to complete their doctoral work with C V Raman. They were both distinguished in their later careers.
While Ramaseshan worked in areas of optics, crystallography and materials science, Chandrasekhar is today acknowledged for his work on liquid crystals. Pancharatnam thus belonged to a very illustrious and academically brilliant family.
When a research student, he stayed with his older brother Ramaseshan, a physicist at IISc, Bangalore. He was just 35 years old when he died. At that time,  he was a Research Fellow of St. Catherine’s College and he carried out research in the Clarendon

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