Saturday, May 25th, 2024

Story: German Jewish scientist who was driven away by Hitler was adopted by India, CV Raman played a very important role.

New Delhi: In the year 1933 when C.V. Raman became the director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru at the same time the Nazis were rising in Germany. Many famous Jewish physicists were being fired from their jobs. Raman decided to select some of these talented scientists to bring to India in these difficult times. One of these scientists was Max Born. He was a professor at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and mentor to some of the most influential scientists of the 20th century, such as Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, and Werner Heisenberg. Born’s world changed after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. He was fired from his job because of his Jewish heritage.

When Bourne was wondering what to do next, he received a letter from Raman. Raman had recently won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the Raman effect. He asked Born if he knew any talented theoretical physicist who wanted to work at IISc. Bourne replied that he could not convince anyone without knowing more about the place. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Raman himself invited Born to work for six months as a Reader in Theoretical Physics at IISc. Bourne, whose Cambridge appointment was coming to an end, consulted his wife Hedy and they agreed to move to India.

Bourne became absorbed in Indian culture

On reaching Bengaluru, Bourne was warmly welcomed by Raman’s wife, Lokasundari Ammal, and was arranged to stay in a bungalow on the IISc campus. He was fascinated by Raman’s attire and mannerisms. During his stay, Bourne became absorbed in Indian culture. He played tennis, mingled with Indians and traveled to different parts of the country. Born lectured at IISc and other institutions, providing much-needed impetus to the newly formed physics department established by Raman.

Why was living in India challenging?

Born’s presence had a huge impact on the direction of research in theoretical physics at IISc and in India. The Institute’s annual report for 1935–36 praised his lucid lectures and noted that he continued his own research while also guiding research in the department. However, Bourne’s stay in India was also full of challenges. He had to face the harsh truths of Indian society like poverty, the gap between Indians and the British, the grandeur of the Maharajas and the caste system. Nevertheless, Raman’s foresight in bringing Max Born to India at a time of turmoil in Europe left an indelible mark on the scientific landscape of the country. It not only sheltered a brilliant scientist but also laid the foundation for the development of theoretical physics in India, which continues to inspire future generations of scientists.

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