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Science through Nobel Laureate Sir C V Raman's Perspective

  • Raman effect in the sky

Photo: Siddharth Kankaria/Research Matters

India celebrates National Science Day today in memory of the day when Nobel Laureate Sir C V Raman discovered a fundamental principle of light, which was named the “Raman Effect.” It is the day to celebrate the spirit of science - the same spirit, with which Dr. Raman pursued his research and believed in his words - “the essence of scientific spirit is to look behind and beyond…”

In the hunter-gatherer, pre-agricultural times, a typical day in the life of a person would have been revolved around hunting for food, eating, talking, playing and then dozing off and this would have been so for the entire of his or her lifetime. But in today’s world, a typical day for us is very different. Though eating and sleeping are a part of our day, working towards improving the world in our own unique manner keeps us busy. This is what has, over the years, progressed us from hunting for food to growing our own food; helped us lead a healthy, long life – all testimonies to our advancement in science and technology.

In a quest to lead a better life, we invented vaccines to prevent diseases, diagnostic tests to identify diseases and a vast array of medicines to cure diseases.  We may soon start to personalise treatments based on individual DNA and undergo stem cell therapies. Other aspects of our daily life - eating refrigerated food, commuting to work, using the Internet to work, shop, read or socialize, sleeping in an air-conditioned room are all inseparable and important elements of technology.

But what has brought about this drastic change in our lives over centuries?
“In this world, wherever we see, we see all kinds of miracles happening in nature. And everything that we see presents to us not just a subject of curiosity but a challenge, a challenge to our spirit to understand something of this vast mystery that surrounds us”, said Dr. Raman.

Perhaps, it was our curiosity that triggered a quest to understand nature.  And this quest led to the discovery of fire, the invention of agriculture, electricity computers and all that we have around us today. Science has led this quest ever since. If not for our understanding of science, it would have been impossible to build computers without understanding electronics, build buildings and aeroplanes without the laws of physics, extract fuels without understanding their underlying chemistry and cure diseases without understanding the biology. Fundamental research lays down the foundation over which new technologies take form. It is this research that we call science.

Science is an endless quest. The more we find, the more it appears we have to find. Over a long period, it is these series of findings that build up a new body of knowledge. “It is always several findings in a sequence that weave the complete story. In every long story, there would be one or more crucial results that seal the final interpretation and these results are a pleasure when they arrive”, echoes Prof. Vijaya Satchidanandam, a professor at the Microbiology and Cellular Biology department, of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.  And this is true for every discovery or invention out there – from penicillin to the ballpoint pen.

While some research leads to a revolution in a field, most theoretical and fundamental research often seems too abstract and far away from any practicality. Does that reduce the importance of fundamental research? “The most important, the most fundamental investigations, though at first might seem an abstraction of nature, are precisely those, which in due course, affect human life and human activities most profoundly”, iterates Dr. Raman, in one of his works. “Science alters the complexion of things around us. Scientific work is valuable because it will ultimately prove to be the greatest benefactor of humanity”, he goes on.

On this day, let us invoke our curiosity and with the essence of the scientific spirit strive to improve this world in our own unique manner.

1) Why the sky is blue, C.V. Raman.