The life stories of great personalities are always inspiring and so here we have the great short biography of 5 scientists. The scientists are:
- Sir Issac Newton
- Albert Einstein
- C V Raman
- Charles Darwin
- Srinivas Ramanujam
Short Biography of Sir Issac Newton
The early life of Newton
Isaac Newton was born at Woolsthorpe near Grantham in Lincolnshire, England on 4 January 1643. His father died before he was born and in 1645 his mother married a clergyman from North Welham in Leicestershire. She went to live with him while Isaac Newton lived with his grandmother. When her second husband died in 1656 Isaac’s mother returned to Woolsthorpe and Isaac Newton went to live with her again.
From the age of 12 to 14 Isaac Newton went to Grantham Grammar School. During this time he lodged with an apothecary and his family. Then in 1659 Isaac had to leave to help his mother on the family farm. Isaac Newton was not in the slightest bit interested in running a farm and in 1660 he went to the grammar school again. In 1661 he went to Trinity College Cambridge. Isaac Newton obtained a BA in 1665. In 1666 Isaac Newton was forced to flee Cambridge because of an outbreak of the plague and he returned temporarily to Woolsthorpe. He returned to university in 1667.
In 1667 Isaac Newton was elected a fellow of Trinity College. The same year he was elected a member of the Royal Society. In February 1672 a paper he wrote about light and colours was read to the society. In 1669 Isaac Newton became Lucasian professor of mathematics. In the meantime, in 1668, he invented a reflecting telescope.
In 1689-1690 Isaac Newton was MP for Cambridge University (in those days Cambridge University had its own MPs). He became an MP again in 1701-1702 but he did not take an active part in politics.
Isaac Newton published his masterpiece Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. It set out his theory of gravity and his laws of motion.
In 1695 Isaac Newton was made Ward of the mint and in 1699 Master of the mint. He resigned his fellowship and professorship at Cambridge in 1701.
In 1703 Isaac Newton became president of the Royal Society. He was knighted in 1705. Meanwhile in 1704 Isaac Newton published another great work about light.
Isaac Newton died at the age of 84 on 20 March 1727.
Short Biography of Albert Einstein
Born in Germany 1879, Albert Einstein is one of the most celebrated scientists of the Twentieth Century. His theories on relativity laid the framework for a new branch of physics, and Einstein’s E = mc2 on mass-energy equivalence is one of the most famous formulas in the world. In 1921, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to theoretical physics and the evolution of Quantum Theory.
Einstein is also well known as an original free-thinker, speaking on a range of humanitarian and global issues. After contributing to the theoretical development of nuclear physics and encouraging F.D. Roosevelt to start the Manhattan Project, he later spoke out against the use of nuclear weapons.
Born in Germany to Jewish parents, Einstein settled in Switzerland and then, after Hitler’s rise to power, the United States. Einstein was a truly global man and one of the undisputed genius’ of the Twentieth Century.
Early life Albert Einstein
Einstein was born 14 March 1879, in Ulm the German Empire. His parents were working-class (salesman/engineer) and non-observant Jews. Aged 15, the family moved to Milan, Italy where his father hoped Albert would become a mechanical engineer. However, despite Einstein’s intellect and thirst for knowledge, his early academic reports suggested anything but a glittering career in academia. His teachers found him dim and slow to learn. Part of the problem was that Albert expressed no interest in learning languages and the learning by rote that was popular at the time.
“School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam.” Einstein and the Poet (1983)
At the age of 12, Einstein picked up a book on geometry and read it cover to cover. – He would later refer to it as his ‘holy booklet’. He became fascinated by maths and taught himself – becoming acquainted with the great scientific discoveries of the age.
Despite Albert’s independent learning, he languished at school. Eventually, he was asked to leave by the authorities because his indifference was setting a bad example to other students.
He applied for admission to the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. His first attempt was a failure because he failed exams in botany, zoology and languages. However, he passed the next year and in 1900 became a Swiss citizen.
At college, he met a fellow student Mileva Maric, and after a long friendship, they married in 1903; they had two sons before divorcing several years later.
In 1896 Einstein renounced his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. For five years he was stateless, before successfully applying for Swiss citizenship in 1901. After graduating from Zurich college, he attempted to gain a teaching post but none was fortcoming; instead he gained a job in the Swiss Patent Office.
While working at the Patent Office, Einstein continued his own scientific discoveries and began radical experiments to consider the nature of light and space.
He published his first scientific paper in 1900, and by 1905 had completed his PhD entitled “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions. In addition to working on his PhD, Einstein also worked feverishly on other papers. In 1905, he published four pivotal scientific works, which would revolutionise modern physics. 1905 would later be referred to as his ‘annus mirabilis‘
Einstein’s work started to gain recognition, and he was given a post at the University of Zurich (1909) and, in 1911, was offered the post of full-professor at the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague (which was then part of Austria-Hungary Empire). He took Austrian-Hungary citizenship to accept the job. In 1914, he returned to Germany and was appointed director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. (1914–1932)
Albert Einstein’s Scientific Contributions
Einstein suggested that light doesn’t just travel as waves but as electric currents. This photoelectric effect could force metals to release a tiny stream of particles known as ‘quanta’. From this Quantum Theory, other inventors were able to develop devices such as television and movies. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
Special Theory of Relativity
This theory was written in a simple style with no footnotes or academic references. The core of his theory of relativity is that:
“Movement can only be detected and measured as relative movement; the change of position of one body in respect to another.”
Thus there is no fixed absolute standard of comparison for judging the motion of the earth or plants. It was revolutionary because previously people had thought time and distance are absolutes. But, Einstein proved this not to be true.
He also said that if electrons travelled at close to the speed of light, their weight would increase.
This lead to Einstein’s famous equation:
E = mc2
Where E = energy m = mass and c = speed of light.
General Theory of Relativity 1916
Working from a basis of special relativity. Einstein sought to express all physical laws using equations based on mathematical equations.
He devoted the last period of his life trying to formulate a final unified field theory which included a rational explanation for electromagnetism. However, he was to be frustrated in searching for this final breakthrough theory.
Solar eclipse of 1919
In 1911, Einstein predicted the sun’s gravity would bend the light of another star. He based this on his new general theory of relativity. On 29 May 1919, during a solar eclipse, British astronomer and physicist Sir Arthur Eddington was able to confirm Einstein’s prediction. The news was published in newspapers around the world, and it made Einstein internationally known as a leading physicist. It was also symbolic of international co-operation between British and German scientists after the horrors of the First World War.
In the 1920s, Einstein travelled around the world – including the UK, US, Japan, Palestine and other countries. Einstein gave lectures to packed audiences and became an internationally recognised figure for his work on physics, but also his wider observations on world affairs.
During the 1920s, other scientists started developing the work of Einstein and coming to different conclusions on Quantum Physics. In 1925 and 1926, Einstein took part in debates with Max Born about the nature of relativity and quantum physics. Although the two disagreed on physics, they shared a mutual admiration.
As a German Jew, Einstein was threatened by the rise of the Nazi party. In 1933, when the Nazi’s seized power, they confiscated Einstein’s property, and later started burning his books. Einstein, then in England, took an offer to go to Princeton University in the US. He later wrote that he never had strong opinions about race and nationality but saw himself as a citizen of the world.
“I do not believe in race as such. Race is a fraud. All modern people are the conglomeration of so many ethnic mixtures that no pure race remains.”
Once in the US, Einstein dedicated himself to a strict discipline of academic study. He would spend no time on maintaining his dress and image. He considered these things ‘inessential’ and meant less time for his research. Einstein was notoriously absent-minded. In his youth, he once left his suitcase at a friends house. His friend’s parents told Einstein’s parents: “That young man will never amount to anything, because he can’t remember anything.”
Although a bit of a loner, and happy in his own company, he had a good sense of humour. On January 3, 1943 Einstein received a letter from a girl who was having difficulties with mathematics in her studies. Einstein consoled her when he wrote in reply to her letter
“Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you that mine are still greater.”
Einstein professed belief in a God “Who reveals himself in the harmony of all being”. But, he followed no established religion. His view of God sought to establish a harmony between science and religion.
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
– Einstein, Science and Religion (1941)
Politics of Einstein
Einstein described himself as a Zionist Socialist. He did support the state of Israel, but became concerned about the narrow nationalism of the new state. In 1952, he was offered the position as President of Israel, but he declined saying he had:
“neither the natural ability nor the experience to deal with human beings.” … “I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it.”
Albert Einstein was involved in many civil rights movements such as the American campaign to end lynching. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and considered racism, America’s worst disease. But he also spoke highly of the meritocracy in American society and the value of being able to speak freely.
On the outbreak of war in 1939, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt about the prospect of Germany developing an atomic bomb. He warned Roosevelt that the Germans were working on a bomb with a devastating potential. Roosevelt headed his advice and started the Manhattan project to develop the US atom bomb. But, after the war ended, Einstein reverted to his pacifist views. Einstein said after the war.
“Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have lifted a finger.” (Newsweek, 10 March 1947)
In the post-war McCarthyite era, Einstein was scrutinised closely for potential Communist links. He wrote an article in favour of socialism, “Why Socialism” (1949) He criticised Capitalism and suggested a democratic socialist alternative. He was also a strong critic of the arms race. Einstein remarked:
“I do not know how the third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth—rocks!”
Einstein was feted as a scientist, but he was a polymath with interests in many fields. In particular, he loved music. He wrote that if he had not been a scientist, he would have been a musician. Einstein played the violin to a high standard.
“I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.”
Einstein died in 1955, at his request his brain and vital organs were removed for scientific study.
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Short Biography of CV Raman
Dr. Chandra Shekhar Venkata Raman, popularly known as C.V. Raman, is one of the most distinguished scientists of the 20th century. It was he who during a long sea voyage to Europe in 1921 as the representative of the Kolkata University at a science meet, wondered why the water in Maditerranean Sea was such a dark shade of blue.
And the time came when he gave the answers to this apparently simple question and won the world’s most prestigious award-the Noble Prize in 1930.
Dr. C.V. Raman was born on November 7, 1888 in an orthodox South Indian Brahmin family in tirchurappalli, Tamilnadu. His father’s name was Chandra Shekhar Aiyer who had special interest in science and mathematics. His mother Parvati was a pious lady. Raman was a very brilliant student since his early childhood.
He passed his matriculation at the age of 11 and at 15 graduated from the Presidency College, Chennai. He was the only student to get a first class. He completed his Master’s degree in Physics from the same college and broke all previous records.
After this Raman took up a job in Calcutta (now Kolkata) as an assistant accountant general. While there, he was able to sustain his interest in science by working in his spare time, in the laboratories of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science.
After ten years of Government services, Raman resigned to work as a professor of physics at the Kolkata University. He stayed there for fifteen years. It was the period when he received world wide recognition for his work in optics and scattering of light his pioneering research on the molecular scattering of light, the phenomenon that causes changes in the nature of light when it passes through a transparent medium-solid, liquid or gaseous-culminated in his getting the Noble Prize for Physics in 1930.
He carried out different types of experiments and researches on the sun rays passing through water, transparent ice blocks and other media. For these experiments, Raman used a mercury arc and a spectrograph. Raman obtained some new lines in the spectrum on passing the sun rays through different substances. These lines were called ‘Raman Lines’ and the discovery of ‘Raman Effect’.
Raman was awarded the degree of ‘Doctor of Science’ in 1921 by the Kolkata University and in 1929; the British Gorvenment in India conferred on him the title of ‘Sir’. He was also awarded Lenin Peace Prize in 1958. The government of India also honoured him with the highest honour of the country,’Bharat Ratna’ (Jewel of India) in 1954.
In 1943, Raman set up the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore. There he served as its director and remained active until his death on November 21, 1970, at the age of eighty two. He was proud to be an Indian. Till the day he died, he did not give up his traditional Indian turban in favour of a European hat.
Short Biography of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809 at the Mount House, Shrewsbury. His father was a doctor. His mother died when he was 8 years old. Charles had one brother and four sisters.
Up to the age of 8 Charles was taught by an older sister. He then began school. From his earliest years Charles Darwin was interested in natural history. However he was a poor scholar.
He went to Edinburgh University to study medicine but he left after 2 years. His father decided he should be a clergyman so Charles Darwin then went to Cambridge University.
Charles Darwin left Cambridge University in 1831. The same year he signed up to sail, without pay, as a naturalist on a ship called the Beagle. Its captain was Robert Fitzroy and it sailed on 27 December 1831.
In February 1832 the Beagle reached Brazil. They stayed in Brazil until July 1832 then sailed to Montevideo. Darwin spent three years in different parts of South America collecting specimens. Then in September 1835 the Beagle sailed to the Galapagos Islands.
Charles Darwin was surprised to learn the local people could tell by looking at a tortoise which island it came from. Darwin also studied finches. Each island had a different species of finch. Later Darwin came to the conclusion that all were descended from a single species of finch. On each island the finches had diverged and become slightly different.
In December 1835 Charles Darwin visited New Zealand and Tahiti. In January 1836 he reached Australia. The beagle then sailed to Mauritius and South Africa before sailing north into the Atlantic. Finally the Beagle arrived at Falmouth on 2 October 1836 and two days later Darwin arrived in Shrewsbury.
Charles Darwin then wrote several books about his voyage. The first was Journal of Researches, which was an account of his voyage. He also wrote coral reefs, which was published in 1842, Volcanic Islands (1844), and Geographical Observations on South America (1846). Darwin gained a reputation as a brilliant geologist.
Meanwhile Charles Darwin was influenced by a geologist called Charles Lyell. In 1830 he published a book called Principles of Geology. In it Lyell proposed a theory called uniformitarianism. He believed that rocks and the landscape were formed over vast periods of time by very slow processes. However Lyell did not believe that one species of animal could change into another.
Charles Darwin disagreed. By 1836 he believed that species of animals could change. In July 1837 Darwin began to write notes about his theory. He called his notes The Transmutation of Species.
In October 1838 Darwin thought of a way in which one species could change into another. He noticed that individual members of a species vary. Furthermore all animals are competing with each other to survive. If the environment changed in some way, say if a new, faster predator appeared then any herbivores that could run slightly faster then other members of its species would be more likely to survive and reproduce. Any herbivores that ran slightly slower than most would be more likely to be eaten. Slowly a new, faster herbivore would evolve. This was later called the survival of the fittest.
Meanwhile on 11 November 1838 Charles Darwin proposed to his cousin Emma Wedgwood. They married on 29 January 1839. As well as getting married Darwin was becoming more and more famous as a scientist. On 24 January 1839 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.
Darwin’s first son was born on 27 December 1839. Altogether he had 10 children.
For years Charles Darwin studied nature looking for evidence to support his theory. For much of that time he suffered from ill health.
Then in 1858 Charles Darwin received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace. It turned out that Wallace had independently devised a theory of evolution by natural selection.
Therefore Wallace’s work and Darwin’s theory were both presented to a scientific society called the Linnaean Society on 1 July 1858. The two men’s work was also published in the society’s journal.
Darwin was now galvanized into publishing his theory. So his monumental work The Origin of Species was published on 24 November 1859. It proved to be a bestseller. However Darwin’s book also caused some controversy.
In 1860 T. H. Huxley (a supporter of Darwin) had a public debate with Darwin’s opponent Bishop Wilberforce (known as ‘Soapy Sam’). The bishop was defeated and gradually the theory of evolution was accepted by most people.
Charles Darwin published 10 more books after 1859. Six were about botany, one was about earthworms. Only three were about evolution. One of these was The variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868). He also published The Descent of Man in 1871. In it he explained his ideas about the evolution of man. In 1872 Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
Darwin’s last book was on earthworms and it was published in October 1881 shortly before he died. Charles Darwin died of a heart attack on 19 April 1882. He was 73.
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Short Biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan
Shrinivas Ramanujan, in his short life-span, proved to be a mathematical genius comparable to the likes of Karl Jacobi and Leonhaed Euler. Despite lack of formal higher education and battling against heavy odds of poverty and ill health, his mathematical genius flowed. His contribution in the fields of elliptic functions, infinite series and the analytical theory of numbers is immeasurable. Even after his death at the young age of 32, his notes continued to be a subject of research and a source of further mathematical theorems, formulae and solutions. Born in India, which was then under British rule, he received encouragement and recognition not only from discerning Indians but also from his contemporary British mathematicians. Against the dictum of his religion he traveled to Britain where he collaborated with Prof Hardy at the Trinity College. Between 1914-1918, which coincided with World War I, Ramanujan stayed and worked at the Trinity College. Though his health was deteriorating, his mental faculties and mathematical genius flourished. It took an impressive list of eminent mathematicians to propose his name for election as a Fellow at The Royal Society of London. This unique honor was conferred on him on May 2, 1918.
Shrinivas Aiyangar Ramanujan was born on December 22, 1887 in a Brahmin family in Southern India. His father was an accountant for the local traders, and was by no means well off. At the age of five, Ramanujan started attending primary school at Kumbakonam, his father’s place of work. Even during his school days his grasp of mathematical concepts was exceptional. He mystified his teachers and classmates with rapid calculations of long mathematical problems. At home too, his mind appeared to be busy thinking about and mentally playing around with numbers. The society in which he lived was appreciative of learning in general and mathematical aptitude in particular.
His school friends recall approaching him for help in Mathematics. This he would readily provide enthusiastically. Though they knew that his grasp of the subject was much more, they could not fathom the depth of his intellect.
It was after he entered Town High School in Kumbakonam in 1898, that his genius took wings. In 1900, he began working on summing up of geometric and arithmetic series. Interestingly, in 1902 when he was taught cubic equations he went right ahead and evolved his own method to solve quartics. Going a step further he tried solving quintics by the same method but failed to do so.
The year 1902 marked a turning point in Ramanujan’s life. From the local library he got hold of a copy of a book on pure mathematics by G S Carr entitled Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure Mathematics. The book was a collection of around 6,000 theorems and formulae with short proofs. Written in a concise manner, by a tutor, the book served to unfold uncharted fields for Ramanujan’s intellectual quests. Carr’s book was fairly outdated being published in 1856. Carr himself was never renowned as a great mathematician. But his book definitely was a scholarly and lively text written by one who obviously enjoyed mathematics. It not only provided the required thrust to Ramanujan’s genius but the influence of the book was to be felt in his works even after he had received much wider exposure to current theories.
In 1904, when he was just 16, Ramanujan began investigating the series of S (1/n) and calculated Euler’s Constant to 15 decimal places. His study of Bernoulli numbers also commenced at this stage.
Due to his school performance, Ramanujan was offered a scholarship at Government College, Kumbakonam. His preoccupation with mathematics led him to neglect other subjects and, unfortunately, the college failed to renew his scholarship the following year. This was a setback that he took to heart and without informing his parents, went to Vishakhapatnam about 650 kms. from Madras. He continued his research work and focused on relations between integrals and series.
During the years in college, the professors of mathematics particularly Ramanujachari and Mudaliar quickly realized the worth of their precocious student. Often when a complex problem was explained to the class, Ramanujan would stand up and offer another solution which was easy and involved fewer steps.