Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (often C. V. Raman) was born November 7, 1888, in Thiruchinapalli, India, the second son of Chandrasekhara Ayyar (or Iyar) and Parvathi Ammal. His father was a professor of mathematics and physics and a lover of music, all of which had a great impact on Raman. At the age of eleven, Raman finished his secondary school education, first in his class and widely believed to be a child genius. He spent two years studying at Mrs. A. V. N. College, the school where his father taught, and then transferred to Presidency College in Madras. In 1905 he graduated with honors to a B.A. in physics and English. Two years later he earned a M.A. in physics (with honors) from the same school. In May of the same year, Raman married Lokasundari Ammal.
The opportunities for a career in science were extremely limited at that time in India, so Raman took the exam for the Indian Audit and Accounts Service where his older brother worked, and passed with the highest score. At age 19, Raman was appointed Assistant Accountant General in the Finance Department in Calcutta. That year, he also discovered the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, which kept some laboratories and scientific instruments available for research. Raman was given permission to work there and he bought the house adjacent so he could be close to the lab. At this time, Raman was very interested in acoustics, the study of sound, and had already had his first scientific paper published in the Philosophical Magazine in England. He worked in his labs before and after his regular day job at the Finance Department.
In 1909, Raman was transferred to Rangoon in Burma, which was at that time under the same government as India. The following year, Chandrasekhara Ayyar died and Raman was given six months' leave to attend the funeral and perform rites. He spent most of the six months doing research at the University in Madras. By this time, Raman was becoming known as a physicist in his own country. When the Indian Science Congress held its first meeting in 1914, Raman became President of the Physics Section. In 1915 the Science College of Calcutta University was formed and Raman left his high-paying government job to become a professor: the first holder of the Taraknath Palit Chair of Physics, which was named in memory of a generous donor.
Raman was interested in musical instruments, especially Indian stringed instruments, and in 1918 he explained the complex vibrations of the strings. Although the terms of his contract did not require him to teach classes, Raman loved to teach and became a very popular lecturer. Sometimes he got carried away by his subject and would turn a one-hour lecture into two or three hours, prompted by his pupils' questions. As a researcher, sometimes he forgot to take meals and was known to sleep on a table in the lab when he forgot to go home.
In 1919, Raman became Honorary Secretary of the Indian Science Congress (he served as President of its annual meeting in 1929 and again in 1948). He then had control of the association's laboratories as well as his own at Calcutta University. Students flocked to him from all over India, and he gained a reputation for being an inspirational advisor and a shrewd judge of character. The year 1921 was a busy one: Raman represented Calcutta University at the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire, held in London, where he met many other famous physicists of the time and gave a lecture to the Physical Society. He visited St. Paul's Church in London and was intrigued by the acoustic phenomenon that allowed a whisper in one part of the building to be heard clearly in another part. Raman made the journeys to and from London by sea, and this gave him plenty of time to contemplate various physical questions while sitting on the deck of his ship. One of the main questions he thought about was the reason for the blue color of the Mediterranean Sea. The year after his voyage, Raman reported on the scattering of sunlight by water molecules to the Royal Society of London.
Another big year was 1924. Raman was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of London. He also attended the annual meeting of the British Association for the Cultivation of Science, held in Toronto, Canada. There he met the American scientist R. A. Millikan. He also made a side trip to Mount Wilson Observatory in California, USA, and observed some astronomical features that had just been discovered.
Raman travelled to Russia in 1925 for the 200th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Around this time he was working on the scattering of light by other substances, such as ice and snow (he had observed the blue color of Alpine glaciers in Europe), liquids, gases, and crystals. In 1926, Raman founded the Indian Journal of Physics to give Indian scientists more opportunities to have their work published. In 1928 Raman discovered the Effect that bears his name and made a report of it to the joint meeting of the South Indian Science Association and the Science Club of Central College, Bangalore. This work was published in the journal Nature.1 The Raman Effect is essentially the inelastic scattering of light by a material. This discovery helped to confirm that light is made up of particles.
After this, Raman was showered with awards and honors. In 1928 the Science Society of Rome awarded its Matteucci Medal to Raman. The following year he was Knighted by the British Government. He recieved honorary doctorates from the Universities of Freiburg, Glasgow, Paris, Bombay, Benaras, Dacca, Patna, Mysore, and others. He was awarded the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1930 and that year he also won the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him."2 Raman was the first Asian ever to receive a Nobel Prize.
After fifteen years as a professor at Calcutta University, Raman resigned from his position there to become Director of the Indian Institute of Science (also known as the Tata Institute). The Institute soon became famous for studies of crystals. Also in 1933, Raman published an explanation for the diffraction of light by ultrasonic waves with his coworker Nagendranath. This became known as the Raman-Nath theory. The next year Raman helped establish the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Research Institute in Bangalore, which was named for him. Raman gave all his property to this Institute and became its first Director. He studied an ever-increasing variety of natural things, including sound, light, rocks and minerals, birds, insects, and the physiology of sight and hearing. He was especially interested in color, and collected gemstones, crystals, and art of many colors.
More awards and honors poured in. In 1941, Raman was elected a member of the American Optical Society. The new government of the independent India named him the first National Professor in 1947. He was awarded the Franklin Medal by the Franklin Institute in 1951, and the International Lenin Peace Prize of the U.S.S.R. in 1957. The Pontifical Academy of Science elected him to membership in 1961. In 1954, Raman received the Bharat Ratna ("Jewel of India"), the highest honor awarded by India.
Throughout his long life, Raman pursued science with a deep passion. He did not limit himself to a narrow field, but was interested in many areas, and contributed to most of them in some way. He did not like to talk about the past because he was having too much fun living in the present. His energy and enthusiasm were legendary and he remained humble, always politely refusing to be introduced as anything but a simple scientist. C. V. Raman died on the 21st day of November, 1970, in Bangalore.
1. "A New Type of Secondary Radiation" by C. V. Raman and K. S. Krishnan; Nature; volume 121(3048), page 501; March 31, 1928.
2. from http://www.nobel.se/physics/laureates/1930
Other biographical information from:
http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/greatscientists/drcvraman/index.htm by A. Krshna Bhatt and http://www.iasf.org/sircv.htm by Vivek Penumatcha