Biography of Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

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Indian Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Biography

Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar is one of the greates astrophysicists of modern time.

In the Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society of London, R. J. Tayler wrote: “Chandrasekhar was a classical applied mathematician whose research was primarily applied in astronomy and whose like will probably never be seen again.”

Subrahmanyan Chandrashekar`s most famous success was the astrophysical `Chandrasekhar limit` that is the maximum nonrotating mass which can be supported against gravitational collapse by electron degeneracy pressure.

The limit was first calculated by Chandrasekhar while on a ship from India to Cambridge, England. His scientific work has followed a certain pattern motivated, principally by a journey after perspectives.

In practise, this mission has consisted in a certain area of his choice which appears docile to cultivation and compatible with his taste, abilities, and temperament.

After some years of study, he felt that “I have accumulated a sufficient body of knowledge and achieved a view of my own, I have the urge to present my point of view, ab initio, in a coherent account with order, form, and structure”.

Greatest astrophysicists of modern time was born on 19th October 1910 in Lahore now in Pakistan to civil servant senior officer in the Indian Audits and Accounts Department, who was posted in Lahore as the Deputy Auditor General of the Northwestern Railways, father Chandrasekhara Subrahmanya Ayyaa and mother Sita Bal Krishnan, devoted to intellectual pursuits and had translated Henrik Ibsen`s “A Doll House” into Tamil. Chandrasekhar was the third of ten children.
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Chandrasekhar was the nephew of Nobel-prize winning physicist C. V. Raman. Thus young Chandrasekhar`s interest in the subject Physics came naturally. In September 1936, Chandrasekhar married Lalitha Doraiswamy, who he had met as a fellow student at Presidency College, Madras.

In his Nobel autobiography, Chandrasekhar wrote, “Lalitha`s patient understanding, support, and encouragement have been the central facts of my life.” Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar died of heart failure in Chicago in 1995, and was survived only by his wife.

Chandrasekhar attended the Hindu High School, Triplicane, Madras. At the age of 19 in 1930 he completed his degree in Physics from Presidency College, Madras and then went to England for postgraduate studies at Cambridge University with a Government of India scholarship.

He became a research student under the supervision of Professor R.H. Fowler who was also responsible for his admission to Trinity College. He also spent a year at the `Institute for Teoretisk Fysik` in Copenhagen on the advice of Prof. P.A.M Dirac. In the summer of 1933, Chandrasekhar was awarded his Ph.D. degree at Cambridge, and the following October, he was elected to a Prize Fellowship at Trinity College for the period 1933-37.

During this time, he formed friendships with Sir Arthur Eddington and Professor E. A. Milne.

He was noted for his work in the field of stellar evolution. In the early 1930s he was the first to theorize that a collapsing massive star would become an object so dense that not even light could escape it, which is now known as the Black hole. He demonstrated that there is an upper limit known as `Chandrasekhar Limit` to the mass of a White dwarf star.

Before 1930s there is an established notion that all stars, after burning up their fuel, became faint, planet-sized remnants known as white dwarfs. `Chandrasekhar Limit` challenged the common scientific notion of the 1930s. Today, the extremely dense neutron stars and black holes implied by Chandrasekhar`s early work are a central part of the field of astrophysics.

Initially peers and professional journals in England rejected his theory. The distinguished astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington publicly makes fun of his suggestion. Chandrasekhar moved to America and in 1937 joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Chicago and remained there till his death.

At Chicago, he developed a style of working continuously in one specific area of astrophysics for a number of years. He wrote more than half a dozen definitive books describing the results of his investigations. More than 100,000 copies of his highly technical books have been sold.

He also served as editor of the Astrophysical Journal, the field`s leading journal, for nearly 20 years; presided over a thousand colloquia; and supervised Ph.D. research for more than 50 students.
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His working life can be divided into distinct periods. From 1929 to 1939 studied steller structure and next he concentrated on the theory of radiative transfer and the quantam theory of the negetive ion of hydrogen from 1943 to 1950.

This was followed by sustained work on hydrodynamic and hydrogenetic stability from 1950 to 1961. During the period, 1971 to 1983 he studied the mathematical theory of black holes, and, finally, during the late 80s, he worked on the theory of colliding gravitational waves.

For his studies on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983. But the honor was seeing as a disparage by him as the citation during the prize ceremony,mentioned only his earliest work. He was upset though it was lifetime achievement.

His lifetime`s achievement may be glimpsed in the footnotes to his Nobel lecture. Some of other honors given to him are as followed : Fellow of the Royal Society (1944), Henry Norris Russell Lectureship (1949), Bruce Medal (1952), Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1953), National Medal of Science award by President Lyndon Johnson (1967), Henry Draper Medal (1971) and Copley Medal, the highest honour, of the Royal Society (1984).

During the years 1990 to 1995, Chandrasekhar worked on a project which was devoted to explaining the detailed geometric arguments in Sir Isaac Newton`s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica using the language and methods of ordinary calculus. The effort resulted in the book Newton`s Principia for the Common Reader, published in 1995.

In 1999, NASA named the third of its four “Great Observatories`” after Chandrasekhar. This followed a naming contest which attracted 6,000 entries from fifty states and sixty-one countries. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999.

The name Chandrasekhar is one of the appellations of Shiva meaning “holder of the moon” in Sanskrit. The `Chandrasekhar number` is an important dimensionless number of magnetohydrodynamics, is named after him. The asteroid, a minor planet `1958 Chandra` is also named after Chandrasekhar.