Google on Thursday dedicated its doodle to famous Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar on his 107th birth anniversary, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics “for his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars” with William A. Fowler in 1983.
Born on October 19, 1910, to a Tamil family in Lahore – which is now in Pakistan, Chandrasekhar is the nephew of the Nobel Prize-winning Indian physicist C V Raman, who had won the Nobel Prize in 1930 for his work in the field of light scattering.
He was the first son of C Subrahmanyan Ayyar and Sitalakshmi (Divan Bahadur) Balakrishnan. He had six sisters and three brothers. He was tutored at home till he was 12-years-old. Chandrasekhar completed his graduation from the Presidency College in Chennai (then Madras) in 1930. He pursued higher studies at the University of Cambridge after the government awarded him the scholarship. He completed his PhD studies in 1933.
His most important contribution in the field of science was – ‘The Chandrasekhar Limit’ – which explained the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf star. With this theory, Chandrasekhar showed that the mass of a white dwarf could not exceed 1.44 times that of the Sun. Back then, it was thought that white dwarfs would be the culminating point for all stars. His calculations made people understand about supernovas, neutron stars and black holes, which was identified in 1972.
The Chandrasekhar limit was ignored for decades even as the astrophysicist went on to make remarkable contributions in several other fields.
Besides other subjects, Chandrasekhar also worked on the theory of colliding gravitational waves. His mathematical treatment of stellar evolution yielded a number of current theoretical models of the later evolutionary stages of massive stars and black holes.
NASA’s premier X-ray observatory was also named the Chandra X-ray Observatory in his honour.
Chandrasekhar, also known as Chandra was a child prodigy, who by the age of 20, published his first paper and developed his theory of star evolution. He was recruited as a deputy professor by the University of Chicago at the age of 26, where he spent the rest of his career. He was elected to the Royal Society of London at the age of 34 in 1944, the world’s oldest scientific organization.
In 1937, Chandra immigrated from India to the United States. He and his wife became the American citizens in 1953.
He retired from the University of Chicago in 1980, although he stayed on as a post-retirement researcher. In 1983, he published a classic work on the mathematical theory of black holes.
During World War II, he researched for the US Army, and was invited to join the Manhattan Project which produced the world’s first nuclear bombs, but delays in the processing of his security clearance prevented him from contributing to the project.
Sixteen years after he came to the US, Chandrasekhar was granted US citizenship in 1953.
Chandra was also a popular teacher under whose guidance over fifty students completed their PhDs. His research explored nearly all branches of theoretical astrophysics and he published ten books, each covering a different topic, including one on the relationship between art and science. The Nobel Prize winner served as the editor of the Astrophysical Journal and turned it into a world-class publication.
Married to Lalitha Doraiswamy in 1936, in Madras, the Indian-American praised his wife’s “patient understanding, support, and encouragement” and called those the central facets of his life.
Chandrasekhar died of a heart attack at the University of Chicago hospital on August 21, 1995, at the age of 84. His wife survived until 2013, but passed away at 102.
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