December 12, 2013 12:00 am JST

Nobels, bosons and Asia's hidden toil


Beyond the Albert Einsteins and Erwin Schrodingers of science is the story of researchers and theorists who would have gone unnoticed if not for major breakthroughs based on their work. Science is not just about, as Isaac Newton put it, "standing on the shoulders of giants." Many minnows have made mammoth contributions.     

     The Nobel Prizes have over the years acknowledged many of the outstanding discoveries made by the giants of science. Other efforts, hidden discoveries that have come to light only when major breakthroughs have happened, have gone unnoticed.

     Many of the hidden giants of science can be found in Asia. The Indian hero Satyendra Nath Bose is among those who have made big contributions and received little attention. His most important contributions to knowledge were Bose-Einstein statistics and the boson.

Mass effect

The Higgs Boson -- also called the God particle -- was recently discovered at the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN)'s 27km-long Large Hadron Collider. That won Francois Englert and Peter Higgs a Nobel Prize in Physics. They proposed a mechanism to explain why subatomic particles have mass. The CERN, established in 1954 and located near Geneva, is supported by a consortium of 20 European countries as well as observer states including Japan and the U.S.

     The word "boson" named so by Paul Dirac, describes elementary particles that follow the rules of Bose-Einstein statistics. The work Bose and Einstein did together defines the general properties of all bosons. This achievement by a fellow countryman is valued by Indians more than any prize would be. Bose did not receive a Nobel, but his work spawned a generation of scientists that sought out the elusive "God particle."

     Bose's son Rathindranath called his father "a forgotten hero." He pointed out that "at least 10 scientists have been awarded the Nobel" in the same field.

     "Bose's work cannot be judged in terms of any award -- the scientific community has seen how significant his work is. Scientists whose works are based on his monumental research are getting the Nobel Prize -- it has become a part of textbooks," Rathindranath said.

     Several Nobel Prizes were awarded for research related to the concepts of the boson and the Bose-Einstein condensate. Bose was never considered for the prize, despite his work on particle statistics. That work clarified the behavior of photons and "opened the door to new ideas on statistics of microsystems that obey the rules of quantum theory," according to physicist Jayant Narlikar.

Team effort

Work in the collider is a collective effort involving numerous nations. Indian universities and companies have tailored the equipment for the Compact Muon Solenoid detector, which aims to record the universe's tiniest constituents. The Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, the Bose Institute, the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, and Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, are among the main research centers helping to build critical equipment. Most team members had worked for more than a decade on the CMS experiment, making notable contributions from the early stages of the work. Indians also actively participated in data analysis.

     Other institutions, such as the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology and the Electronics Corporation of India, have also played a critical role in building the detector. Bangalore-based companies have created software and a management system that allocates data to scientists and scientific organizations worldwide.

Global project

India is set to become an associate member of CERN with observer status. Japan was the first country outside the European region to take on such a role.

     Asian laboratories in China, Japan and other countries have contributed to Large Hadron Collider programs through collaborations between academia and industry. The Raja Ramanna Centre contributed to LHC accelerator corrector coils and magnet components in cooperation with Indian industry. High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) produced magnets for the collider in cooperation with Japanese industry. Japan manufactured superconductors and other components for the machine.

     An association for academia-industry-government cooperation in Japan has been established, the Advance Accelerator Association Promoting Science and Technology, to study fundamental particle physics, matter and life sciences. It aims at developing various industrial applications of advanced accelerators and technologies.

     These organizations may lack Nobels, but they are changing our understanding of the world.

Tejraj M. Aminabhavi is All India Council for Technical Education Emeritus Fellow and a recipient of the Nikkei Asia Prize in 2013.