Kariamanikkam Srinivasa Krishnan (KSK) is mostly known as co-discoverer
of the famous Raman effect, a discovery which brought the first
and till date the only Nobel Prize in Science to India. The Prize
was awarded to Krishnan’s mentor and research guide C.V. Raman
in 1930. A lot of unnecessary controversies were raised and still
continue to be raised on the point that KSK was not given due credit
for his part in the discovery. In fact some have even gone to the
extent that it was KSK who had discovered the Raman Effect and Raman
took the entire credit for it. But Krishnan himself had no grievance
for it. KSK, in one conversation with S. Ramaseshan, had said :
”It is a blatant misrepresentation. The best I can say is
that I participated actively in the discovery….” On
being asked that Raman was being accused of taking away the lion’s
share of the credit of the discovery KSK replied. “…that
is another misrepresentation. Professor never tried to do this.
If you read the Nobel lecture, which is a true and honest account
of the progress and history of the subject, Professor names all
his collaborators in order starting with K. R. Ramanathan giving
everyone (and including me) his due credit. Again and again in public
lectures he always mentioned that I collaborated with him in the
discovery of the effect and that our collaboration was similar to
that of Bowen and Millikan which was praise indeed”.
It was also pointed out by Krishnan that while
recommending Krishnan for a professorship at the Andhra University
Raman wrote to the Vice Chancellor . “If the Nobel Award for
physics made in 1930 had been for the work done in the year 1928
alone instead of the entire work on the scattering of light done
at Calcutta from 1921 onwards, Krishnan could justly have come in
for the share of the prize.” The citation for the Nobel Prize
also stated that the Prize was given to Raman for his work on the
scattering of light and the discovery of the effect named after
him. In reality there is no controversy. It was Raman who deserved
the Prize. In this connection it is worthwhile to note from the
preface by G. Baskaran of the Institute of Mathematical Science,
Chennai. to the Special Section on K.S. Krishnan Birth Centenary
in Current Science. Baskaran wrote : “It is my personal opinion,
that Raman –Krishnan controversy is no controversy …
Raman, a great scientist, was in a tireless pursuit of an important
phenomenon and was fortunate to get a young and great student like
KSK. A careful look at KSK’s diary as reported in G. Venkataraman’s
book and a host of other factors clearly illustrate this –
Raman deserved the Nobel Prize for the Raman effect. And the then
young Krishnan grew into a great scientist on his own right.”
This fact that Krishnan himself was a very distinguished scientist
in his own right and not to be remembered only because he was co-discoverer
of Raman effect needs to be highlighted.
KSK was an outstanding physicist of international
repute. He made pioneering contributions in a number of fields of
physics. He had the ability to recognize and exploit connection
between phenomena in different fields of physics.
KSK played an important role in the development
of science and technology in India. He was deeply associated with
the premier scientific/educational organizations in the country
like the Atomic Energy Commission, the Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research and the University Grants Commission. He was
a great teacher, a real guru in the tradition of great ancient sages.
Besides being a ‘complete physicist’ he was ‘a
whole man with an integrated personality’. He was a staunch
nationalist. He forcefully championed the cause of science writing
in mother tongue. He himself ably performed the task in Tamil. He
was a distinguished writer in Tamil. Thus G. Baskaran wrote : “Conveying
the essence of science and its excitement in an understandable way
to a layman or a non-expert is an art that few scientists have mastered.
This has its very important role and value in society. It is also
an important duty of the science community that is being neglected
in modern times. KSK had this skill as it is clear from his many
articles on science and related issues in Tamil and English as well
as the talks that he has given in All India Radio. He was an ardent
spokesman for science.
KSK strongly believed that one can convey even
very complicated scientific facts in his mother tongue. His scholarship
and appreciation of Tamil literature must have given the gift to
perform this task with ease. In one of his articles he speaks of
his school science teacher Thirumalai Kozhunthu Pillai, who enthused
the students by teaching science in a understandable way in chaste
Tamil. Listening to him he got the conviction that difficult scientific
concepts could be conveyed in Tamil. “
He was an sports enthusiast and played tennis,
bridge and football. He had mastery over Sanskrit and Tamil literature.
Inspired by his father, KSK since his childhood developed an abiding
love of religion and Indian philosophies. Many people have noted
that it was a pleasure to listen him. He could always find an appropriate
anecdote to drive home a moral or disarm a critic or just to entertain’.
KSK was born on 4 December 1898, in the village
of Wartrap, in the Ramnad (then Tiruneveli) District of Tamilnadu
(then a part of the Madras Presidency). His father was a school
teacher. After schooling in his village school and at the Hindu
High School at the neighbouring town Srivilliputtur he studied in
the American College, Madurai and Christian College Chennai (then
Madras). KSK’s interest for science grew in his school days.
To quote Krishnan : “My first love for science came in my
fourth form (class 9) in my high school in 1911. Even though my
teacher was not a professional scientist, he was good at explaining
science in a clear and captivating fashion. His lessons not only
sunk deep into our mind but also made us crave for more science.
Whether it is physics, geography or chemistry, his teaching style
was unique. He did not simply reproduce the lessons from the book.
He demonstrated many simple experiments for us and also encouraged
us to do experiments ourselves. Very few teachers I know are of
this type, and I feel fortunate to have had him as my first science
teacher… My real involvement in science came after a year,
when my physics teacher asked us to write an “essay”
about an instrument that I constructed on my own, for measuring
the density of solids. A few days later I learned that my instrument
is nothing new and it was invented by Nicholas many years ago. “The
Nicholas hydrometer” was by then text book material.”
After taking a master degree in physics KSK became
a demonstrator in chemistry. Here, at the request of some of his
students, KSK organized an informal lunch-hour discussion where
the students were free to discuss any question in physics, mathematics
or chemistry. It became so popular that students from nearby colleges
started attending it. Often the big gallery of the lecture room
used to be full to over flowing. G. Venkataraman in his book, Journey
Into Light : Life and Science of Raman, a marvellous biography of
Raman has written : “Krishnan took a master’s degree
in physics but the only opening then available to him was a Demonstrator
in chemistry in Madras Christian College. During this period, Krishnan
ran an informal but highly successful lunch-hour discussion on diverse
topics in physics and chemistry which soon began to attract participants
from other colleges as well. One beneficiary later remarked that
he had learned more physics from the lunch-break seminars than from
regular class-room lectures.”
In 1920, Krishnan went to work with C.V. Raman
at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Kolkata
(then Calcutta). About his joining Raman’s research group,
Krishnan later wrote : “I relinquished the small job I had
and decided to do research in physics and went to Prof. C.V. Raman
at Calcutta. But, he did not agree for my starting research immediately.
Only after learning various aspects of physics properly at Calcutta
University for two years was I able to join his research group.
I had the good fortune of having a five year “Gurukula Vasam’
there. These five years turned out to be a festive season in my
science life”. KSK worked very hard. It is said that his work
in the laboratory began at 6 a.m., often after an early walk and
an cold bath. But his interests were not confined to research alone.
He also studied a lot of literature, religion and philosophy. One
will get a glimpse of the breadth of Krishnan’s reading habit
and his source of his inspiration from the following remarks made
by Krishnan in a radio broadcast :
Thackeray, Stevenson, Cervantes, Dumas and Victor
Hugo and Conan Doyle linger in my memory as my favourite authors
at this time, Plato and Aristotle in translations, Shakespeare,
Some of them naturally stand out much more prominently than others
in my memories. I should specially mention Don Quixote, Pickwick
Papers, Vanity Fair and Book(s) of Snobs, Essays of Elia, Essay
and Discourses of Stuart Mill, some of the prose writings of Swift
and Allice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, most of
which I have re-read later.
Among the popular scientific books that made a
great impression on me I should specially mention Tyndall’s
Fragments, Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif, Men of Mathematics
by Eric Bell, A Mathematician’s Apology by Hardy and the biographies
of Kelvin, Helmholtz, Lord Rayleigh, Maxwell and Tait.
Among the serious scientific writings, the collected
papers of Lord Rayleigh have been my constant companion for nearly
38 years and I cannot think of a better model for a research worker.
One of the research papers of Einstein I have read off and on during
the same period, and every time by read it I get something new out
of it. Some of the papers of Niels Bohr had over me even more profound
Besides his research work and general reading he
also took active interest in sports. He was a good football player.
And he was a frequent visitor to the Eden Gardens for watching a
football match. He used to play bridge and also tennis. He used
to take a very lively interest in political movement. But all this
did not affect the quality or quantity of his scientific work. At
the instance of Raman he engaged himself in experimental study of
the scattering of light in a large number of liquids, and its theoretical
interpretations. He played a significant role in the discovery of
Raman Effect. It is important to note that though Krishnan played
an important role in the discovery the Raman Effect he did not pursue
this subject in later part of his career. He worked in fields like
magnetism, thermal conductivity and thermionics.
Arnold Sommerfeld visited Calcutta in October 1928
to give lectures on ‘Modern Developments in Wave Mechanics’.
KSK assisted Sommerfeld to prepare a book based on the lectures
for publication by the Calcutta University. It was not just simply
reproduction of the lectures. He developed the lectures in an independent
and original way, supplying new and elegant mathematical proofs.
Sommerfeld commended for KSK’s originality and scholarship.
In fact it is said that Sommerfeld offered to publish the book under
joint authorship. However, the offer was politely declined by KSK.
In December 1928 KSK moved to the Dacca University
(now in Bangladesh) as the Reader of in the physics Department.
At the time Satyendra Nath Bose was the Head of the Physics Department.
In Dacca University he studied magnetic properties of crystals in
relation to their structure. In the process KSK developed elegant
and precise experimental technique to measures the magnetic anisotropy
of dia - and paramagnetic crystals. The research papers published
by KSK and his colleagues from Dacca University are considered to
be foundation stones of the modern fields of crystal magnetism and
magneto chemistry. In 1933 KSK came back to Kolkata to take up the
post of Mahendralal Sircar Professor of Physics in the Indian Association
for the Cultivation of Science. He continued to study of magnetic
properties of crystals in relation to their structure.
In 1937, KSK was invited by Lord Rutherford to
the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, and by Sir William Lawrence
Bragg to the Royal Institution, London, to give lectures.
In 1942, KSK moved to Allahabad University as Professor
and Head of the Department of Physics. Here he took up the
physics of solids, in particular metals.
In 1948, KSK took over the directorship of the
National Physical Laboratory (NPL) set up by free India as one of
the national laboratories under the aegis of the Council of Scientific
and Industrial Research (CSIR). In NPL, besides carrying out his
administrative responsibilities, he continued his activities in
his chosen fields of research. He also turned his attention to problem
in the thermionics, a branch of electronics dealing with the emission
of electrons from matter under the influence of heat.
KSK received a number of honours both in India
and abroad. In 1948 he became the General President of Indian Science
Congress. The title of Padma Bhusan was awarded to him by the Govt.
of India in 1954. In 1955, the US National Academy of Science invited
KSK to be the guest speaker at their Annual Dinner. He was specially
flown over to America for the purpose. It was a rare privilege.
Earlier this privilege was enjoyed by only the Presidents of the
Royal Society of London, of the Royal Netherlands Academy and of
the Swedish Academy. Here he delivered a lecture on cultural values
in technical education. Hasbrouck van Vleck (1899-1980) pioneer
in the development of modern quantum mechanical theory of magnetism
and who got Nobel Prize in 1977 commented on this lecture. “He
(Krishnan) quoted extensively from Whitehead and it was his speech
that prompted me to read some of Whitehead’s writings.”
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), the British mathematician, physicist
and philosopher, pioneered (alongwith Bertrand Russel) in mathematical
logic and foundations of mathematics.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of
London in 1940. He was Knighted in 1946. In 1956, he was elected
a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. KSK
was the first recipient of the Bhatnagar Memorial Award in 1961.
The Govt. of India made him a National Professor. KSK was a founder
member of the International Union of Crystallography. Among the
other members were Max Theodor Felix Von Laue (1879-1960) and William
Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971). He was President of the National Academy
of Sciences and also of its predecessor National Institute of Sciences
of India. He was the Vice President of the International Union of
Pure and Applied Physics and International Council of Scientific
KSK died on June 13, 1961. We would like to end
this write-up by quoting from an article on Krishnan by Shiv Visvanathan,
a sociologist of science and who has worked on Krishnan and his
NPL days: “When NPL was being built there were two trees in
front which were creating problems. The builders decided to cut
them down. When the axe was about to fall, Krishnan was just driving
in. He stopped, astonished and horrified and then came running up
to the tree cutters jabbering in his not too articulate Hindi. Seeing
Krishanan’s distress, Kanvinde, the architect, also rushed
to the scene. Krishnan asked them `Why are you cutting down these
trees ?’ The architect answered ‘Sir, we thought they
looked asymmetrical in the landscape’. Krishnan fell silent
and then replied, `You can still create symmetry. Not by cutting
down a tree but by adding one more’. The aesthetics of the
man who loved Whitehead and admired Pavlova is captured in this
- Current Science (A monthly journal of the Indian Academy of
Sciences, Bangalore) vol. 75, No. 11. 1988. This issue contains
a special section on KS Krishnan brought out on the occasion of
his birth centenary. The following articles in this section may
be appropriate for general readers.
i. K.S. Krishnan : Birth Centenary by E.S. Raja Gopal.
ii. “K.S. Krishnan : A pioneer in condensed matter physics
by T.V. Ramakrishnan
iii. K.S. Krishnan the complete physicist by R. Sundaram.
iv. A conversation with K.S. Krishnan on the story of the discovery
of the Raman Effect by S. Ramascshan.
v. The tragedy of K.S. Krishnan : A sociological fable by Shiv
- Journey into light : Life and Science of Raman by G. Venkataraman.
Indian Academy of Sciences. Bangalore, 1988.
- Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the National Institute of
Sciences of India Vol. 2 National Institute of Sciences of India
(presently known as Indian National Science Academy): New Delhi
1970 (The memoir of Krishnan published in this volume was written
by Kathleean Lousdale and H.J. Bhabha).
- Some Eminent Indian Scientists (Fourth edition) by Jagjit Singh,
Publication Division, Govt of India, New Delhi . 1991.