C.V. Raman: Biography & Inventions

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Heather Pier

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In this lesson, learn about the life and accomplishments of Indian physicist C.V. Raman. Raman is best known for the Raman effect and for being the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Updated: 01/13/2020

Who Was C.V. Raman?

Can you imagine what it might be like to be the first person from your country to win the Nobel Prize? What about the first person from your race or even continent? If you can, you might have some idea of what life was like for C.V. Raman!

Born in 1888 into an academically minded family in India, Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman would go on to surpass the achievements of his professor father by becoming the first Asian to receive the Nobel Prize in physics.

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  • 0:03 Who Was C.V. Raman?
  • 0:33 Biography
  • 2:07 The Raman Effect
  • 3:34 The Nobel Prize
  • 4:05 Modern Applications of…
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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The second of eight children, C.V. was the son of a college professor. His father, Chandrasekaran, taught math, geography, and physics. He encouraged all of his children to excel in academics, and young C.V. finished his traditional schooling at the age of eleven.

Raman would complete both his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics before he turned 20. His early graduations were quite an achievement, even by today's standards.

After a brief stint in the Indian government's finance department after earning his master's degree, C.V. would return to the sciences as both a professor and an editor, founding the Indian Journal of Physics in 1926. He would also help to create the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1934, along with the Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences. His research included studies of sound theory as it applied to musical instruments, and numerous optical analyses (diffraction, x-ray interactions, and human vision, among others).

In 1907, C.V. would marry the sister-in-law of a friend named Lokasundari Ammal. Unlike most traditional Indian marriages, this was not an arranged marriage, which was extremely unusual in India at the time. The couple would go on to have two sons, one of whom would become a researcher in the field of radio astronomy.

Raman was knighted and earn the title of Sir for his contributions to science (as India was part of the British Commonwealth then). Sir C.V. Raman would ultimately pass away from heart valve failure in 1970, still working in his laboratory until a few days prior to his death.

The Raman Effect

Raman would discover what is known today as the Raman effect, which helps to explain why certain molecules cause waves of radiation to scatter differently than other molecules.

While traveling to Europe in the early 1920s, C.V. noticed that glaciers had a blue color and was intrigued. He wanted to find out what the cause of the blue coloration was and would go on to analyze how water molecules scatter light in an attempt to explain the situation.

These experiments would lead him to be interested in how other materials might interact with light, or other types of electromagnetic waves. At the time, scientists knew about Rayleigh scattering, but didn't have a good explanation for other types of scattering interactions.

Every type of electromagnetic radiation, whether it is visible light or invisible rays like x-rays and gamma rays, has a wavelength. A wavelength is the distance from one location on a wave to the same location on the next wave that passes by a given point.

What Raman noticed is that when x-rays come in contact with molecules, they will scatter off of those molecules, and in doing so, change wavelengths. And when they scatter, they scatter in a specific pattern, depending on what type of molecule it is.

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Additional Activities

Research and Writing Prompts about C.V. Raman

Prompt 1

In the lesson, you learned that Raman discovered the Raman effect, which helps to explain why certain molecules cause waves of radiation to scatter differently than other molecules. Research the Raman effect further. Can you use the Raman effect to explain the color of the sky? Can you use the Raman effect to explain the changing color of leaves or is this due to another phenomenon?

Prompt 2

In the lesson, Rayleigh scattering is mentioned. Research what Rayleigh scattering is. How does this compare to the Raman effect that C.V. Raman discovered?

Prompt 3

C.V. Raman was special in many ways. He was the first Indian and non-white scientist to receive the Nobel Prize. It seems that he was geared for greatness from the beginning, being born into an academic family. Research other previous Nobel prize winners. Find three other Nobel winners that were unique and firsts in their field. How was their situation similar to Raman's? How was theirs different than his?

Prompt 4

Raman continued to research right until his death. Research other contributions that Raman made to the scientific community. What did he accomplish that wasn't mentioned in the lesson?

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