Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Usha Bhakuni

Usha has taught high school level Math and has master's degree in Finance

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was a renowned astrophysicist who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics. In this lesson, you will look at his brief biography and famous quotes.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995) was a famous Indian-American astrophysicist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics in 1983 for his theoretical work on the structure and evolution of stars. The Chandrasekhar limit, which is the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf star, is named after him. He was adoringly called ''Chandra'' by his friends and colleagues.

Early Life

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was born on October 19, 1910 in Lahore, British India (now in Pakistan), to Sitalakshmi and Chandrasekhara Subrahmanya. He was one of ten children. His father worked as a Deputy Auditor General of the Northwestern Railways at that time. His paternal uncle, C.V. Raman, was a Nobel laureate physicist.

He was home-schooled until middle school, then attended the Hindu High School in Triplicane, Madras (now Chennai) from 1922 to 1925. He graduated from Presidency College, Madras in 1930 with a B.Sc. (Hon.) in physics. In 1929, while still an undergraduate, he wrote his first academic paper, ''The Compton Scattering and the New Statistics.''

In 1930 he received a scholarship from the Government of India to study at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. While traveling to England by sea, he calculated that the critical mass for a white dwarf to exist should be less than or equal to 1.4 times the mass of our sun. Stars with mass less than this become white dwarfs and those with greater mass become neutron stars. This number came to be known as the Chandrasekhar limit. Later on, he would receive the Nobel Prize for this work.

Chandrasekhar was a research student under Prof. R.H. Fowler at Cambridge. In 1931, he was invited by Max Born to work at his institute at Gottingen, Germany. After this, he went to the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen for his final year of graduate study. In 1933, he was awarded his PhD degree and received a bronze medal at Cambridge for his work on degenerate stars (stars reaching the end of their life cycles). He was then elected to a Prize Fellowship at Trinity College for the period 1933-1937.

He married his college friend Lalitha Doraiswamy in September 1936. They did not have any children.

Mid Life and Career

In January 1937 Chandrasekhar started his career at the University of Chicago, where he worked for almost sixty years. In 1947, he was appointed Distinguished Service Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics, and he became a professor emeritus in 1985.

In 1952, he became the managing editor of the Astrophysics Journal and remained in this position till 1971. Under his editorship, the private journal became the national journal of the American Astronomical Society.

Chandrasekhar and his wife had lived in the United States for many years. After the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952, which lifted race-based restrictions on immigration, they became US citizens in October 1953. Both of them were part of John F. Kennedy's campaign for President in 1960.

In 1953 he received the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal, and he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, which is the second highest civilian award in India, by the Government of India in 1968.

Late Life

During the later years of his life, between 1974 and 1983, he researched on black holes. He wrote a book on the subject, The Mathematical Theory of Black Holes, in which he stated, ''The black holes of nature are the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe: the only elements in their construction are our concepts of space and time.''

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