C.V. Raman Biography – Indian Physicist, Scientist, Raman Effect, Raman Scattering, Legacy

C.V. Raman Biography
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C.V. Raman. Nobel Foundation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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C.V. Raman Biography and Legacy

C.V. Raman, born Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, was an Indian physicist best known for his work in the field of light scattering, a phenomenon later termed the Raman effect or Raman scattering.

Raman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930, thereby becoming the first Asian to receive the Nobel Prize in any scientific field.

Early Life

C.V. Raman was born on 7th November 1888 in Tiruchirapalli, Madras Presidency, in British India, to Hindu Tamil Brahmin parents. He was the second child out of eight children.

Raman’s father, Chandrasekhara Ramanathan Iyer, was a teacher at the local high school, where he earned a modest salary of ten rupees per month.

In 1892, when Raman was 4 years old, the family moved to Visakhapatnam after his father was appointed to the faculty of physics at Mrs. A.V.N. College.


Upon arriving at Visakhapatnam, C.V. Raman was enrolled at St. Aloysius’ Anglo-Indian High School.

He was said to be a precocious child from the very beginning. A prodigy in studies.

He completed his secondary education in 1899, aged 11, and his higher education with a scholarship in 1901, aged 13, securing the first position in both under the Andra Pradesh School Board Examination.

In 1902, Raman, aged 14, enrolled at the Presidency College of art, commerce, and science, in Madras. His father was by then teaching physics and maths in the same college. Two years later, at the age of 16, Raman got his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Madras, where again he came first, winning gold medals in English and physics.

In 1906, while studying for his Master of Arts degree, he published his first scientific paper on unsymmetrical diffraction bands due to a rectangular aperture, in the British scientific journal Philosophical Magazine.

In 1907, Raman, aged 19, obtained his Master of Arts degree with the highest distinction.

Indian Finance Service

Following his elder brother’s example, C.V. Raman applied and qualified for a position in the Indian Finance Service (which was the most prestigious government service at the time) after securing the first position in the entrance examination in 1907. He got the position of Assistant Accountant General and was posted in Calcutta the same year.

Raman had initially considered going to England to continue his research after graduating at the insistence of his physics teacher. His teacher had even arranged for his physical inspection, but the inspection revealed that Raman was not suited for England’s harsh and unpredictable weather and would not be able to withstand it. He would also run the risk of dying through tuberculosis in England, he was told.

Due to this, Raman decided to remain in India and work for the Indian Finance Service.

Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science

The Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), located in Calcutta, was the first research institute established in India in 1876.

Upon arriving in Calcutta for his new post, C.V. Raman was greatly impressed with the work undertaken by the IACS. He quickly befriended Amrita Lal Sircar, who was the founder and Secretary of the IACS, and Ashutosh Mukherjee, who was an executive member of the institute. He even became good friends with Asutosh Dey, who would go on to become his lifelong friend and collaborator.

With the help of these connections, Raman soon got permission to conduct his research at the IACS in his free time, which was usually at odd hours of the day.

In 1907, he published an article titled Newton’s rings in polarized light in the British scientific journal Nature on behalf of the IACS. Raman’s paper became the first research paper from the IACS, for prior to it the institute had not produced any research paper as they had no regular researchers.

In 1909, the IACS began publishing their own scientific journal called Bulletin of Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, for which Raman served as the primary contributor.

Shuttling About

From 1909 to 1911, C.V. Raman shuttled around for professional and personal reasons.

In 1909, he was transferred to Rangoon, in British Burma (present-day Myanmar) to serve as a currency officer. However, barely a few months later his father died due to a fatal illness and he returned to Madras to be with his family in their hour of grief. For the rest of the year, he remained in Madras.

When Raman finally got back to work in Rangoon, he was transferred to Nagpur, in Maharashtra, India. The following year, he was promoted to the position of Accountant General and transferred back to Calcutta.

The Golden Era of his Life

In 1915, the University of Calcutta began assigning research scholars under C.V. Raman at IACS. From the following year onward, several other universities across the Indian subcontinent began doing the same, such as the University of Madras, the Institute of Science, the University of Allahabad, Queen’s College Indore, and even the University of Rangoon.

By 1919, Raman had mentored over twelve students from different colleges and universities across the subcontinent. The same year, Amrita Lal Sircar passed away and Raman was granted two honorary positions at the IACS, Honorary Secretary and Honorary Profession.

Raman himself referred to this period as the golden period of his life.

Becoming a Full-time Professor

In 1917, C.V. Raman joined Rajabazar Science College, a university campus created by the University of Calcutta, as a full-time professor. This was the first time in his life that he became a full-fledged professor, without having his civil servant’s job to fall back on for financial security.

After almost a decade of service in the Indian Finance Service, Raman was very reluctant to resign from his position. He later described it as a supreme sacrifice, for his salary as a professor would be half of his salary as a civil servant.

Nevertheless, he accepted the position of Palit Professor of Physics with the condition that he would not be required to go out of India or to take any teaching work in MA and MSc classes to the detriment of his own research or assist advanced students in their research.

But Raman’s appointment as the Palit Professor of Physics did not come without controversy. A few members of the University of Calcutta, especially the foreign ones, objected and opposed his appointment on the grounds that he had no Ph.D. and had never studied abroad. In response to this accusation, Ashutosh Mukerjee arranged for an honorary Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) to be conferred upon Raman by the University of Calcutta in 1921.

Growing Reputation Abroad

By the early 1920s, C.V. Raman had acquired a great reputation abroad, especially in Egland.

In 1921, he was invited to Oxford to deliver a lecture at the Congress of Universities of the British Empire, where physicists Ernest Rutherford and Joseph John Thompson (both Nobel laureates) acted as his hosts.

Three years later, Raman was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society even though he did not think highly of it, considering it a small achievement.

Scientific Research

Upon first joining the IACS, C.V. Raman read Hermann von Helmholtz’s The Sensations of Tone and was greatly influenced by it. He became deeply interested in the scientific basis of musical sounds and conducted extensive research on them.

From 1916 to 1921, he constantly published his findings on the subject, working out the theory of traverse vibration of bowed string instruments based on the superposition of velocities.

Raman’s research on the harmonic nature of the sounds of tabla and mridangam was the first proper scientific study on Indian percussions. He also conducted research and wrote papers on the vibrations of the pianoforte string known as Kaufmann’s theory.

His works on acoustics were significant to his later works on quantum mechanics and optics.

Research on the Scattering of Light

C.V. Raman first began to investigate the scattering of light in 1919 while researching optics.

In 1921, while traveling to India from England on board the S.S. Narkunda, Raman thought about the blue color of the Mediterranean Sea. He began studying seawater by using a pocket-sized spectroscope and a Nicol prism to avoid the influence of sunlight reflected by the surface.

By the time his ship reached Bombay Harbor, Raman had finished his article The Color of the Sea, which was later published in Nature magazine. In the article, he questioned Lord Rayleigh’s generally accepted theory that the blue of the water was simply the blue of the sky seen by reflection.

He suggested that there was a possibility that the diffracting particulars may, at least in part, be the molecules of the water themselves, and that this molecular diffraction determines the observed luminosity and in great measure also its color.

Raman then studied the Bay of Bengal in 1924 that provided full evidence for his theory, establishing that the intrinsic color of the water is mainly attributed to the selective absorption of longer wavelengths of light in the red and orange regions of the spectrum, owing to overtones of the infrared absorbing O-H (oxygen and hydrogen combined) stretching modes of water molecules.

This was Raman’s first major discovery in the field of scattering of light.

Raman Effect

The second major discovery of C.V. Raman on the scattering of light was a new type of radiation, an eponymous phenomenon that came to be known as the Raman effect.

After American physicist Arthur Compton found evidence in 1923 that electromagnetic waves could also be described as particles, Raman was inspired to research it further, believing that if that was true of x-rays, it would also be true of light. He came to the conclusion that there must be an optical analog to the Compton effect.

Raman and his student K.S. Krishnan pursued the theory further. In January 1928, Krishnan discovered that no matter what kind of pure liquid he used, it always produced polarized fluorescence within the visible spectrum of light.

On seeing this result, Raman was surprised as to why he had never before observed this phenomenon. He and Krishnan called this new phenomenon modified scattering with reference to the Compton effect as an unmodified scattering.

Raman invented a type of spectrograph to detect and measure electromagnetic waves. By the following month, they obtained spectra of the modified scattering separate from the incident light. Raman employed the instrument using monochromatic light from a mercury arc lamp which penetrated transparent material and was allowed to fall on a spectrograph to record its spectrum. They were now able to measure and photograph the lines of scattering.

Announcing the Discovery

On 28th February 1928, the very day they made the discovery, C.V. Raman announced it to the press. The Associated Press of India reported it the next day, and by 1st March it was reported by The Statesman under the headline Scattering of Light by Atoms – New Phenomenon – Calcutta Professor’s Discovery.

On 21st April, Raman’s three-paragraph report of their discovery was published in Nature magazine and the actual data was published in the same magazine on 5th May.

On 31st March 1928, Raman’s lecture, titled A New Radiation, at the meeting of the South Indian Sciences Association in Bangalore was published in the Indian Journal of Physics.

Reaction to the Discovery

Raman’s discovery was groundbreaking and of fundamental importance to physics. The new phenomenon was considered to be even more startling than the Compton effect. The main feature observed was that when matter was excited by light of one color, the atoms contained in it emitted light of two colors, one of which was different from the exciting color and was lower down the spectrum. And the most interesting part of it was that the altered color was independent of the nature of the substance used.

Initially, a few physicists were skeptical of the authenticity and reliability of Raman’s discovery. German physicist Arnold Sommerfeld even tried to reproduce the experiment but failed, leading to more skepticism.

However, in June, Peter Pringsheim of the University of Berlin successfully reproduced Raman’s results and coined the terms Ramaneffeckt and Linien des Ramaneffekts, thereby giving birth to its English counterparts Raman effect and Raman lines.

American physicist Robert Williams Wood of Johns Hopkins University was the first American to confirm the Raman effect after making a series of experimental verification.

Raman’s discovery was one of the earliest and most convincing proofs of the quantum nature of light, eventually giving birth to the field of Raman spectroscopy.

Ernest Rutherford, while presenting the Huges Medal to C.V. Raman in 1930, described the discovery as among the best three or four discoveries in experimental physics in the last decade.

Winning the Nobel Prize in Physics

C.V. Raman was obsessed with the Nobel Prize and had made it one of his life’s missions to win one.

He was not flattered or honored when he received the honor of Fellowship to the Royal Society in 1924, as he considered it a small and insignificant achievement. During a speech at the University of Calcutta in 1924, he openly stated that he aspired to the Nobel Prize and would get one in the next 5 years.

Even after Compton won the Nobel Prize in 1927, Raman was ecstatic and told Krishnan that they should research and find an optical analog to the Compton effect, for the Nobel Prize had to be won.

Raman was disappointed to see that he did not receive the Prize in 1928 and 1929. But he was so sure of his victory in 1930 that he booked tickets to Stockholm months in advance of the official announcement. Needless to say, he won the Prize in 1930.

Relationship with Krishnan

Throughout their research on the scattering of light, K.S. Krishnan was the primary researcher and was the first to notice the new phenomenon. He also co-authored all except two scientific papers on their discovery and wrote all follow-up studies.

However, in spite of all his contributions, Krishnan was not nominated or even considered for the Nobel Prize. And even though Raman admitted that Krishnan was the co-discoverer, he was often openly hostile toward him, even going as far as to say that Krishnan was the greatest charlatan he had known, who had spent his life masquerading in the cloak of Raman’s discovery.

Krishnan would later describe Raman’s treatment of him as the greatest tragedy of his life.

Indian Institute of Science (IISc)

In 1933, C.V. Raman was appointed as Director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, thereby becoming the first Indian director of the institute which had been established in 1909. Illustrious men such as industrialist Jamshedji Tata, Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan, and Maharaja of Mysore Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, had contributed funds and land for the IISc.

However, Raman ended up having a major fallout with the authorities at the IISc after he was accused of being biased toward the development of physics while ignoring the other fields. Another bone of contention was Raman’s recruitment and support of German physicist Max Born, whom he intended to give the full position of professor.

Much of Raman’s problems were due to his undiplomatic and sometimes unfriendly personality. His nephew Sivaraj Ramaseshan (who would go on to become Director of the IISc) remarked that Raman went in there like a bull in a china shop.

In January 1936, a committee was formed to oversee Raman’s conduct. In March, the committee found that Raman had misused the funds by entirely shifting the institute’s focus to research in physics.

The committee gave him two options. One, he could resign as Director and continue as Professor of Physics. Or two, he could resign altogether from the institute from the following month onward. And if he refused to make the choice, he would be fired.

Raman chose the first option.

Indian Academy of Sciences

In 1933, the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) planned to establish a national science body that could advise the government on scientific matters.

It was suggested that C.V. Raman establish an Indian Academy of Sciences. The general consensus was that Britishers should also be included as members. But Raman was strictly against the idea. He was of the opinion that the academy must only include Indian members.

In April 1933, Raman and Subba Rao resigned from ISCA and registered the Indian Academy of Sciences to the Registrar of Societies. However, the government of India did not recognize it as an official national scientific body.

Later Scientific Work

C.V. Raman continued to probe into the nature of light after winning the Nobel Prize. In 1932, Raman, along with Suri Bhagavantam, determined the spin of photons, which further confirmed the quantum nature of light. He would also go on to provide the correct theoretical explanation for the acousto-optic effect (light scattering by sound waves) along with his student Nagendra Nath. Their work formed the Raman-Nath theory.

Between 1935 and 1942, he conducted experimental and theoretical studies on the effects produced by X-rays on infrared vibrations in crystals exposed to ordinary light and on the diffraction of light by acoustic waves of ultrasonic and hypersonic frequencies.

In the 1940s, Raman began studying the structure and properties of diamonds, which he would carry on until his final years. And in the early 1950s, he studied the structure and optical behavior of numerous iridescent substances including agate, opal, labradorite, quartz, pearl, and feldspar.

In the 1960s, his interests shifted to biological properties like the physiology of human vision and the colors of flowers.

Other Endeavors

In 1943, C.V. Raman established the Travancore Chemical and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. along with his former student Panchapakesa Krishnamurti. The company was one of the first organic and inorganic chemical manufacturers in India. In 1996, the company was renamed TCM Limited.

In 1947, after India gained its independence, Raman was appointed the first National Professor by the new government. The following year, Raman retired from the IISc and established his own institute called the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, where he served as its Director until his death in 1970.


In late October 1970, while working in his laboratory, C.V. Raman suffered from a cardiac arrest and collapsed. He was immediately rushed to the hospital where the doctors declared that he would not survive another four hours.

But Raman survived for a few more days after the attack. He spent his last days at home and at the university, surrounded by his family and followers. He asked his students to keep the journal of the academy going, and he discussed with the institute’s board of management the future of the institute and its management.

Raman also asked his wife to perform a simple cremation ceremony without any rituals upon his death.

On 21st November 1970, C.V. Raman, aged 82, died from natural causes.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi publicly mourned his death by calling him the greatest scientist of modern India and one of the greatest intellects India had ever produced in its long history.


C.V. Raman is now widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential Indian scientists in history. He is also considered one of the most important researchers in the field of physics, a field that has greatly benefited from his work.

For his pioneering work, Raman was celebrated and honored across the world. He was conferred with several honorary degrees and memberships in scientific societies. He was also the recipient of numerous awards such as the Hughes Medal, Franklin Medal, Lenin Peace Prize, Bharat Ratna, Matteucci Medal, and, of course, the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Raman’s Nobel Prize victory made him the first Asian and first non-white to ever receive any Nobel Prize in the sciences.

In his honor, India now celebrates National Science Day on 28th February every year, to commemorate the discovery of the Raman effect. Since his death, several roads, places, buildings, and universities have been named after him.

Raman’s work and achievements were pioneering for the times, and his name shall continue to live on in the scientific world through his greatest discovery.