CV Raman

CV Raman: First Indian to Win a Nobel Prize in Science

Upon hearing Compton's Nobel Prize in Physics, Raman remarked: "This is fantastic news, truly wonderful. But Krishnan, think about it. If this phenomenon holds true for X-Rays, there has to be an Optical counterpart to the Compton Effect for Light. I've always believed in it. We need to explore this avenue, and I'm confident we're on the right track. We must discover it, and we will. The Nobel Prize is within our grasp, and we must seize it."
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Chandrasekhara Venkata(CV) Raman

In the annals of scientific history, few luminaries shine as brightly as Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata(CV) Raman, an exceptional physicist whose groundbreaking contributions have left an indelible mark on the world of science. Born on November 7, 1888, in Tiruchirapalli, India, C.V. Raman embarked on a remarkable journey that would redefine our understanding of light and optics.

C.V. Raman’s scientific odyssey unfolded against a backdrop of intellectual curiosity and relentless pursuit of knowledge. His early years laid the foundation for a distinguished academic career, earning him a master’s degree in physics from Presidency College, Madras, and later a doctorate from the University of London. Raman’s insatiable curiosity and innovative thinking led him to explore the intricacies of light and its interaction with matter.

One of Raman’s seminal achievements came in 1928 when he discovered the celebrated Raman Effect, a phenomenon that unveiled the scattering of light by molecules, revolutionizing the field of optics. This groundbreaking discovery earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930, making him the first Asian and non-white person to receive this prestigious accolade in the sciences.

Raman’s contributions extended beyond the laboratory, as he took on leadership roles at various institutions, including the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Calcutta. His visionary leadership and dedication to scientific education have left an enduring impact on the scientific community in India.

In addition to his scientific prowess, C.V. Raman’s prolific writing and editorial endeavors shaped the discourse in physics. The establishment of the Indian Journal of Physics in 1926 under his editorship stands testament to his commitment to fostering scientific communication.

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Young Years and Learning Path of CV Raman

Born on November 7, 1888, in Tiruchirappalli, India, Raman displayed an early aptitude for science and mathematics. His academic journey commenced at Presidency College in Madras, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Physics, later securing a master’s degree in the same field. He continued his studies at the University of Madras, where he delved deeper into research and received his D.Sc. in 1907, at the remarkably young age of 19.

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Academic Achievements of CV Raman

His academic journey was one of continuous triumphs, earning both a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Madras with exceptional distinctions. 

At age 18, while still a graduate student, he published his first scientific paper on “Unsymmetrical diffraction bands due to a rectangular aperture” in the British journal Philoso in 1906. His pioneering research received acclaim and brought him into contact with prominent scientists like Lord Rayleigh. 

Raman’s exceptional intellect and scholarly contributions drew the attention of his physics teacher, Rhishard Llewellyn Jones (professor at Presidency College in Madras, now Chennai), who recognized his potential and urged him to pursue further research in England.

Unraveling Science: C.V. Raman research

Why is the sea blue?

Picture C.V. Raman on a voyage back to India in 1921, pondering the captivating blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Contrary to popular belief, he challenged the idea that the sea’s color came from the reflection of the sky.

Raman delved into the realm of optics and initiated his exploration of light scattering in 1919. His groundbreaking foray into the physics of light began with the discovery of the blue color of seawater.

While sailing home from England on the S.S. Narkunda in September 1921, he was captivated by the blue hue of the Mediterranean Sea. Armed with a pocket-sized spectroscope and a Nicol prism, Raman used simple optical equipment to study the seawater.

At the time, various hypotheses circulated regarding the color of the sea, with Lord Rayleigh’s 1910 explanation attributing it to the reflection of the blue sky. Raman, using a Nicol prism to eliminate sunlight reflections, observed the water and challenged Rayleigh’s explanation, asserting that the sea appeared even bluer than usual.

Upon reaching Bombay Harbour (now Mumbai Harbour), Raman quickly wrote an article titled “The Colour of the Sea.” The article was published in the November 1921 issue of Nature.

Its time to generate evidence for your theory

He questioned Rayleigh’s explanation, suggesting that molecular diffraction, rather than reflection, played a role in determining the observed luminosity and color. Back in Calcutta, Raman tasked his student K. R. Ramanathan with further research. By early 1922, Raman presented a different perspective in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, proposing that molecular diffraction influenced the observed luminosity and color of the sea.

Ramanathan’s detailed experimental findings in 1923, along with Raman’s study of the Bay of Bengal in 1924, provided conclusive evidence. The intrinsic color of water arises from the selective absorption of longer wavelengths. This occurs mainly in the red and orange regions of the spectrum. The absorption is due to overtones of the infrared-absorbing O-H stretching modes of water molecules.

Using a prism to observe water’s inherent color, he proposed a groundbreaking theory. The theory suggested that molecules in the water could be responsible for the captivating blue hue, challenging established beliefs.


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The Raman Effect, a revelation in light scattering 

After discovering the nature of light scattering that caused the blue color of water, he focused on the principle behind the phenomenon.


While investigating the nature of light scattering that caused the blue color of water, he noticed the emergence of other light rays when sunlight passed through certain liquids and solids. Initially termed a “trace of fluorescence,” the attempts to explain this new scattering phenomenon encountered theoretical challenges until 1927.

The turning point came with the acceptance of the Compton effect, motivating Raman to explore an optical equivalent. The inspiration for the Raman effect was planted during a 1924 debate in Toronto. Compton presented evidence of light as particles, while William Duane of Harvard argued for its wave nature.

Raman sided with Duane, which later influenced his Raman effect discovery.

The actual experimentation began in January 1928, leading to the discovery of what Raman and Krishnan termed “modified scattering.” A manuscript titled “A New Type of Secondary Radiation” was sent to Nature, culminating in its publication in March.


By the end of February, they achieved spectra of the modified scattering. Raman’s invention of a spectrograph, costing only 200 rupees, enabled the detection and measurement of electromagnetic waves. This instrument marked a significant advancement in understanding light scattering phenomena, allowing for precise measurement and photography of scattering lines.

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No Phd for CV Raman?

Some members of the University of Calcutta’s Senate, particularly foreign members, strongly opposed Raman’s appointment as the Palit Professor due to his lack of a PhD and foreign education. In response, Mukherjee orchestrated an honorary DSc from the university in 1921.

That same year, Raman visited Oxford and delivered a lecture at the Congress of Universities of the British Empire, hosted by Nobel laureates J. J. Thomson and Lord Rutherford. Having gained a notable reputation, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1924.

When asked about his future plans, Raman confidently stated, “The Nobel Prize, of course.”

In 1926, he founded the Indian Journal of Physics and served as its inaugural editor. The second volume featured his renowned article “A new radiation,” unveiling the discovery of the Raman effect.

India’s first Nobel Prize in Science for CV Raman


Upon learning of Compton’s Nobel Prize in Physics in December 1927, Raman enthusiastically shared the news with Krishnan

“This is fantastic news, truly wonderful. But Krishnan, think about it. If this phenomenon holds true for X-Rays, there has to be an Optical counterpart to the Compton Effect for Light. I’ve always believed in it. We need to explore this avenue, and I’m confident we’re on the right track. We must discover it, and we will. The Nobel Prize is within our grasp, and we must seize it.”

He was awarded India’s first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for Raman Effect, explaining blue color of the sea. This groundbreaking discovery transformed our understanding of light and matter interaction and propelled advancements in spectroscopy.

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Vision for India

Sir Raman dreamt of building a society in India like the Royal Society of London and other entities in the world to inculcate scientific temperament in the Indian youth. In 1934 he founded the Indian Academy of Science (IAS) in Bangalore to further the cause of science.

Want to know more about Sir Raman

The biopic “C. V. Raman: The Scientist and His Legacy,” directed by Nandan Kudhyadi, was released in 1989 and received the National Film Award for Best Biographical Film.

Additionally, a documentary film titled “Beyond Rainbows: The Quest & Achievement of Dr. C.V. Raman,” directed by Ananya Banerjee, was broadcast on Doordarshan, the Indian national public broadcaster, in 2004.

The Indian Hindi-language biographical streaming television series “Rocket Boys” on SonyLIV featured the character of C.V. Raman, portrayed by T.M. Karthik.

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