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Remembering the Forgotten Scientist Who Fought For Freedom & For Science!

The scientist who challenged the assumption of general relativity is a pioneer in the Golden Period of Relativity. Just like his interest in science, P.C. Vaidya was also committed to the freedom movement.

Prahalad Chunnilal Vaidya was an Indian scientist whose work on general relativity is equally comparable to its inventor–Albert Einstein. P C Vaidya, as he was commonly known, has his works spanning from research into the general theory of relativity, to being the founder of Community Science Center.

Born on 23 May 1918, this year marks his 100th birth anniversary. Though Vaidya has made immense contributions to the field of physics, his name is not as renowned as those of Satyendra Bose, C V Raman or Homi Bhabha.

Here’s a look into his life and the impactful work he offered not just for the community of science.

Born in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, Vaidya, was in 9th standard, when his father passed away. His father wrote his last wish on a slate, stating that his kids should pursue college.

P C Vaidya  the forgotten Indian Scientist
Prahalad Chunnilal Vaidya Source: WikiCommons

Vaidya went on to Mumbai for higher studies at Ismail Yusuf College. He joined the Institute of Science formerly known as Royal Institute of Science. Receiving a BSc degree with a major in Mathematics and Physics, he further pursued an MSc degree in Applied Mathematics.

Just like his interest in science, was also committed to the freedom movement. He had joined the Ahimsak Vyayam Sangh, a voluntary organisation that fought for the country’s independence, inspired by Gandhiji.

In 1937, Prof V V Narlikar, an Indian physicist who specialised in general relativity, delivered a lecture on the topic in Bombay University. Vaidya was amongst the crowd of curious listeners.

V V Narlikar
V V Narlikar Source: Centre for Theoretical Physics

He learnt about the terms of general relativity and that gravitational fields of radiating and non-radiating stars could be solved by the equations of relativity.

The Ahimsak Vyayam Sangh soon came to an end because of conflicting objectives during the first World War. And Vaidya was soon searching for a steady income to provide for his wife and his daughter when he wrote a postcard to Prof V V Narlikar asking to join in his research in general relativity.

Narlikar responded in the affirmative and Vaidya was on his way. The learned scholar was a great influence on Vaidya. During this time, he published a number of papers. One of the most remarkable ones was ‘The External Field of a Radiating Star in General Relativity’.

The well-known Schwarzschild Solution describes the geometry around a spherical star. However, it assumes the exterior of the star to be empty. Vaidya, in his paper, assumed that there is radiation on the exterior of the star. His solution was a metric, which would come to be known as the Vaidya metric, playing a significant role in the research of gravitation theory.

His paper was published in various journals like Nature, Physical Review Letters, Astrophysical Journal and Current Science.

He later joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay, as a research student. He completed his PhD in 1948 and returned to Gujarat to teach at the Vitthalbhai Patel College.

Vaidya contributed to the establishment of various educational institutions in the 1960s, including the Gujarat Mathematical Society. He had founded the Gujarat Ganit Mandal in 1964 in Bhavnagar and the Indian Association for General Relativity and Gravitation in 1969 in Ahmedabad. The former continues to organise periodic programmes in rural areas to spread mathematics across all layers of society.

Besides this, Vaidya published several memoirs from his days as a teacher, such as ‘Chalk ane Duster’ meaning “Chalk and Duster”, and ‘America ane apne’ (America and Us), which are from his days as a visiting professor at the Washington State University.

Though he had a significant part to play in the country’s scientific revolution, Vaidya was very down to earth, and his colleagues remember him by his Gandhi khadi kurtas, white Gandhi cap and a preference for the bicycle. He was a staunch follower of the Gandhian principles of simplicity and honesty. He strongly believed that the brain was the best tool for a mathematician.

His works, not only benefit the scientific community but rural areas as well, for his objective was to spread science to the farthest corners of India which he did by his various foundations.

On his centenary, we salute the man who paved the way for science and was so humble while doing so.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)


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