In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists. I prefer to let the scientists tell their own stories where possible. Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists. My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about. If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.
Part 2 in this series contained my recommendations for the story of a pioneering research scientist working in Cell Biology (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 2”). Part 3 presents fascinating accounts about a famous researcher working on Astrophysics, a branch of Physics and Astronomy that is very mystifying to almost everyone, including most other professional scientists.
Part 3 Recommendations: ASTROPHYSICS
Prof. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910 – 1995) lived and researched on 3 continents, and was honored in 1983 with the Nobel Prize in Physics. His life story is nothing less than utterly fantastic and inspiring. Not many 18 year old youths either could or would work with mathematics of statistical mechanics (in physics and astronomy) during a ship voyage from India to England, but that is exactly what this young scientist did. In his long academic career, Chandrasekhar was always a scholar’s scholar. Most persons addressed him as “Chandra”. He progressively studied different topics pertaining to the physics of stars and other subjects in astronomy, resulting in a series of much-admired and widely used books in physical science. There is a story from his many years of research work at The University of Chicago that he had a personal rule that about every 7-10 years a scientist must change to work on a new research subject. He accomplished this by first publishing a scholarly book completely summarizing and documenting his recently finished research project, and then throwing out the entire contents of several filing cabinets containing huge piles of reprints of published research reports and stacks of mathematical calculations needed for the previous project; only then did Chandra initiate his new research effort. Few, if any other scientists have the extreme discipline and mental strength to follow such a dictum today! Chandrasekhar’s research developed and moved forward until he became recognized as the world leader in the subscience of astrophysics.
I recommend here a descriptive obituary for general non-scientist readers, along with an excellent biographic article about Chandrasekhar’s life and influence on modern physical science. These are followed by two brief recordings (click on “mp3” to start the audio) from a full transcript of a very extensive live interview in 1977 ( http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html ).
Parker, E.N., 1995. Obituary: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Physics Today 48:106-108. Available on the internet at: http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/48/11/ptolsection?heading=OBITUARIES ; NOTE: after reaching this site for Obituaries, you must first click the title of this article and then click on the “download PDF” button).
Dyson, F., 2010. Chandrasekhar’s role in 20th-century science. Physics Today 63:44-48. Available on the internet at: http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/63/12/10.1063/1.3529001 .
Weart, S., & American Institute of Physics Center for History of Physics, 2014. Interview with S. Chandrasekhar (on his hopes for becoming a scientist), 1977. Available on the internet at: http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html#excerpt .http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/63/12/10.1063/1.3529001
Weart, S., & American Institute of Physics Center for History of Physics, 2014. Interview with S. Chandrasekhar (on the motives for his style of work), 1977. Available on the internet at: http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html#excerpt2 .
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