Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was an Indian American astrophysicist who spent his professional life in the United States.

Updated: July 19, 2020


Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was an Indian American astrophysicist who spent his professional life in the United States. He was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics with William A. Fowler for "...theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars". He was born on 19th October 1910 and died on 21st August 1995.


Childhood of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was born on 19th October 1910 in Lahore, Punjab, British India (now Pakistan) in a Tamil Hindu family, to Sitalakshmi (Divan Bahadur) Balakrishnan (1891-1931) and Chandrasekhara Subrahmanya Ayyar (1885-1960) who was stationed in Lahore as Deputy Auditor General of the Northwestern Railways at the time of Chandrasekhar's birth. He had two elder sisters, Rajalakshmi and Balaparvathi, three younger brothers, Vishwanathan, Balakrishnan, and Ramanathan and four younger sisters, Sarada, Vidya, Savitri, and Sundari. His paternal uncle was the Indian physicist and Nobel laureate C. V. Raman. The family moved from Lahore to Allahabad in 1916, and finally settled in Madras in 1918.


Education of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was tutored at home until the age of 12. In middle school his father would teach him Mathematics and Physics and his mother would teach him Tamil. He later attended the Hindu High School, Triplicane, Madras during the years 1922-25. Subsequently, he studied at Presidency College, Madras from 1925 to 1930, writing his first paper, "The Compton Scattering and the New Statistics", in 1929 after being inspired by a lecture by Arnold Sommerfeld. He obtained his bachelor's degree, B.Sc. (Hon.), in physics, in June 1930. In July 1930, Chandrasekhar was awarded a Government of India scholarship to pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge, where he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, secured by R. H. Fowler with whom he communicated his first paper.


Family of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar married Lalitha Doraiswamy in September 1936. He had met her as a fellow student at Presidency College, Madras.


Some facts about Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar worked on a wide variety of physical problems in his lifetime, contributing to the contemporary understanding of stellar structure, white dwarfs, stellar dynamics, stochastic process, radiative transfer, the quantum theory of the hydrogen anion, hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability, turbulence, equilibrium and the stability of ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium, general relativity, mathematical theory of black holes and theory of colliding gravitational waves.
  • At the University of Cambridge, he developed a theoretical model explaining the structure of white dwarf stars that took into account the relativistic variation of mass with the velocities of electrons that comprise their degenerate matter.
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar showed that the mass of a white dwarf could not exceed 1.44 times that of the Sun- the Chandrasekhar limit.
  • Chandrasekhar revised the models of stellar dynamics first outlined by Jan Oort and others by considering the effects of fluctuating gravitational fields within the Milky Way on stars rotating about the galactic centre.
  • His solution to this complex dynamical problem involved a set of twenty partial differential equations, describing a new quantity he termed 'dynamical friction', which has the dual effects of decelerating the star and helping to stabilize clusters of stars.
  • After receiving a bronze medal for his work on degenerate stars, in the summer of 1933, Chandrasekhar was awarded his PhD degree at Cambridge with a thesis among his four papers on rotating self-gravitating polytropes.
  • On 9th October, he was elected to a Prize Fellowship at Trinity College for the period 1933–1937, becoming only the second Indian to receive a Trinity Fellowship after Srinivasa Ramanujan 16 years earlier.
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar remained at the University of Chicago for his entire career. In 1952, he became Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics.
  • In 1953, he and his wife, Lalitha Chandrasekhar, took American citizenship.
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his studies on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars.
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar died of a sudden heart attack at the University of Chicago Hospital in 1995, having survived a prior heart attack in 1975.


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