Chandrasekhara Subrahmanyan Iyer, Nobel Prize in Physice 1983

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Chandrasekhara Subrahmanyan Iyer, Nobel Prize in Physice 1983

Birthplace: Lahore, Lahore District, Punjab, Pakistan
Death: Died in Chicago, Cook, IL, USA
Cause of death: Heart Attack
Place of Burial: Chicago, Cook, IL, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of C.S.Iyer and Sitalakshmi
Husband of <private>

Occupation: Astro Physist
Managed by: Anilkumar Nair Puthalath
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Chandrasekhara Subrahmanyan Iyer, Nobel Prize in Physice 1983

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, FRS (i/ˌtʃʌndrəˈʃeɪkɑr/; Tamil: சுப்பிரமணியன் சந்திரசேகர்; October 19, 1910 – August 21, 1995), was an Indian-American astrophysicist who, with William A. Fowler, won the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for key discoveries that led to the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars. The Chandrasekhar limit is named after him. Chandrasekhar was the nephew of Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930.

Chandrasekhar in distinct periods worked in various areas including stellar structure, theory of white dwarfs, stellar dynamics, theory of radiative transfer, quantum theory of the negative ion of Hydrogen, hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability, equilibrium and the stability of ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium, general relativity. mathematical theory of black holes and theory of colliding gravitational waves.

Chandrasekhar served on the University of Chicago faculty from 1937 until his death in 1995 at the age of 84. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1953.

Chandrasekhar was born on 19 October 1910 in Lahore, Punjab, India to Sitalakshmi (1891–1931) and Chandrasekhara Subrahmanya Iyer (1885–1960) who was posted in Lahore as Deputy Auditor General of the Northwestern Railways at the time of Chandrasekhar's birth. He was the eldest of their four sons and the third of their ten children. His paternal uncle was the Indian physicist and Nobel laureate C. V. Raman. C. S. Iyer. His mother was devoted to intellectual pursuits, had translated Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House into Tamil and is credited with arousing Chandra's intellectual curiosity at an early age.

Chandrasekhar was tutored at home initially through middle school and 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 upon inspiration from a lecture by Arnold Sommerfeld and obtaining 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, secured by Professor R. H. Fowler with whom he communicated his first paper. During his travels to England, Chandrasekhar spent his time working out the statistical mechanics of the degenerate electron gas in white dwarf stars, providing relativistic corrections to Fowler's previous work (see Legacy below).

In his first year at Cambridge, as a research student of Fowler, Chandrasekhar spent his time in intensive study, calculating mean opacities and applying his results to the construction of an improved model for the limiting mass of the degenerate star, and was introduced to the monthly meetings of the Royal Astronomical Society, where he met Professor E. A. Milne. At the invitation of Max Born he spent the summer of 1931, his second year of post-graduate studies, at Born’s institute at Göttingen, working on opacities, atomic absorption coefficients, and model stellar photospheres. On the advice of Prof. P. A. M. Dirac, he spent his final year of graduate studies at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, where he met Prof. Niels Bohr. 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, and the following October, he was elected to a Prize Fellowship at Trinity College for the period 1933-37. During this time, he made acquaintance with Sir Arthur Eddington. Chandrasekhar married Lalitha Doraiswamy in September 1936. He had met her as a fellow student, a year junior to him, at Presidency College, Madras. In his Nobel autobiography, Chandrasekhar wrote, "Lalitha's patient understanding, support, and encouragement have been the central facts of my life." Chandrasekhar's infmous encounter with Arthur Eddington in 1935, in which the latter publicly ridiculed Chandra's most famous (and ultimately correct) discovery (see Chandrasekhar limit) led Chandra to consider employment outside of the U.K. (Later in life, Chandra on multiple occasions, expressed the view that Eddington's behavior was in part racially motivated.)

In January 1937, Chandrasekhar was recruited to the University of Chicago faculty as Assistant Professor by Dr. Otto Struve and President Robert Maynard Hutchins. He was to remain at the university for his entire career, becoming Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics in 1952 and attaining emeritus status in 1985. Famously, Chandrasekhar declined many offers from other universities, including one to succeed Henry Norris Russell, the preeminent American astronomer, as director of the Princeton University Observatory.

Chandrasekhar did some work at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, which was run by the University of Chicago. After the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research (LASR) was built by NASA in 1966 at the University, Chandrasekhar occupied one of the four corner offices on the second floor. (The other corners housed John A. Simpson, Peter Meyer, and Eugene N. Parker.) Chandrasekhar lived at 4800 Lake Shore Drive, about a mile from the University, after the high-rise apartment complex was built in the late 1960s.

During World War II, Chandrasekhar worked at the Ballistic Research Laboratories at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. While there, he worked on problems of ballistics; for example, two reports from 1943 were titled, On the decay of plane shock waves and The normal reflection of a blast wave. Chandrasekhar's expertise in hydrodynamics led Robert Oppenheimer to invite him to join the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, but delays in the processing of his security clearance prevented him from contributing to the project. Chandrasekhar developed a unique style of mastering several fields of physics and astrophysics; consequently, his working life can be divided into distinct periods. He would exhaustively study a specific area, publish several papers in it and then write a book summarizing the major concepts in the field. He would then move on to another field for the next decade and repeat the pattern. Thus he studied stellar structure, including the theory of white dwarfs, during the years 1929 to 1939, and subsequently focused on stellar dynamics from 1939 to 1943. Next, he concentrated on the theory of radiative transfer and the quantum theory of the negative ion of hydrogen from 1943 to 1950. This was followed by sustained work on hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability from 1950 to 1961. In the 1960s, he studied the equilibrium and the stability of ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium, and also general relativity. During the period, 1971 to 1983 he studied the mathematical theory of black holes, and, finally, during the late 80s, he worked on the theory of colliding gravitational waves.

Chandra worked closely with his students and expressed pride in the fact that over a 50 year period (from roughly 1930 to 1980), the average age of his co-author collaborators had remained the same, at around 30. He insisted that students address him as "Chandrasekhar" until they received their Ph.D. degree, after which time they (as other colleagues) were encouraged to address him as "Chandra".

From 1952 to 1971 Chandrasekhar was editor of the Astrophysical Journal.

During the years 1990 to 1995, Chandrasekhar worked on a project devoted to explaining the detailed geometric arguments in Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica using the language and methods of ordinary calculus. The effort resulted in the book Newton's Principia for the Common Reader, published in 1995. Chandrasekhar was an honorary member of the International Academy of Science.

Chandrasekhar died of a sudden heart attack at the University of Chicago Hospital in 1995, and was survived by his wife, Lalitha Chandrasekhar. In the Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society of London, R. J. Tayler wrote: "Chandrasekhar was a classical applied mathematician whose research was primarily applied in astronomy and whose like will probably never be seen again."

Nobel prize

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his studies on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars. Chandrasekhar accepted this honor, but was upset that the citation mentioned only his earliest work, seeing it as a denigration of a lifetime's achievement. He shared it with William A. Fowler.

Chandrasekhar's most notable work was the astrophysical Chandrasekhar limit. The limit describes the maximum mass of a white dwarf star, ~1.44 solar masses, or equivalently, the minimum mass which must be exceeded for a star to ultimately collapse into a neutron star or black hole (following a supernova). The limit was first calculated by Chandrasekhar in 1930 during his maiden voyage from India to Cambridge, England for his graduate studies. In 1999, NASA named the third of its four "Great Observatories" after Chandrasekhar. This followed a naming contest which attracted 6,000 entries from fifty states and sixty-one countries. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999. The Chandrasekhar number, an important dimensionless number of magnetohydrodynamics, is named after him. The asteroid 1958 Chandra is also named after Chandrasekhar. American astronomer Carl Sagan, who studied Mathematics under Chandrasekhar, at the University of Chicago, praised him in the book The Demon-Haunted World: "I discovered what true mathematical elegance is from Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar."


An exhibition on life and works of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was held at Science City, Kolkata, on January, 2011.

Fellow of the Royal Society (1944)

Henry Norris Russell Lectureship (1949)

Bruce Medal (1952)

Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1953)

Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1957)

National Medal of Science, USA (1966)

Padma Vibhushan (1968)

Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1971)

Nobel Prize in Physics (1983)

Copley Medal of the Royal Society (1984)

Honorary Fellow of the International Academy of Science (1988)

Gordon J. Laing Award (1989)

Humboldt Prize

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Chandrasekhara Subrahmanyan Iyer, Nobel Prize in Physice 1983's Timeline

October 19, 1910
Lahore, Lahore District, Punjab, Pakistan
August 21, 1995
Age 84
Chicago, Cook, IL, USA
August 22, 1995
Age 84
Chicago, Cook, IL, USA