Study of Cosmic Rays
What are mesons and cosmic rays? If we split any substance on the Earth we get only three
fundamental particles - electrically charged negative particles (electrons), positive
particles (protons) and neutral particles (neutrons). If the weight of the electron is
taken as 1, then the weight of protons and neutrons is 1836. But it
has been discovered that there are other types of particles besides these three in space.
The weight of particles not belonging to these classes is different from the weights of
electrons, protons or neutrons. These other particles are called mesons. Scientists who
have done research on mesons are of the opinion that they are produced by cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays are very fine and very powerful and come from somewhere outside the Earth.
They race to the earth from al directions.
Every minute, day and night, about 600 such cosmic rays pass through the human body. They
can pass through rocks hundreds of meters thick.
Vikram Sarabhai conducted research on the changes in the intensity of cosmic rays. His
very first scientific paper was on the periodical variation of the intensity of cosmic
rays' It was published (1942) in Bangalore in a scientific journal. This research helped
him later to take up the studies of interplanetary space (space between planets), the
relationship between the sun and the earth and earthmagnetism.
During this period, he did research for sometime a, the Poona Central Meteorological
Station. Here he got the
idea of establishing a cosmic ray research institute. In 1943, he went to the Himalayan
peaks in Kashmir to study the intensity of cosmic rays at such high places. There he
conceived a brilliant idea. This was to establish a research center at a great height
above the surface of the earth.
In 1945, the Second World War ended. Sarabhai again went to Cambridge to continue his
study of cosmic rays. In 1947 he got his Ph.D. for this work.
A student does not get the Ph.D. Degree by passing an examination. He has to choose a
professor to guide him. The professor suggests a subject for deep study and research. The
student has to study the subject by himself under the professor's guidance; he has to
organize the information he gets from his experiments; he has to draw his own conclusions,
and gather all these into a large scientific article or 'thesis'. This thesis is then sent
to four specialists in the subject. Only if they agree that the work and the thesis
deserve a doctorate will the Ph.D. Degree be conferred on thestudent. It is, therefore, no
easy task to secure a Ph.D. Degree.
went to Cambridge in 1945, he had started his work for the Ph.D. Degree in 1942. His
family used to go to Kashmir every summer. Vikram would carry his cosmic ray research
equipment to Kashmir. Apharwat, on the banks of Lake Alpathari, is about 13,000 feet above
sea level. It was here, that Sarabhai continued his research. In his Ph.D. thesis he
included photographs of the equipment he used there.
Shortly after he returned from Cambridge he established the Physical Research Laboratory
(mentioned earlier) at Ahmedabad. A scientist by name Dr. K. R. Ramanathan was appointed
as its first Director in 1948. The Institute was started with only a few Students and
Laboratory Assistants. In a few years this group developed into a dedicated team of
scientists and research workers. In spite of his many duties in later years, Sarabhai
maintained close contact with this Institute till his end. At first he was Professor of
cosmic ray research; from 1965 he worked as the Director. This Institute sponsored a
cosmic ray research center established in 1955 at Gulmarg, in Kashmir. The work done at
this center attracted the notice of the Atomic Energy Department of the Government of
India and won its appreciation. This Department established a full-fledged High Altitude
Research Center at the same place -the only research center ' in the world to be set up at
such a high altitude. At last, Sarabhai's long dream became a reality. Later on, similar
centers were opened at Kodaikanal in Tamilnadu and at Trivandrum in Kerala.
One thousand and two hundred years ago Adi Shankaracharya established four religious
centers or Mutts at Shringeri, Puri, Dwaraka and Badrinath for the revival of Hindu Dharma
and left his foot prints there. Vikram Sarabhai established centers for scientific
research in several places from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and has left his footprints there.