Tamils of the 20th Century
Subramanyan Chandrasekhar – Autobiography...
"I was born in Lahore (then a part of
British India) on the 19th of October 1910, as the first
son and the third child of a family of four sons and six
daughters. My father, Chandrasekhara Subrahmanya Ayyar,
an officer in Government Service in the Indian Audits
and Accounts Department, was then in Lahore as the
Deputy Auditor General of the Northwestern Railways. My
mother, Sita (neé Balakrishnan) was a woman of high
intellectual attainments (she translated into Tamil, for
example, Henrik Ibsen's A Doll House), was passionately
devoted to her children, and was intensely ambitious for
My early education, till I was twelve, was at home by my
parents and by private tuition. In 1918, my father was
transferred to Madras where the family was permanently
established at that time.
In Madras, I attended the Hindu High School, Triplicane,
during the years 1922-25. My university education
(1925-30) was at the Presidency College. I took my
bachelor's degree, B.Sc. (Hon.), in physics in June
1930. In July of that year, I was awarded a Government
of India scholarship for graduate studies in Cambridge,
England. In Cambridge, I became a research student under
the supervision of Professor R.H. Fowler (who was also
responsible for my admission to Trinity College). On the
advice of Professor P.A.M. Dirac, I spent the third of
my three undergraduate years at the Institut för
Teoretisk Fysik in Copenhagen.
I took my Ph.D. degree at Cambridge in the summer of
1933. In the following October, I was elected to a Prize
Fellowship at Trinity College for the period 1933-37.
During my Fellowship years at Trinity, I formed lasting
friendships with several, including Sir Arthur Eddington
and Professor E.A. Milne.
While on a short visit to Harvard University (in
Cambridge, Massachusetts), at the invitation of the then
Director, Dr. Harlow Shapley, during the winter months
(January-March) of 1936, I was offered a position as a
Research Associate at the University of Chicago by Dr.
Otto Struve and President Robert Maynard Hutchins. I
joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in
January 1937. And I have remained at this University
During my last two years (1928-30) at the Presidency
College in Madras, I formed a friendship with Lalitha
Doraiswamy, one year my junior. This friendship matured;
and we were married (in India) in September 1936 prior
to my joining the University of Chicago. In the sharing
of our lives during the past forty-seven years,
Lalitha's patient understanding, support, and
encouragement have been the central facts of my life.
After the early preparatory years, my scientific work
has followed a certain pattern motivated, principally,
by a quest after perspectives. In practise, this quest
has consisted in my choosing (after some trials and
tribulations) a certain area which appears amenable to
cultivation and compatible with my taste, abilities, and
temperament. And when after some years of study, I feel
that I have accumulated a sufficient body of knowledge
and achieved a view of my own, I have the urge to
present my point of view, ab initio, in a coherent
account with order, form, and structure.
There have been seven such periods in my life: stellar
structure, including the theory of white dwarfs
(1929-1939); stellar dynamics, including the theory of
Brownian motion (1938-1943); the theory of radiative
transfer, including the theory of stellar atmospheres
and the quantum theory of the negative ion of hydrogen
and the theory of planetary atmospheres, including the
theory of the illumination and the polarization of the
sunlit sky (1943-1950); hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic
stability, including the theory of the Rayleigh-Bernard
convection (1952-1961); the equilibrium and the
stability of ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium, partly
in collaboration with Norman R. Lebovitz (1961-1968);
the general theory of relativity and relativistic
astrophysics (1962-1971); and the mathematical theory of
black holes (1974- 1983). The monographs which resulted
from these several periods are:
1. An Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure
(1939, University of Chicago Press; reprinted by Dover
Publications, Inc., 1967).
2a. Principles of Stellar Dynamics (1943, University of
Chicago Press; reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc.,
2b. 'Stochastic Problems in Physics and Astronomy',
Reviews of Modern Physics, 15, 1 - 89 (1943); reprinted
in Selected Papers on Noise and Stochastic Processes by
Nelson Wax, Dover Publications, Inc., 1954.
3. Radiative Transfer (1950, Clarendon Press, Oxford;
reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc., 1960).
4. Hydrodynamic and Hydromagnetic Stability (1961,
Clarendon Press, Oxford; reprinted by Dover
Publications, Inc., 1981).
5. Ellipsoidal Figures of Equilibrium (1968; Yale
6. The Mathematical Theory of Black Holes (1983,
Clarendon Press, Oxford).
However, the work which appears to be singled out in the
citation for the award of the Nobel Prize is included in
the following papers:
'The highly collapsed configurations of a stellar mass',
Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 91, 456-66 (1931).
'The maximum mass of ideal white dwarfs', Astrophys. J.,
74, 81 - 2 (1931).
'The density of white dwarfstars', Phil. Mag., 11, 592 -
'Some remarks on the state of matter in the interior of
stars', Z. f. Astrophysik, 5, 321-27 (1932).
'The physical state of matter in the interior of stars',
Obseroatoy, 57, 93 - 9 (1934)
'Stellar configurations with degenerate cores',
Observatoy, 57, 373 - 77 (1934).
'The highly collapsed configurations of a stellar mass'
(second paper), Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 95, 207 -
'Stellar configurations with degenerate cores', Mon.
Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 95, 226-60 (1935).
'Stellar configurations with degenerate cores' (second
paper), Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 95, 676 - 93
'The pressure in the interior of a star', Mon. Not. Roy.
Astron. Soc., 96, 644 - 47 (1936).
'On the maximum possible central radiation pressure in a
star of a given mass', Observatoy, 59, 47 - 8 (1936).
'Dynamical instability of gaseous masses approaching the
Schwarzschild limit in general relativity', Phys. Rev.
Lett., 12, 114 - 16 (1964); Erratum, Phys. Rev. Lett.,
12, 437 - 38 (1964).
'The dynamical instability of the white-dwarf
configurations approaching the limiting mass' (with
Robert F. Tooper), Astrophys. J., 139, 1396 - 98 (1964).
'The dynamical instability of gaseous masses approaching
the Schwarzschild limit in general relativity',
Astrophys. J., 140, 417 - 33 (1964).
'Solutions of two problems in the theory of
gravitational radiation', Phys. Rev. Lett., 24, 611 - 15
(1970); Erratum, Phys. Rev. Lett., 24, 762 (1970).
'The effect of graviational radiation on the secular
stability of the Maclaurin spheroid', Astrophys. J.,
161, 561 - 69 (1970"