Sunday 26 May 2024

Memories of My Father - Part 6


The habit of reading books was instilled in us from a young age, almost unknowingly. There was no specific encouragement or pressure for this. As far back as my memory can take me, I see that we grew up surrounded by books. This was because my father sold books in his shop. However, these weren’t the intellectual or creative books we now include in our collections. My father sold primary and secondary school textbooks.

At that time, in independent Bangladesh, one needed a license from the Textbook Authority to sell government-issued books. Obtaining that license required a lot of effort. I don't know how my father managed to get it, but until 1980, he was the only licensed textbook seller in Banshkhali. He used to go to Dhaka to get books from the Textbook Authority. Other booksellers in Banshkhali would come to our shop to get their supplies from him. As a result, our shop was always filled with a large number of books. We eagerly opened the crates of books. Even before I learned to read, I would flip through the pages to look at the pictures. Back then, apart from the cover, there were no coloured pictures in the books. Nowadays, children have the opportunity to handle beautifully colourful and shiny books from a much younger age.

Having books for various subjects from different classes at our fingertips meant we had the opportunity to read whatever we liked, and we made the most of it. We often saw our father extremely busy. He spent at least four to five days a week traveling here and there. On the two or three days he was at home, he would hand me a book from any class during his afternoon nap and ask me to read it aloud. I can’t say I was a very obedient child. I would wait for him to fall asleep so I could escape. Within two or three pages, he would be asleep. At that time, I thought it was so easy to fool him. It was much later that I realized parents often pretend to be fooled for the sake of their children.

Back then, from classes six to nine, alongside the Bangla textbooks, there was another book for rapid reading. These books had many beautiful stories. I had read all the stories from each class while reading to my father. When I grew up and tried to understand him, I observed that more than his desire to listen to stories, he wanted to cultivate a reading habit in us.

Memories of My Father - Part 5


Milestones along the roadside are rarely seen these days. In this era of Google Maps, those milestones have lost their importance. However, those of us who grew up listening to stories about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s childhood know the relationship between these milestones and Vidyasagar. My father, who regretted not being able to study in his own childhood, tried to make up for it through his children whenever he had the chance. When he no longer had the opportunity to become a Vidyasagar himself, he tried to become Vidyasagar’s father. This didn't particularly make his children happy. I used to get very annoyed when he talked about knowledge. But since expressing my annoyance might have resulted in our trip being cancelled, I kept my feelings to myself. We were allotted just one trip a year, which was to visit the city with my father after the annual exams. We had to leave very early in the morning, walk a long distance, and then take a rickshaw.

Vidyasagar’s father supposedly taught his son many things while walking with him. For instance, he taught him to count by showing him the milestones along the road: one, two, three, four. He even tested him on his math skills by hiding one of the milestones. My father once tried to do something similar with us very meticulously. However, there were only a few milestones along the main road from our village to the city. After crossing the small stream from our village and walking a bit north, we encountered a milestone that read "Chanpur 16 miles." Then, after several milestones were missing, there was another one in front of the Joldi CO office. Hence, it was impossible for him to directly test us on counting milestones. But it’s not a father’s job to cancel tests and give peace to his children. He found another way. He asked, "How many yards in a mile?"

I didn’t know the answer to this question. I had advanced to the third grade without learning much. My older brother, who was two grades ahead and good at math, answered – 1760 yards.

"How much distance is in one yard?" father asked again.

I couldn’t make any sense of it. I just enjoyed watching the red sky as the sun rose. But I saw my father draw a mark on the road with his foot and then, bending down, he measured a distance with his hands and made another mark. He said, “This distance is one yard. Now, you all walk normally and see how many 'kais' each of you take in one yard.” ‘Kai’ means steps. With enthusiasm, I measured that I took three steps to cover one yard. My older brother, in his excitement, tried to cover one yard with a long stride in one step, but father said, “You have to walk like that the whole way.” That deflated his enthusiasm. He took two steps to cover one yard.

After measuring our steps, the instruction was – we had to count our steps until the next milestone. By dividing my total steps by three, I could find out how many yards I had walked. Then, convert yards into miles.

I have walked on the roads of many countries for many years since then. Even now, I subconsciously count my steps. What we now call calibration is what my father taught us on the roads of our village. My father, who had only passed the fourth grade.

Saturday 25 May 2024

Memories of My Father - Part 4


This is my first photo taken with my father. At that time, I had just moved up to ninth grade, my sister was studying for her honors, and my brother had taken his SSC exams. This photo was taken at Studio Aleya near the Gulzar Cinema in Chawkbazar.

Before this, I had the opportunity to enter a studio only three times. After moving up to third grade, I came to the city for the first time. My father had taken the three of us to see the city. Near Lal Dighi, at Mukul Studio, a photo was taken. That was the first photo of my life, but it was the second or third for my brother and sister. In the first photo they took with our parents, I was invisible. At that time, I was in my mother's womb. That was the first and last photo with our mother. I never had the opportunity to take a photo with my mother. At Mukul Studio, a photo of the three of us was taken, but I do not know why my father did not join us in that photo. Later, I realized that my father did not have the financial means to take multiple photos that day.

My second photo was taken after I moved up to sixth grade. It was a half-portrait, where only the face is visible. After receiving the primary scholarship, my father wanted to have his son's photo published in the newspaper. So, the photo was taken. But when we went to the newspaper office, the amount of money they asked for was more than my father could afford. I was with my father. As he walked out of the Azadi office in Anderkilla with his head down, I, who had just entered sixth grade, somehow felt responsible. The conflict between desire and the means that honest lower-middle-class people face was something my father never able to resolve.

My third photo was taken at a studio in Patiya after the junior scholarship exam. At that time, there was only one center for scholarship exams for all the schools in South Chittagong, which was at Patiya Abdus Sobhan Rahat Ali High School. That time too, a photo could have been taken with my father. But it wasn't. 

About six months later, this photo was taken—the first photo of my father with his three children.

This photo was framed in a thin wooden frame and hung on the cardboard wall of our house. Over time, as we left home to study in colleges and universities in various places, the photo became more and more faded while hanging on the wall. After my father's death, we realized there was no other copy of the photo. Several years later, we found the negative of the old photo among my father's disorganized papers. I don't know whether the studio used to give negatives or if my father had asked for it, but the negative was found. Although some parts had been damaged by chemicals, printing a photo from the negative with a digital scanner is not a big deal now.

My father didn't get the chance to see this technology, but his grandchildren were born in the digital age. Every time they see this photo, they feel sad. One of them, who is more sensitive, said, "You didn't even have good clothes, uncle. Grandfather's sandals were torn too."

I never thought that we didn't have good clothes. That day, we went to the studio in our best outfits to take this photo. The shirt I was wearing was my school uniform shirt. Besides that, I only had one other shirt. Even though my father's sandals were torn in several places, he used to say there was no need to buy new sandals yet. He never admitted to having financial difficulties. I can't exactly recall how many more years he wore them after getting them stitched by the cobbler.

Thursday 23 May 2024

Memories of My Father - Part 3


Excess was something I never saw at our home during my childhood. Our needs were so limited that I never felt a lack of anything. Somehow, even at a young age, I understood that my father worked hard day in, day out but earned very little. I remember one time, on the day of Chaitra Sankranti (last day of Bengali year), our father took my brother and me to a fair in a village about three miles away. In the morning, we walked there with great enthusiasm without any problems. 

We spent the whole morning licking ice cream on sticks and watching people shaking their heads like mad in front of a tall bamboo pole wrapped in red cloth. On the way back, the sun was scorching overhead. Father opened an umbrella over our heads, sweating profusely himself.

"I can't walk anymore, father, rickshaw..." I almost cried.

At that time, there weren't many rickshaws. After standing by the roadside under a tree for a long time, a rickshaw finally appeared. Father approached and spoke to the rickshaw puller. The rickshaw puller shrugged and left. While pedalling away, he turned back and gave us a contemptuous smile. I don't think I'll ever forget that smile. Rickshaws were a luxury for the wealthy back then. Those who couldn't afford it walked miles and miles.

Father came to me and said, "Get on my back."

I was five years old at the time, already attending school. The war had ended about a year before. The war had left my father destitute. When the long struggle for independence ended, my father's struggle began, to rise again from the ashes of our burnt-down home. War ages a person mentally. Without realizing it, we had learned to understand many things. I understood why father offered his back. My leg pain disappeared. We continued walking in the shade of father's umbrella.

Parents sacrifice their lives for a bit of comfort for their children. If that’s not enough, they resort to philosophical sayings. "Money, wealth, status—none of these are permanent. They can be taken away any day for any reason. Everything I had was looted and burned. But the one thing that can never be destroyed, stolen, or taken away is education. I may not be able to leave you money, wealth, or status. I couldn't get an education myself, but if you study, no one can ever take that away from you."

I don't remember what I felt hearing these words at that age. But now, whenever I recall them, I wonder in amazement—does true philosophy arise from deprivation?

Monday 20 May 2024

Memories of My Father - Part 2


In our childhood and even in our adulthood, there was no tradition of celebrating birthdays. We didn't even remember when anyone's birthday was. The idea of birthdays came to mind during my university years. 

My father used to celebrate only one birthday with great festivity. It was the birthday of his guru, Adwoitananda. If we just said Adwoitananda, my father would be very displeased. He was very sensitive about his guru. We had to use many honorifics and say Sri Sri Srimad Adwoitananda Puri Maharaj. And for Maharajs, there aren't birthdays, but birth festivals. Yes, we had a festival at our house every year on the 4th of Jaishtha in the Bangla month. Later I found out that my father was also born on the same day. Even though we never told him, my siblings and I assumed that it was our father's birthday celebration. Although we never said it - happy birthday, father. These phrases were not as common then as they are now.

His financial situation was never very good. But for his Gurudev’s birth festival, he would arrange a feast with five types of vegetarian dishes for about four to five hundred people. There wasn't much space in our house. Our house was above our shop in the market, with the shop on the ground floor and us living upstairs. The feast was arranged at night on the street. People would sit on mats and food used to be served on banana leaves. 

At that time, only rickshaws and pushcarts used to travel on our street. When the street became busier, the market grew, and the guest control law was introduced, this festival was moved to the Kalibari temple. Later, my father himself stopped it. He didn't impose any responsibilities on his children.

The last time I saw him was in December 2005. When I was leaving home, he hugged me and said, "I don't know if we'll meet again. But you will always see me. I will be with you always." My father often used to say many philosophical things. I took it as one of those sayings. But now, day by day, I'm realizing that his words are gradually becoming true. As I age, my appearance is becoming more and more like my father's. When I stand in front of the mirror, I see him.

Sunday 19 May 2024

Memories of My Father - Part 1


What I now understand by "library" was something different when I was young. Until ninth grade, I thought a library was a bookstore where books were sold. My father had a library, meaning he had a bookstore. It existed even before I was born. During the Liberation War, the Razakars burned everything to ashes. Despite being ruined, my father painstakingly rebuilt his store, and in one corner of it, he set up a small library. Thus, a significant part of my childhood and upbringing was filled with various school textbooks. Somehow, through browsing books, I learned to read. It’s not that I did nothing but read books all the time – quite the opposite. After engaging in all sorts of games and mischief, I sometimes had to sit in my father's library – as an assistant.

My curiosity began from there. Gradually, I read all the stories in the Bengali textbooks from grades one to nine, one after another. The ones I liked, I read repeatedly. The ones I didn't enjoy, I never looked at again. There was no obligation in reading for pleasure. 

However, when I entered high school, my father started a new trouble. At that time, the English Rapid Readers were not published by the board. Various publishers gave my father sample copies of English Rapid Readers for different grades. He would ask me to read those English stories. He himself had studied up to the fifth grade during the British era and didn’t recognize English letters properly, yet somehow, he knew which English book belonged to which grade. Reluctantly, I would spell out the words in the English stories. My father didn’t understand English, so I thought he would get frustrated and let me go. He would let me go, but not out of frustration. I would only be freed when a customer came to the shop.

After a few days, the second phase of trouble began. Now, I had not only to read the English stories but also translate them into Bengali. I didn’t know the meaning of all the English words. As for my father, there was no question of him knowing them. If I had to look up the dictionary repeatedly while reading, it would take all day, and I didn’t have that much time. The allure of going to the field to play football was greater than reading “The Boys and the Frogs.” So, if I didn’t know the meaning of a word, I started making up my own. Even if the story got distorted, I didn’t care. 

One day, I was reading "The Boy and the Wolf." The English sentence reading and Bengali sentence forming were going on in turn. When the liar shepherd boy’s cry of “Wolf, wolf” was found to be false, no one believed him when the real wolf came the last time. No one came forward to help him. The wolf ate him. The story ended. As I was closing the book and getting up to leave, my father asked, “Didn’t the boy’s father come forward when he cried out?”

“Why would he come?” I asked back. “He had come and gone back several times before, hadn’t he? The boy was lying.”

“Even if he was lying, couldn’t his father come one more time?” 

“Why would he? Who would believe a liar?”

“Even if no one else believes, his father should have. If he had come one more time, the boy’s life would have been saved. Even if the child lies, why wouldn’t a father respond to his call? What harm would it have done to believe once more? The boy’s life would have been saved. What kind of stories do they write?” 

At that time, I didn't understand my father's words. Now I do. It seems that all fathers in the world think like my father. Parents never lose faith in their children.

বাবা - ৬


বইপড়ার ব্যাপারটা ছোটবেলা থেকেই আমাদের ভেতর ঢুকে গিয়েছিল অনেকটা নিজেদের অজান্তেই। তারজন্য কোন ধরনের আলাদা অনুপ্রেরণা কিংবা জোর কোনটাই ছিল না। স্মৃতিকে অতীতের দিকে যতদূর পর্যন্ত টেনে নিয়ে যাওয়া যায় – নিয়ে গিয়ে দেখতে পাই – একেবারে ছোটবেলা থেকেই বই ঘাঁটাঘাঁটি করতে করতে আমরা বড় হয়েছি। কারণ আমার বাবার দোকানে বই বিক্রি হতো। মননশীল বা সৃজনশীল বইয়ের তালিকায় আমরা যেসব বই এখন অন্তর্ভুক্ত করি সেসব বই নয়। প্রাথমিক ও মাধ্যমিকের স্কুল পাঠ্যবই বিক্রি করতেন আমার বাবা। 

সেই সময় স্বাধীন বাংলাদেশে সরকারি বই বিক্রির জন্য টেক্সট বুক অথরিটির কাছ থেকে লাইসেন্স নিতে হতো। সেই লাইসেন্স পেতেও অনেক কাঠখড় পোড়াতে হতো। আমার বাবা কীভাবে সেই লাইসেন্স পেয়েছিলেন জানি না, তবে ১৯৮০ সাল পর্যন্ত বাঁশখালিতে আমার বাবাই ছিলেন একমাত্র লাইসেন্সধারী পাঠ্যপুস্তক বিক্রেতা। তিনি ঢাকা গিয়ে টেক্সট বুক অথরিটির কাছ থেকে বই নিয়ে আসতেন। বাঁশখালির অন্যান্য বইবিক্রেতারা আমার বাবার দোকান থেকে বই নিয়ে যেতেন। সেজন্য প্রচুর বই আসতো আমাদের দোকানে। আমরা খুব উৎসাহ নিয়ে সেসব বইয়ের গাইট খুলতাম। আমি পড়তে শেখার আগে থেকেই বইয়ের পাতা উল্টে ছবি দেখতে শুরু করেছিলাম। তখনকার বইগুলিতে প্রচ্ছদ ছাড়া আর কোথাও রঙিন ছবি থাকতো না।  এখনকার শিশুরা অবশ্য আরো কম বয়স থেকেই কত সুন্দর সুন্দর রঙিন ঝলমলে বই নাড়াচাড়া করার সুযোগ পায়।  

বিভিন্ন ক্লাসের বিভিন্ন বিষয়ের বই হাতের কাছে ছিল বলে যা খুশি তা পড়ার সুযোগ ছিল আমাদের, এবং তা যথাসম্ভব কাজে লাগিয়েছিলাম। আমার বাবাকে আমরা দেখতাম প্রচন্ড ব্যস্ত। সপ্তাহের সাতদিনের মধ্যে কমপক্ষে চার-পাঁচদিন তিনি এখানে ওখানে আনাগোনা করেন। যে দু-তিন দিন বাড়িতে থাকতেন, দুপুরে ঘুমানোর সময় আমার হাতে যেকোনো ক্লাসের একটি বই ধরিয়ে দিয়ে পড়ে শোনাতে বলতেন। আমি খুব বাধ্যছেলে ছিলাম তা বলা যাবে না। আমি তক্কে তক্কে থাকতাম কখন বাবা ঘুমিয়ে পড়বেন আর আমি পালিয়ে যাব। দুই-তিন পৃষ্ঠা পড়তে না পড়তেই বাবা ঘুমিয়ে পড়তেন। তখন ভাবতাম বাবাকে বোকা বানানো কত সহজ। বাবা-মায়েরা যে ইচ্ছে করে সন্তানদের কাছে বোকা হয়ে থাকেন – তা বুঝেছি আরো অনেক পরে। 

সেইসময় ক্লাস সিক্স থেকে নাইন পর্যন্ত প্রত্যেক ক্লাসে বাংলা বইয়ের পাশাপাশি আরেকটি দ্রুতপঠনের বই ছিল। অনেক সুন্দর সুন্দর গল্প থাকতো সেখানে। সব ক্লাসের গল্পগুলি আমার পড়া হয়ে গিয়েছিল বাবাকে শোনাতে গিয়ে। বড় হয়ে যখন তাঁকে বোঝার চেষ্টা করলাম, পর্যবেক্ষণ করলাম – সহজেই বুঝতে পারলাম তাঁর গল্প শোনার ইচ্ছের চেয়েও বেশি ছিল আমাদের ভেতর পড়ার অভ্যাস তৈরি করে দেয়া। 

বাবা - ৫


রাস্তার পাশে দূরত্বনির্দেশক মাইলফলকগুলি তেমন দেখা যায় না আজকাল। গুগলম্যাপের এই যুগে ওরকম মাইলফলকের গুরুত্বও নেই আর। কিন্তু আমরা যারা ছোটবেলায় ঈশ্বরচন্দ্র বিদ্যাসাগরের ছোটবেলার কাহিনি শুনতে শুনতে বড় হয়েছি – তারা জানি রাস্তার এই মাইলফলক আর ঈশ্বরচন্দ্র বিদ্যাসাগরের কী সম্পর্ক ছিল। আমার বাবা তাঁর নিজের ছোটবেলায় পড়াশোনা করতে না পারার জন্য যে আফসোস পুষে রেখেছিলেন তা সুযোগ পেলেই তাঁর ছেলেমেয়েদের দিয়ে পুষিয়ে নিতে চেষ্টা করতেন। তাঁর নিজের যখন বিদ্যাসাগর হবার আর কোন সুযোগ ছিল না, তিনি বিদ্যাসাগরের বাবা হবার চেষ্টা করতেন। তাতে তাঁর ছেলেমেয়েরা যে খুব একটা খুশি হতো তা নয়। আমি তো ভীষণ বিরক্ত হতাম জ্ঞানের কথাবার্তা বললে। কিন্তু বিরক্তি প্রকাশ করলে ভ্রমণ বাতিল হয়ে যাবার সম্ভাবনা থাকতো বলে বিরক্তি প্রকাশ করতাম না। বছরে একটি মাত্র ভ্রমণ বরাদ্দ ছিল আমাদের। বার্ষিক পরীক্ষার পর বাবার সাথে শহরে বেড়াতে যাওয়া। অনেক ভোরে বের হয়ে অনেক দূর হেঁটে গিয়ে তারপর রিকশা নিতে হতো। 

বিদ্যাসাগরের বাবা নাকি ছেলেকে নিয়ে হাঁটতে হাঁটতেই কত কিছু শিখিয়ে ফেলেছিলেন। যেমন রাস্তার মাইলফলক দেখিয়ে দেখিয়ে এক দুই তিন চার গুণতে শিখিয়ে ফেলেছিলেন। মাঝখানে একটি মাইলফলক দেখতে না দিয়ে গণিত গণনার পরীক্ষাও নিয়ে ফেলেছিলেন। আমার বাবাও একবার এই কাজটা খুবই পরিকল্পনা করে করতে চেয়েছিলেন আমাদের সাথে। কিন্তু আমাদের গ্রাম থেকে শহরে আসার প্রধান রাস্তার পাশে মাইলফলক ছিল মাত্র কয়েকটি। আমাদের ছোট্ট ছরা পার হয়ে উত্তর দিকে কিছুদূর আসার পর একটি মাইলফলকে লেখা ছিল চাঁনপুর ১৬ মাইল। তারপর বেশ কয়েকটি ফলক উধাও হয়ে যাবার পর জলদি সিও অফিসের সামনে আরেকটি। ফলে সরাসরি গণনার পরীক্ষা নেয়া সম্ভব ছিল না তাঁর। কিন্তু পরীক্ষা বাতিল করে ছেলেদের শান্তি দেয়া তো বাবাদের কাজ নয়। তিনি অন্য উপায় বের করলেন। জিজ্ঞেস করলেন, ‘কত গজে এক মাইল?’ 

এই প্রশ্নের উত্তর আমি জানি না। কিছু না শিখেই আমি ক্লাস থ্রিতে উঠে গেছি। 

আমার বড়ভাই আমার দুই ক্লাস উপরে পড়ে, গণিতের মাথাও ভালো। সে-ই উত্তর দিলো – ১৭৬০ গজ। 

“এক গজে কতটুকু পথ?” আবার প্রশ্ন বাবার।

আমি মাথামুন্ডু কিছুই বুঝতে পারছিলাম না। আকাশ লাল হয়ে সূর্য উঠা দেখতেই ভালো লাগছিল আমার। কিন্তু বাবা দেখলাম রাস্তায় পা দিয়ে একটা দাগ কেটে নিচু হয়ে নিজের হাত দিয়ে দুই হাত মেপে আরেকটা দাগ কাটলেন। বললেন, “এইটুকু দূরত্ব এক গজ। এবার তোরা এখানে স্বাভাবিকভাবে হেঁটে দেখ – এক গজে তোদের কার কত ‘কাই’ হয়।“ ‘কাই’ হলো স্টেপ। আমি উৎসাহ নিয়ে মেপে দেখলাম আমার তিন কাইয়ে এক গজ হয়। বড়ভাই অতিউৎসাহে লম্বা কাই মেরে এক কাইয়ে এক গজ করার চেষ্টা করছে দেখে বাবা বললেন, “সারা রাস্তা ওভাবেই হাঁটতে হবে।“ তাতে দমলো সে। তার দুই কাইয়ে এক গজ। 

 ‘কাই’ মাপার পর নির্দেশ হলো – পরবর্তী মাইলফলক আসা পর্যন্ত আমাদের ‘কাই’ গুণতে হবে। আমার মোট কাইকে তিন দিয়ে ভাগ করলে জানতে পারবো কত গজ গেলাম। তারপর গজ থেকে মাইল। 

তারপর কত বছর ধরে কত দেশের কত রাস্তায় হেঁটে চলেছি। এখনো নিজের অজান্তেই ‘কাই’ গুণতে থাকি। এখন যেটাকে আমরা ক্যালিব্রেশান বলি – সেটাই আমার বাবা শিখিয়েছিলেন আমাদের গ্রামের রাস্তায়। ক্লাস ফোর পাস মানুষটা। আমাদের বাবাটা। 

Sunday 12 May 2024

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin


Look closely at the fingers of the person in the picture. Her fingers had not bent in this way due to age; she had been suffering from chronic rheumatoid arthritis since she was twenty-one years old. Since then, she has had to endure intense pain and gradually worsening deformities in her fingers and toes. She, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, has been conducting research with these pains and deformities over time. She discovered the structure of penicillin, the chemical structure of vitamin B12, and the structure of insulin using X-ray crystallography. If we think about how many millions of people on Earth are benefiting from her discoveries, we can understand the impact.

British scientist John Crowfoot and botanist Grace Crowfoot's first child, Dorothy, was born on May 12, 1910, in Cairo, Egypt, where they were under British rule at that time. Her father was working at the Ministry of Education in Egypt. When Dorothy was four years old, the First World War broke out. Her parents left her in England while they went to work in Egypt. Dorothy stayed with a nanny in England for four years without her parents. That's when she became independent.

Dorothy grew up with a keen interest in scientific inquiry from a young age. Her parents encouraged her equally. Chemist William Henry Bragg and his son Lawrence Bragg discovered X-ray crystallography, winning the Nobel Prize in 1915. At the age of eleven, Dorothy became deeply interested in this subject after reading William Henry Bragg's book on crystallography. At that time, girls were not allowed to study science at school. Girls were only allowed to study domestic science. Dorothy and another classmate, Nora, managed to get permission to attend chemistry classes.

Young Dorothy

She enrolled at Somerville College, Oxford University, in 1928 and graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1932. At that time, the most renowned professor of crystallography in England was John Desmond Bernal of the University of Cambridge. Most science professors at Cambridge University were men. However, some teachers began to give opportunities for girls to engage in scientific research. Professor Bernal was one of them. Impressed by Dorothy's enthusiasm and her undergraduate results, he offered her the opportunity to conduct research in his lab from 1932 to 1934.

A few years ago, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Severe pain and gradual deformities in her fingers and toes began. However, Dorothy was not one to succumb to any pain. Treatment and research went hand in hand. In 1934, X-ray was used in Bernal's lab to take pictures of proteins – to understand if biological compounds could crystallize.

Obtaining the necessary knowledge of crystallography from Professor Bernal, Dorothy came to Oxford University in 1934. Alongside her studies, she began her own PhD research. She started researching the three-dimensional structure of insulin. In 1937, she obtained her PhD from Oxford University. She spent her entire academic life at Oxford. Despite being a faculty member at Oxford, she did not have the opportunity to attend any research committee meetings due to her gender until after the end of the Second World War.

In 1937, she married historian Thomas Hodgkin. After marriage, Dorothy Crowfoot became Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, but everyone started calling her Dorothy Hodgkin officially.

Due to the start of the Second World War, the need for penicillin for wounded soldiers increased significantly. However, the three-dimensional structure of penicillin had not yet been discovered. Therefore, to make penicillin more effective, Dorothy started researching its structure, setting aside her work on insulin. It took Dorothy Hodgkin four years of relentless research to discover the three-dimensional structure of penicillin in 1948. After that, she started researching the three-dimensional structure of vitamin B12. After eight years of relentless research, in 1957, she discovered the structure of vitamin B12. For this discovery, Dorothy Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964.

After discovering the structure of vitamin B12, Dorothy resumed her work on the 3-dimensional structure of insulin. It took her thirty-four years of relentless research to discover the highly complex 3-dimensional structure of insulin. The work she started in 1935 finally succeeded in 1969. The 3-dimensional structure of insulin was discovered.

Dorothy Hodgkin worked throughout her life for science, alongside her work for peace. Another Nobel laureate, Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace after his work in chemistry, collaborated with Dorothy Hodgkin for world peace. For this, she received several international awards, including the Lenin Peace Prize.

Dorothy Hodgkin and her husband were both very international. In October 1964, when news of the Nobel Prize reached them, Dorothy was in Ghana. Her husband was then the director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. Their daughter, Elizabeth, taught at a school in Zambia, while their son, Tobias, worked in Delhi.

Dorothy didn't just confine herself to research. Alongside her lifelong commitment to science, she was active in anti-war movements and advocated for nuclear disarmament.

On July 29, 1994, Dorothy passed away.

Maryam Mirzakhani


Maryam was born into an ordinary middle-class family in Tehran on May 12, 1977. Her childhood and adolescence were not very easy. We all know how Iranian society is for girls. Despite that, Maryam utilized every opportunity she got, applying her intelligence and determination to excel.

Her love for mathematics wasn't something that came to her from childhood. Like other girls of her age, she read stories and dreamed of becoming a writer one day. But when she discovered the joy of unravelling the mysteries of mathematics, she was hooked. She challenged herself day after day.

Maryam in Iran

In 1994, she won the gold medal with 41 points out of 42 in the International Mathematical Olympiad held in Hong Kong. The following year, she once again won the gold medal with a perfect score of 42 out of 42 points in the Mathematical Olympiad held in Canada. In 1999, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Sharif University of Technology in Iran. Later, she earned scholarships from Harvard University to pursue her master's and Ph.D. degrees. After completing her Ph.D. in 2004, she received an offer from Princeton University. From there, at the age of just 31 in 2008, she joined Stanford University as a full professor.

Maryam at home

Maryam's research primarily focused on the intersection of geometry and mathematical physics. In 2014, she received the Fields Medal for her contributions to geometric analysis on the Riemann surface. In the history of mathematics, Maryam made history as the first woman to win the Fields Medal.

In mathematics, there is no Nobel Prize awarded. However, the most prestigious award in mathematics, equivalent to the Nobel Prize in mathematics, is the Fields Medal. It was established in 1936. Every four years, at the International Mathematical Union's International Congress, four young mathematicians are awarded the Fields Medal for their contributions. Named after Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields, the Fields Medal also comes with a monetary award of fifteen thousand dollars. The age of mathematicians is also taken into consideration for the award. Those over forty are not eligible. To be considered for the award, one must be under forty on January 1st of the year when the award is given.

Maryam Mirzakhani was a rising star in mathematics. In 2015, she received fellowships from the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Sciences in France. In 2017, she was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Alongside her academic pursuits, Maryam had a beautiful home life filled with love. She married Czech computer scientist Jan Vondrák. Jan is also a professor at Stanford University. They have a little daughter together - Anahita.

Maryam with her husband Jan and daughter Anahita

Maryam was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. Treatment was ongoing, but unfortunately, the cancer could not be stopped. Within just four years, the cancer spread to her bones and marrow. On July 15, 2017, Maryam Mirzakhani passed away.

Etched on the Fields Medal is an image of Archimedes and a Latin quote - "Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri," which translates to "Rise above oneself and grasp the world" in English. In her mere forty years of life, Maryam Mirzakhani truly transcended herself and conquered the world in Mathematical research. 

On Maryam's birthday today, this is my respect and love to her. Happy birthday, Maryam.

মরিয়ম মির্জাখানি


১৯৭৭ সালের ১২ মে তেহরানের একটি সাধারণ মধ্যবিত্ত পরিবারে জন্ম মরিয়মের। খুব সহজ ছিল না তার শৈশব কৈশোর এবং তারুণ্যের বেড়ে ওঠার দিনগুলো। মেয়েদের জন্য ইরানের সমাজব্যবস্থা কীরকম তা তো আমরা কম-বেশি সবাই জানি। তারপরও যতটুকু সুযোগ পেয়েছিলেন তার সবটুকুকেই কাজে লাগিয়েছিলেন মরিয়ম নিজের মেধা ও অধ্যবসায়ের জোরে। 

গণিতের প্রতি ভালোবাসা যে একেবারে ছোটবেলা থেকে ছিল তা কিন্তু নয়। ছোটবেলায় অন্য আরো উচ্ছল কিশোরীদের মতোই গল্প উপন্যাস পড়েছেন, স্বপ্ন দেখেছিলেন একদিন লেখক হবেন। কিন্তু যখন দেখলেন ভালো লাগছে গণিতের রহস্যভেদ করতে - লেগে রইলেন। নিজেকে চ্যালেঞ্জ করলেন দিনের পর দিন। 

ইরানে মরিয়ম মির্জাখানি

১৯৯৪ সালে হংকং-এ অনুষ্ঠিত আন্তর্জাতিক গণিত অলিম্পিয়াডে ৪২ পয়েন্টের মধ্যে ৪১ পয়েন্ট পেয়ে গোল্ড মেডেল জিতলেন। পরের বছর কানাডায় অনুষ্ঠিত গণিত অলিম্পিয়াডে ৪২ পয়েন্টের মধ্যে ৪২ পয়েন্ট পেয়ে আবারো জিতে নিলেন গোল্ড মেডেল। ১৯৯৯ সালে ইরানের শরিফ ইউনিভার্সিটি থেকে গণিতে স্নাতক ডিগ্রি পাস করেন। তারপর হার্ডার্ড ইউনিভার্সিটির স্কলারশিপ নিয়ে মাস্টার্স ও পিএইচডি। ২০০৪ সালে পিএইচডি সম্পন্ন করার পর ডাক পেলেন প্রিন্সটন ইউনিভার্সিটিতে। সেখান থেকে ২০০৮ সালে মাত্র ৩১ বছর বয়সে ফুল প্রফেসর পদে যোগ দিয়েছেন স্ট্যানফোর্ড ইউনিভার্সিটিতে।

বাড়িতে গণিতে মগ্ন মরিয়ম

মরিয়মের গবেষণার বিষয় ছিল মূলত জ্যামিতি ও গতিবিদ্যার গাণিতিক সম্মেলন। রাইম্যান সারফেসের জ্যামিতিক গতিবিদ্যায় অবদানের জন্য ২০১৪ সালে পেয়েছেন ফিল্ড মেডেল। গণিতের ইতিহাসে ফিল্ড মেডেলে বিজয়ী প্রথম নারী হিসেবে ইতিহাস গড়লেন মরিয়ম।

গণিতে কোন নোবেল পুরষ্কার দেয়া হয় না। কিন্তু গণিতে সবচেয়ে সম্মানজনক পুরষ্কার যেটাকে গণিতের নোবেল পুরষ্কারের সমতুল্য বিবেচনা করা হয় সেটা হচ্ছে ফিল্ড মেডেল। এটা চালু হয়েছে ১৯৩৬ সালে। তারপর থেকে প্রতি চার বছর পরপর ইন্টারন্যাশনাল ম্যাথমেটিকেল ইউনিয়ন তাদের ইন্টারন্যাশনাল কংগ্রেসে সর্বোচ্চ চারজন তরুণ গণিতবিদকে তাঁদের অবদানের জন্য ফিল্ড মেডেল দেয়া হয়। কানাডিয়ান গণিতজ্ঞ জন চার্লস ফিল্ডস এর নামানুসারে এই ফিল্ড মেডেলের সাথে পনেরো হাজার ডলার আর্থিক সম্মানীও দেয়া হয়। ফিল্ড মেডেল দেবার ক্ষেত্রে গণিতবিদের বয়সও বিবেচনা করা হয়। চল্লিশ বছর বয়সের বেশি কাউকে এই পুরষ্কারের জন্য বিবেচনা করা হয় না। যে বছর এই পুরষ্কার দেয়া হবে সেই বছরের ১লা জানুয়ারিতে বয়স থাকতে হবে চল্লিশের নিচে।

মরিয়ম মির্জাখানি ছিলেন গণিতের বিস্ময়। ২০১৫ সালে আমেরিকান ফিলোসফিক্যাল সোসাইটি এবং ফ্রান্সের অ্যাকাডেমি অব সায়েন্সের ফেলোশিপ পান। ২০১৭ সালে তিনি আমেরিকান অ্যাকাডেমি অব আর্টস অ্যান্ড সায়েন্সের ফেলো নির্বাচিত হন। 

অ্যাকাডেমিক জীবনের পাশাপাশি সুন্দর ভালোবাসার ঘর-সংসার মরিয়মের। ভালোবেসে বিয়ে করেছেন চেক কম্পিউটার বিজ্ঞানী ইয়ান ভনড্রেককে। ইয়ানও স্ট্যানফোর্ড ইউনিভার্সিটির প্রফেসর। ছোট্ট ফুটফুটে একটি কন্যা তাদের - আনাহিতা। 

স্বামী ইয়ান ভনড্রেক ও শিশুকন্যা আনাহিতার সাথে মরিয়ম 

মরিয়মের স্তনক্যান্সার ধরা পড়লো ২০১৩ সালে। চিকিৎসা চলছিল, কিন্তু ক্যান্সার রোধ করা সম্ভব হয়নি। মাত্র চার বছরের মধ্যে ক্যান্সার ছড়িয়ে পড়েছিল বোন-ম্যারোতে। ২০১৭ সালের ১৫ জুলাই মরিয়ম মির্জাখানির মৃত্যু হয়। 

ফিল্ড মেডেলের গায়ে আঁকা আছে আর্কিমিডিসের ছবিএবং আর্কিমিডিসের একটা ল্যাটিন উক্তি - "
"Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri" যার ইংরেজি ভাবার্থ হলো - Rise above oneself and grasp the world. মরিয়ম মির্জাখানি তাঁর মাত্র চল্লিশ বছরের জীবনকালে সত্যি সত্যিই নিজেকে ছাড়িয়ে বিশ্বজয় করেছিলেন। 

আজ মরিয়মের জন্মদিনে অনেক শ্রদ্ধা ও ভালোবাসা। শুভ জন্মদিন মরিয়ম। 

Happy Birthday Richard Feynman 11/5/2024


In 1979, America's Omni magazine published a lengthy interview with Richard Feynman. The article was titled 'The Smartest Man in the World'. Feynman's mother was still alive at the time. When she heard her son being called the smartest man in the world, she exclaimed, "Our Richie? The World’s smartest man? God help us!"

A child remains a child in the eyes of a mother forever. If a child becomes famous, that's a different story altogether. Despite what his mother said, many people may object to calling Richard Feynman the smartest man in the world. There was skepticism then, and there still is. However, I consider him the smartest physicist. He didn't revolutionize the field of physics like Einstein did, nor did his research have an impact across all branches of physics. He pioneered quantum electrodynamics, his Feynman diagrams are a highly effective mathematical technique, and "The Feynman Lectures of Physics" are the most fundamental and smartest classroom lectures in physics. Although many lectures on physics are available and some of them are even more captivating lectures than Feynman's, he was and still is a famous and popular figure worldwide.

But why would I choose Richard Feynman if I had the opportunity to pick only one physicist? It's because of his unique style. He understood physics as if it were his own. He explained what he didn't understand bluntly. There was no hypocrisy within him. Despite being a theoretical physicist himself, he clearly stated that any theory, no matter how attractive it may be, if it cannot be proven experimentally, is not a theory at all.

He spent his entire life enjoying learning new things. His curiosity about unlocking the mysteries of nature was like that of a child. He didn't make any effort to become popular. He wasn't as popular during his lifetime as he became after his death. Even after receiving the Nobel Prize, he wasn't as much of a household name in America as one might think. In America, there are so many Nobel-winning scientists that no one really keeps track of who's who. Science was not a way of measuring popularity back then, and it still isn't.

However, two years before his death, Richard Feynman became instantly famous among the American public for uncovering the primary cause of the Challenger shuttle disaster. On January 28, 1986, during the launch of NASA's space shuttle Challenger, it exploded, killing all seven crew members. In the investigation of this incident, President Ronald Reagan formed a committee where Richard Feynman was appointed as a member, serving as a specialist scientist. Feynman was not enthusiastic about government work at all. The bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary formalities were intolerable to him. However, even with his deteriorating health due to cancer, he agreed to the President's personal request. At that time, he was battling cancer. Feynman laid down a condition - although he would be a member of the committee, he wouldn't agree with the opinions of all the committee members. He demanded the freedom to publish his personal observations alongside the committee's report. Such investigations usually take years to publish their reports, and sometimes the reports are not even published. He knew all this, and that's why he set such conditions. President Reagan accepted his terms, allowing him to work independently.

Richard Feynman accurately identified the cause of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. He also published his own report alongside the committee's report. Not only that, but he also demonstrated in a press conference, broadcasted on national television, through a simple experiment with a piece of rubber submerged in ice-cold water, how the elasticity of the rubber O-rings used in the rocket's motor was lost when subjected to extreme cold. After this incident, Feynman gained widespread recognition among the American public. However, it was only a year and a half later that Feynman passed away. Nevertheless, his popularity continued to grow.

But for some unknown reason, we didn't learn anything about Richard Feynman at that time. I was a physics student at Chittagong University for a long time. I completed my honors and master's degrees there. I was even admitted to the MPhil program. Our teachers never mentioned Richard Feynman in any class. When studying for my MPhil, our respected professor MHA Pramanik gave me a book to read a book titled "Feynman's Path Integral." But I didn't learn anything about Feynman at that time. My first acquaintance with Feynman was at the Physics Department of the University of Melbourne. Feynman's Lectures on Physics are the finest textbook of physics. Why we were not asked to read this book during our honors is a source of embarrassment for me.

Today, May 11, is Richard Feynman's birthday.

Happy birthday Feynman – the finest man!

রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যানের জন্মদিনে - ২০২৪


১৯৭৯ সালে আমেরিকার Omni ম্যাগাজিন রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যানের একটি দীর্ঘ সাক্ষাৎকার প্রকাশ করেছিল। লেখাটির শিরোনাম দিয়েছিল ‘The Smartest Man in the World’. ফাইনম্যানের মা তখনো জীবিত। তিনি যখন শুনলেন যে তাঁর ছেলেকে পৃথিবীর সবচেয়ে স্মার্ট ছেলে বলা হচ্ছে – তিনি অবাক হয়ে বলেছিলেন, “Our Richie? The World’s smartest man? God help us!”

মায়ের কাছে সন্তান চিরদিনই শিশু থেকে যায়। সন্তান যদি বিখ্যাত হয়ে যান, তাহলে তো কথাই নেই। মায়ের কথা বাদ দিলেও, রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যানকে পৃথিবীর সবচেয়ে স্মার্ট পুরুষ বলাতে অনেকের আপত্তি থাকতে পারে। আপত্তি তখনো ছিল, এখনো আছে। কিন্তু আমি তাঁকে সবচেয়ে স্মার্ট পদার্থবিজ্ঞানী বলে মনে করি। তিনি যে আইনস্টাইনের মতো মহাবিশ্বের পদার্থবিজ্ঞানের খোলনলচে পালটে দিয়েছেন তা নয়। তাঁর গবেষণা যে পদার্থবিজ্ঞানের সকল শাখায় কোনো না কোনো ভাবে প্রভাব ফেলেছে – তাও নয়। তিনি কোয়ান্টাম ইলেকট্রোডায়নামিক্সের অগ্রদূত, ফাইনম্যান-ডায়াগ্রাম তাঁর আবিষ্কৃত অত্যন্ত কার্যকরী গাণিতিক কৌশল, The Feynman Lectures of Physics পদার্থবিজ্ঞানের সবচেয়ে মৌলিক এবং স্মার্ট ক্লাসরুম লেকচার। কিন্তু ফাইনম্যানের লেকচারের চেয়েও আকর্ষণীয় লেকচার দিয়েছেন আরো অনেক পদার্থবিজ্ঞানের শিক্ষক পৃথিবীর বিভিন্ন দেশে। তাঁর চেয়েও বিখ্যাত এবং জনপ্রিয় ব্যক্তিত্ব ছিল এবং এখনো আছে পৃথিবীতে। 

তারপরেও কেন শুধুমাত্র একজন পদার্থবিজ্ঞানী বেছে নেয়ার সুযোগ থাকলে আমি রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যানকে বেছে নেবো? কারণ তাঁর অনন্য স্টাইল। তিনি পদার্থবিজ্ঞানকে একেবারে নিজের মতো করে বুঝেছেন। তিনি যা বোঝেননি তা অকপটে বলে দিয়েছেন। তাঁর ভেতরে কোন ব্যাপারেই কোন দ্বিচারিতা ছিল না। তিনি নিজে তত্ত্বীয় পদার্থবিজ্ঞানী হয়েও স্পষ্টভাবে বলেছেন, যে কোনো তত্ত্ব সে যত আকর্ষণীয়ই হোক, তা যদি বাস্তবে প্রমাণ করা না যায় – তা কোন তত্ত্বই নয়। 

এই মানুষটি সারাজীবন কাজ করে গেছেন নতুন জিনিস শেখার আনন্দে। প্রকৃতির রহস্য উন্মোচনে তাঁর কৌতূহল ছিল একেবারে শিশুদের মতো। জনপ্রিয় হবার কোন চেষ্টাই ছিল না তাঁর মধ্যে। জীবদ্দশায় তিনি অতটা জনপ্রিয় ছিলেনও না, যতটা হয়েছেন তাঁর মৃত্যুর পর। নোবেল পুরষ্কার পাবার পরেও তাঁকে যে আমেরিকার মানুষ খুব একটা চিনতো তা নয়। অবশ্য আমেরিকাতে এত বেশি নোবেলজয়ী বিজ্ঞানী যে – কে কার খবর রাখে। বিজ্ঞান জনপ্রিয়তা মাপার মাপকাঠি এখনো নয়, তখনো ছিল না। 

তবে ফাইনম্যান তাঁর মৃত্যুর দু’বছর আগে আমেরিকান সর্বস্তরের জনগণের কাছে রাতারাতি বিখ্যাত হয়ে গিয়েছিলেন চ্যালেঞ্জার শাটল দুর্ঘটনার মূল কারণ উদ্ঘাটন করে। ১৯৮৬ সালের ২৮ জানুয়ারি নাসার মহাকাশ যান চ্যালেঞ্জার উৎক্ষেপণের সাথে সাথেই বিস্ফোরিত হয়ে সাতজন নভোচারীর সবাই মারা যায়। এই ঘটনার তদন্তের জন্য আমেরিকার প্রেসিডেন্ট রোনাল্ড রিগ্যান যে কমিটি গঠন করেন সেখানে বিশেষজ্ঞ বিজ্ঞানী হিসেবে রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যানকে সদস্য করা হয়। ফাইনম্যান সরকারি কাজে উৎসাহী ছিলেন না কোনোদিনই। আমলাতান্ত্রিক দীর্ঘসূত্রিতা আর অহেতুক ফরমালিটি তাঁর অসহ্য ছিল। কিন্তু প্রেসিডেন্টের ব্যক্তিগত অনুরোধে অসুস্থ শরীরেও তিনি রাজি হয়েছিলেন। সেই সময় তিনি ক্যান্সারে ভুগছিলেন। ফাইনম্যান শর্ত দিয়েছিলেন – তিনি কমিটিতে থাকলেও কমিটির সকল সদস্যের মতের সাথে তাঁর মত মিলতে হবে কোন কথা নেই। কমিটির রিপোর্টের সাথে তাঁর ব্যক্তিগত পর্যবেক্ষণ প্রকাশ করার স্বাধীনতাও তাঁকে দিতে হবে। এরকম তদন্ত কমিটির রিপোর্ট প্রকাশ করতে বছরের পর বছর সময় লেগে যায়, অনেক সময় কোন রিপোর্ট প্রকাশিতও হয় না। এসব তাঁর জানা ছিল বলেই তিনি এরকম শর্ত দিয়েছিলেন। প্রেসিডেন্ট রিগ্যান তাঁর শর্ত মেনে নিয়েই তাঁকে স্বাধীনভাবে কাজ করতে দিয়েছিলেন। রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যান চ্যালেঞ্জার মহাকাশযানের দুর্ঘটনার সঠিক কারণ বের করেছিলেন। রিপোর্টের সাথে তাঁর নিজের রিপোর্টও প্রকাশ করেছিলেন। শুধু তাই নয়, তিনি সংবাদ সম্মেলন করে ন্যাশনাল টেলিভিশনের ক্যামেরার সামনে ছোট্ট পরীক্ষার মাধ্যমে দেখিয়েছিলেন কী ঘটেছিল আসলে। রকেটের মোটর সেফটিতে যে রাবারের ও-রিং ছিল – প্রচন্ড ঠান্ডায় সেই রাবারের ইলাস্টিসিটি নষ্ট হয়ে গিয়েছিল। ফাইনম্যান সাংবাদিকদের সামনে একটুকরো রাবার বরফ-পানিতে ডুবিয়ে দেখিয়েছিলেন কীভাবে রাবারের কার্যকারিতা কমে যায় তাপমাত্রা ভীষণ কমে গেলে। ফাইনম্যান সেই ঘটনার পর আমেরিকার সাধারণ মানুষের কাছে ব্যাপক পরিচিতি পেয়েছিলেন। অবশ্য তার দেড় বছর পরেই ফাইনম্যান মারা যান। কিন্তু তাঁর জনপ্রিয়তা বাড়তেই থাকে। 

কিন্তু কোনো এক অজানা কারণে রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যান সম্পর্কে কোন তথ্যই আমরা পাইনি সেইসময়। আমি দীর্ঘদিন চট্টগ্রাম বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে পদার্থবিজ্ঞানের ছাত্র ছিলাম। অনার্স ও মাস্টার্স পাস করেছি। এমফিলেও ভর্তি হয়েছিলাম। আমাদের শিক্ষকরা আমাদের কোনো ক্লাসেই রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যানের নাম উচ্চারণও করেননি। এমফিল করার সময় প্রামাণিকস্যার “ফাইনম্যান’স পাথ ইন্টিগ্র্যাল” নামে একটি বই পড়তে দিয়েছিলেন। কিন্তু তখনো ফাইনম্যান সম্পর্কে কিছুই জানি না। ধরতে গেলে ফাইনম্যানের সাথে আমার প্রথম পরিচয় ঘটে মেলবোর্ন ইউনিভার্সিটির ফিজিক্স ডিপার্টমেন্টে। ফাইনম্যানস লেকচার অব ফিজিক্সের মতো এত ভালো বই থাকতে কেন আমাদের অনার্সে এই বই পড়তে বলা হয়নি – এই অভিমান আমার কখনো যাবে বলে মনে হয় না। 

আজ ১১ মে রিচার্ড ফাইনম্যানের জন্মদিন। 

Happy birthday Feynman – the finest man! 

Monday 6 May 2024

The Theory of Everything - how far is reality?

In the animal kingdom, the most dissatisfied species is humans. They are never content with their present situation and always seek to change their circumstances. Self-contentment brings an end to creativity, exploration, and innovation. If humans were content with their situation collectively, they might still be in the Stone Age, attempting to ignite fire with stones. Just like the wild animals of that era still live their lives the same way. Human evolution in terms of lifestyle, methodology, and practicality always surpasses their past generations due to their overall dissatisfaction. And this constant advancement fuels new discoveries and innovations.

Engrossed scientists in discoveries and innovations all pursue the ultimate goal of science - simplifying complex mysteries. Scientists from different branches embrace different approaches to find simple solutions to the complex mysteries of science. For instance, psychologists attempt to determine the correlation between the intricate workings of the body and brain with other related elements, believing that understanding these relationships simplifies complex problems. Biologists strive to understand how all these processes occur more straightforwardly by understanding the structure and functioning of cells. Chemists delve deeper into understanding the chemical structure of molecules and the process of chemical reactions. If they can unveil the nature of chemical reactions, their work becomes easier. Understanding the workings of atoms and subatomic particles further simplifies their tasks. But physicists refuse to halt anywhere. They delve into the interiors of atoms, even into the nucleus.

In the world of science, physics is a kind of imperialism. They believe that all substances and energies in the universe and all their interactions are encompassed within physics. Everything that has happened in the universe since its birth and everything that will happen in the future is included within the realm of physics. Therefore, the scope of physics extends from the internal structure of atoms to galaxies. The farther we go in time, the wider the scope of theoretical physics expands. Satisfaction is nowhere to be found in the visible universe. Even more countless theories of the invisible hypothetical universe are being discovered. Amongst all these theories, the ultimate goal of physicists is to explain everything in the universe correctly - a theory called the Theory of Everything[1].

Theoretical physicists believe that the Theory of Everything (TOE) will be such an eternal theory of physics that it will provide the correct answers to all questions - how the universe originated, why it originated, how everything in the universe - from quarks to cosmos - functions. Here, 'everything' means understanding everything comprehensively or just the fundamental aspects is a matter of debate.

Having differences is natural because many claims of physicists seem to be either wrong or time-consuming to prove in an empirical sense. For example, explaining how clouds form in the sky can be accurately described by the principles of physics. However, it may not be possible to create a mathematical model of a small cloud using the equations of physics that will accurately predict its formation at a specific time in the sky and match its shape and volume from all directions - this is not feasible for physics because it requires the use of highly changeable indices, which cannot be accurately applied even by many supercomputers.

Examples like this abound. For instance, if a glass is dropped from the hand, it will surely fall because of gravity. But whether it will shatter upon hitting the ground or not requires knowing many more things beforehand - such as what the glass is made of, how heavy it is, at what distance and with what speed it was dropped, whether any force was applied during the fall, and countless parameters starting from the structural elements of the glass. Considering all these parameters, it can be said that the glass will break. But is it possible to accurately predict how many pieces the glass will break into after it shatters? Is it possible to determine the shape and volume of those pieces?

So, no one expects to provide all details from the theory of everything. However, it is hoped that this theory can explain the origin of all natural forces in the universe, calculate energy, how the universe was created, and how it will end.

When we talk about the theory of everything, what exactly are we trying to understand? What will happen if this theory is discovered? And what if it's not discovered, or what are the consequences? Before answering these questions, we need to understand how physicists conceive such a theory.

In the 5th century BC, the Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus proposed atomism, or the theory of atoms, as the first theory of everything. With this theory, they sought to explain that everything in the universe is made up of atoms. For thousands of years, it was believed that atoms were indivisible.

What was the reason for calling atomism the theory of everything? The reason was that at that time, whenever the question of what everything is made of arose, the answer was - atoms. And the internal workings of matter were also explained through the interactions of atoms with each other. Despite the presence of different types of atoms in different substances, all substances were considered to be composed of atoms. Therefore, at that time, the fundamental elements of matter were atoms.[2]

Within the next few centuries, there was significant advancement in physics. Natural forces were discovered.

In 1687, Newton's law of gravitation was published. The discovery of this force was the first indication of natural forces among the natural forces. Newton's discovery revealed the principle of gravitation or gravitational force. Gravity is an extremely weak force. But this weak force has held all the objects in the universe invisibly together. Gravitational force is an attractive force. Its influence is everywhere in the universe. According to the theory of gravity - the force of attraction between two objects is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two objects. The larger and more massive the objects are, the greater the amount of gravitational force between them. Again, the closer they are, the greater the amount of force. If the distance doubles, the amount of force decreases by four times. According to the theory of gravitational force, no object attracts any other object. Newton's theory of gravity explains how the force of attraction works between objects, but it does not explain why it attracts. However, it is the attraction of the gravitational force that roughly explains why the satellites-planets-stars-galaxies of the universe revolve around each other.

Between 1750 and 1850, scientists from many countries in Europe conducted numerous experiments in various ways on electricity and magnetism. Among them, the most important discovery was that - due to the movement of electric charges, magnetism is created, and moving magnetic charges can generate electricity. Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted was certain in 1820 that there is a mutual relationship between electricity and magnetism. He named this relationship electromagnetism.

In 1831, British physicist Michael Faraday proved in the laboratory that magnetism is produced from an electric current, and electricity can be generated from a magnetic field. Fourteen years later, Faraday discovered that there is also a close relationship between electricity and light.

Then, in 1861, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell accurately conceptualized - if there is a change in the electric field, then a magnetic field is created, and if there is a change in the magnetic field, then an electric field is created. Furthermore, it can be said more precisely - electricity can be found from magnetism, and magnetism can be found from electricity. Electric fields and magnetic fields are always perpendicular to each other. Maxwell mathematically demonstrated that the speed of light in a vacuum is three hundred thousand kilometres per second. Later, we have seen that light is a visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. But in the vast invisible part, there are less energetic radio waves, infrared rays, microwaves, and more energetic ultraviolet rays or non-ionizing radiation, X-rays, gamma rays, etc. In the 20th and 21st centuries, we have seen the extensive use of electromagnetic waves in technology from Earth to space, from mobile phones to medical science - everywhere.

Maxwell's theory led to the discovery of the second fundamental force of nature - electromagnetic force. Electromagnetic force is much more powerful than gravitational force. Mathematically, electromagnetic force is very similar to gravitational force. The amount of electromagnetic force between two charges is proportional to the product of the charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, just like gravitational force. Similarly to gravitational force, the intensity of this force increases if the amount of charge increases. If the distance between the charge doubles, the force decreases by a factor of four.

However, the key difference between gravitational force and electromagnetic force is that - this force can be either attractive or repulsive. If the charges are of the same type (both positive or both negative), the electromagnetic force will be repulsive. But if the charges are of opposite types (one positive and one negative), then the force will be attractive. As a result, in the case of large objects, gravitational force and electromagnetic force neutralize each other. Therefore, electromagnetic force is not effective in large objects. However, this force is very active between atoms and molecules. All kinds of chemical reactions and biological processes occur due to the electromagnetic force.

In 1895, X-rays were discovered, followed by radioactivity in 1896, and the discovery of electrons in 1897. After these discoveries, many physicists came to the idea that everything in physics has been discovered, and everything can be explained by the theories of gravitation and electromagnetism. In 1900, in a lecture at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Lord Kelvin famously stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement."[3]

But it didn't take long for Lord Kelvin's words to be proven wrong. From the beginning of the 20th century, there has been a whirlwind of new discoveries in physics. On one hand, under the guidance of Max Planck, the journey of quantum mechanics began. On the other hand, Albert Einstein, in 1905 alone, published four groundbreaking papers that revolutionized our understanding of the entire universe. The theory of special relativity was formulated, establishing the relationship between mass, energy, and the speed of light.[4]

The discovery of the principle of relativity led to challenges in the theory of gravitation. According to Newton's theory, there is no change in the mass with the motion of an object, but according to Einstein's theory, there is a change in mass with a change in motion. Furthermore, in Newton's theory of gravitation, the distance between objects that are subject to gravitational force is not defined with respect to any frame of reference. But according to Einstein's theory of relativity, this distance depends on the reference frame. In the case of slowly moving objects, this difference in distance is not significant, but to calculate the gravitational force between extremely fast-moving celestial bodies, the principle of relativity must be applied to measure distances.

Einstein realized the need to revise Newton's theory of gravitational force. After a decade of research, in 1915, Einstein published the general theory of relativity, which essentially replaced Newton's theory of gravitation. According to this theory, gravitational force creates curvature in space-time, which depends on the distribution of mass in space and time. Essentially, the general theory of relativity transformed physics into geometry. The practical evidence of the general theory of relativity is regularly found in astrophysics. Its practical applications include all modern satellites, GPS navigation, and more.

After the discovery of special and general relativity theories, Einstein spent the rest of his life attempting to unify the principles of natural forces. However, he did not see success. Scientists today believe Einstein failed because he was not enthusiastic about using quantum mechanics. Furthermore, applying quantum mechanics to the theory of gravitation remains challenging.

Following the discovery of the nucleus of the atom, protons, and neutrons, two more natural forces were discovered from the theory of radioactivity – weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. The weak nuclear force is responsible for radioactivity, which led to the formation of various elements in the universe. We usually do not experience this force in our daily lives.

The fourth natural force in nature is the strong nuclear force. This force holds protons and neutrons tightly within the nucleus. Among the four natural forces, the strong nuclear force is the most powerful. It is not felt outside the nucleus. The strong nuclear force is an extremely strong attractive force.

Einstein and other theoretical physicists attempted to unify these four natural forces into a grand unified theory or unified theory. Apart from gravitational force, the other three forces are applicable on the subatomic scale of particles (quarks, protons, electrons, and neutrinos). To understand the workings of subatomic particles correctly, quantum mechanics must be applied. Therefore, to properly understand the workings of the atomic nucleus, whether it's the electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force, or strong nuclear force, all must be transformed into quantum mechanics.

Furthermore, when applying the force of gravity to large celestial bodies like planets, stars, and galaxies, there is no need to transform it into quantum mechanics. However, if we want to understand the early universe, we must start from singularities. At that time, everything was microscopic. So, gravitational theory also needs to be transformed into quantum mechanics.

Whether it's Newton's theory of gravitation or Einstein's general theory of relativity, both are classical theories. None of them can be transformed into quantum mechanics because quantum mechanics operates under Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Applying the uncertainty principle to general relativity will not yield realistic results. For example, then a black hole will not be entirely black, and a singularity will not be entirely empty.

To grasp the principles of everything, all of nature's forces must be unified. To do this, the quantum transformation of all four forces is necessary. These principles' quantum forms are called quantum field theory. In quantum field theory, particles or matter exchange particles are fermions (electrons and quarks), and force exchange particles among fermions are bosons (photons).

The quantum transformation of the electromagnetic force has been made possible through Richard Feynman's discovery of quantum electrodynamics.

Using quantum field theory, Professor Abdus Salam, Steven Weinberg, and Sheldon Glashow unified electromagnetism and weak nuclear force.

The weak nuclear force and the electromagnetic force are fundamentally the same. However, they appear different because the exchange particles of the weak nuclear force have mass, whereas the exchange particles of the electromagnetic force do not have mass. But in both fields, the exchange particles are bosons. In the field of the electromagnetic force, the exchange particle is the photon, which has zero rest mass and travels at the speed of light. In the field of the weak nuclear force, the exchange particle has mass. As a result, the speeds of these bosons change with distance.

In weak nuclear interactions, charge changes occur. This means that charge-neutral neutrons transform into positively charged protons or negatively charged electrons. Consequently, the current obtained is called a charged current. On the other hand, in the electromagnetic force field, there is no change in charge. Therefore, in this case, the current obtained is called neutral current.

Weinberg and Salam suggested that the only difference between the weak nuclear force and the electromagnetic force is the mass of the exchange boson. In the field of the weak nuclear force, the exchange particle, the W boson, is nearly 100 times heavier than the mass of a proton. Because of this, heavy photons are also referred to as bosons of the weak nuclear force.

Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg proposed that in the weak nuclear force field, both neutral and charged currents could occur. Both types of exchange particles in the weak nuclear force are collectively called the W+, W-, and Z0 bosons. +, -, and 0 denote positive, negative, and neutral charged bosons, respectively. These three are collectively referred to as intermediate vector bosons. These vector bosons are very heavy inside the nucleus. It is there that weak interactions occur. Outside the nucleus, electromagnetic interactions occur.

In 1973, at CERN's examination, it was possible to demonstrate weak nuclear interactions without any exchange of charge. The existence of neutral currents was proven. Similar results were obtained at Fermilab. In 1978, at the Stanford University Linear Accelerator (SLAC), weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force were found to be reconcilable by observing the interactions of electrons and positrons. For this discovery, the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to scientists Abdus Salam, Steven Weinberg, and Sheldon Glashow.

The possibility of unifying electromagnetic force and weak nuclear force, observed through the exchange of W and Z bosons, inspired scientists to further consolidate other forces. Quantum chromodynamics was developed to incorporate the strong nuclear force. Within nuclei, protons and neutrons were found to be composed of smaller particles called quarks. Quarks are categorized into six types: up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. Protons are made up of two up quarks and one down quark, while neutrons consist of two down quarks and one up quark. The force between quarks increases as they move farther apart, preventing individual quarks from being isolated in nature.

In the Standard Model of particle physics, the inclusion of the Higgs boson completes the theory. According to the Standard Model, all matter in the universe is composed of six types of quarks and six types of leptons (electron, electron neutrino, muon, muon neutrino, tau, and tau neutrino). Among these, only four particles (up quark, down quark, electron, and electron neutrino) are considered fundamental constituents of all matter. Forces on the subatomic scale are mediated by force-carrying bosons (Z, W, photon, gluon, and Higgs).

While the theory of fundamental particles in the Standard Model can explain phenomena on both atomic and nuclear scales, it fails to unify interactions on a larger scale due to the inability to quantize the meaningful gravitational force.

In 1976, scientists envisioned a possibility: the concept of supergravity emerged as a potential theory for incorporating gravity into the framework of Einstein's General Relativity by introducing some theoretical quantum particles. The idea of supergravity originated mainly from the concept of supersymmetry. Symmetry or symmetry breaking is widely used in particle physics for the mathematical needs of quantum mechanics. A system is called symmetric if it remains the same under transformations of space-time or quantum states. For example, a perfect circle. The concept of supersymmetry is somewhat more complex. According to the principles of supersymmetry, every particle will have a bosonic component and a fermionic component. That is, if a quark carries a certain mass, there will be another particle with the same mass that carries force. On the other hand, a photon carries force naturally. In supersymmetry, there will be another partner photon that carries mass. After the mathematical processes of the entire system, if one of these hypothetical particles becomes positive, the other becomes negative and cancels out.[5]

Supergravity theory assumes that the carrier of the gravitational force will be the "graviton," which has a spin number of 2. It is a supersymmetric particle. Particles with spins of 3/2, 1, 1/2, and 0 can also be added to the graviton, where their spins are 5 (2s + 1 = 2 x 2 + 1 = 5), 3/2, 1/2, and 0, respectively. The energy of particles with spins of 0, 1, and 2 will be positive, while particles with spins of 3/2 and 1/2 will be negative. Thus, the sum of energies of these hypothetical particles will be the sum of positive and negative energies. However, calculating this infinite series of hypothetical particles can be time-consuming even for powerful computers, taking years after years. And if there's an error in the calculation, there's no going back—everything must start from scratch. So, while supergravity or supersymmetry (SUSY) may be successful mathematically, it's not very realistic. Super symmetry has not yet been proven in the Large Hadron Collider.

General relativity is a classical theory. When scientists attempted to quantize it, they pursued another method. We know gravity exists everywhere in the universe, and it is continuous. However, quantum systems are discrete. Scientists thought of quantum gravity as loops, where space-time would be quantized – meaning divided into small loops or spin networks. Just as in quantum mechanics, where energy levels are calculated in discrete steps, gravity would also be calculated in loop quantum gravity. This would allow for quantization of both two-dimensional area and three-dimensional volume. However, loop quantum gravity does not support singularities. This means that loop quantum gravity cannot provide answers to how the universe began. If it cannot answer this question, it cannot lay claim to the entire theory.

At this time, scientists introduced another theory of different concept – called string theory. More probable than supergravity theory, string theory posits that everything in the universe is made up of extremely small strings or filaments. According to the standard model of particle physics, where fundamental particles like electrons and quarks are assumed to be the end point, string theory suggests that these are not the ultimate particles; they are also made up of even smaller string-shaped waves. String theory is more complex than any other theory because it operates in a ten-dimensional world instead of the conventional four-dimensional space-time.[6]

Imagining ourselves living in a ten-dimensional space rather than the familiar three-dimensional space is not easy. But even on a smaller scale than electrons and quarks, space-time can be divided in such a way that there are ten dimensions. The concept of a ten-dimensional space is necessary in string theory for mathematical purposes. String theorists have attempted to mathematically prove that this theory is extremely successful and effective as a unified theory of everything. However, various research groups have discovered several more forms of string theory using different mathematical approaches. It has been observed that in the realm of multiple-dimensional space, one can split the five primary forms of string theory, each representing the conventional four-dimensional space-time, in various ways. All these forms were united into the extended version of string theory called M-theory. Stephen Hawking wrote in his book "The Grand Design", "Perhaps M stands for 'Master', 'Miracle', 'Mystery' - or all of them."[7] However, John Gribbin explained that the M in M-theory stands for "Membrane" instead of "String" or "Superstring."[8] It is believed that M-theory can explain everything in the universe. To work with M-theory, one needs eleven-dimensional space. It is said that in the ten-dimensional string theory, one dimension was dropped.

The powerful claim of M-theory is that it can explain everything in terms of its principles. Although no concrete evidence for it has been found yet, mathematically, M-theory can explain the workings of everything from one-dimensional strings, two-dimensional membranes, to three-dimensional objects. Mathematically, M-theory is so potent that it supports the idea of countless new universes. Scientists are exploring the theory of everything to express everything in a single universe. However, if M-theory is indeed that theory, then it gives rise to a new problem - the birth of even more countless universes. So, there is doubt about how successful it will be as a theory of everything.

Now the question arises, why do we need the theory of everything? There is no other branch of science, apart from physics, that is so concerned with this. But why do we need this theory in physics?

Einstein spent more than half of his life searching for the theory of everything - the Grand Unified Theory. He hoped to find a mathematical formula within which everything in the universe could be encapsulated. He was not successful, but physics did not suffer any loss from it.[9]

Later, theoretical physicists set their sights on a theory even more ambitious than Grand Unification, one that could provide answers to all the fundamental questions of the universe. Behind popularizing this theory, the contributions of scientists like Stephen Hawking were among the most significant. In 1981, in his first lecture as the Lucasian Professor, Stephen Hawking expressed hope that in the next twenty years, the Theory of Everything (TOE) would be discovered. Then, once the theoretical physicists had it in their hands, there would be no more work left to do. Stephen Hawking concluded his Brief History of Time in this manner: if we can discover a complete theory, it will not only be understandable to scientists, but to everyone. Then we will all be able to discuss why and how we and our universe came into existence.

Stephen Hawking's life partner, Jane Hawking, in her remarkable memoir "Music to Move the Stars: A Life with Stephen," recounts an anecdote where James Marsh, when making a film, contemplated naming it after one of Stephen Hawking's popular books, "The Theory of Everything."[10] Released in 2014, this film gained widespread popularity - for it was a reflection of Stephen Hawking's life. The book "The Theory of Everything" is a collection of seven popular science lectures by Stephen Hawking, initially published in 1996 as "The Cambridge Lectures." Later, in 2005, the book was published under the title "The Theory of Everything." The seventh and final chapter of the book is titled "The Theory of Everything." Five years later, in 2010, Stephen Hawking collaborated with Leonard Mlodinow to publish another popular book, "The Grand Design." In this book as well, there is a chapter titled "The Theory of Everything." Stephen Hawking considered the Theory of Everything to be the Grand Design of the universe.

But Stephen Hawking had sufficient doubt that the entire mystery of the universe could be solved by the sole theory of physics. In his 2002 lecture titled "Gödel and the End of Physics," Stephen Hawking said, "Many will be disappointed if we do not find one ultimate theory that can explain everything. I used to be one of them, but I have changed my mind. I am now glad that our search for understanding will never come to an end and that we will always have new discoveries to look forward to."

[1] P.C.W. Davies and J. Brown (Eds.), "Superstrings: A Theory of Everything?" Cambridge University Press, Cantor Edition, Victoria, 1992.

[2] James R. Johnson, "Does a Theory of Everything Exist?" Philosophy and Cosmology, Issue 26, 2021.

[3] "A Theory of Everything?" Nature, Issue 433, January 2005.

[4] Don Lincoln, "Einstein's Unfinished Dream: Practical Progress Towards a Theory of Everything," Oxford University Press, 2023.

[5] Moataz H. Imam (Ed.), "Are We There Yet? The Search for a Theory of Everything," Bentham Science Publishers, 2011.

[6] Brian Greene, "The Elegant Universe," Vintage Books, New York, 2003.

[7] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, "The Grand Design," Bantam Books, London, 2010.

[8] John Gribbin, "In Search of Superstrings," Second Edition, Icon Books, London, 2007.

[9] Michio Kaku, "The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything," Doubleday, New York, 2021.

[10] Stephen Hawking, "The Theory of Everything," Phoenix Books, California, 2005.

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