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C. V. Raman discovered that when light interacts with a molecule the light can donate a small amount of energy to the molecule. As a result of this, the light changes its color and the molecule vibrates. The change of color can act as a ‘fingerprint’ for the molecule.

Today Raman spectroscopy, which relies on these ‘fingerprints,’ is used in laboratories all over the world to identify molecules and to analyze living cells and tissues to detect diseases such as cancer.

C. V. Raman discovered that when light interacts with a molecule the light can donate a small amount of energy to the molecule. As a result of this, the light changes its color and the molecule vibrates. The change of color can act as a ‘fingerprint’ for the molecule.

Today Raman spectroscopy, which relies on these ‘fingerprints,’ is used in laboratories all over the world to identify molecules and to analyze living cells and tissues to detect diseases such as cancer.

In 1903, aged just 14, Raman set off for the great city of Madras (now Chennai) to live in a hostel and begin a bachelor’s degree at Presidency College. When Raman returned home after his first year at college, his parents were shaken by his unhealthy appearance; they set up a house for him in Madras, where he could be looked after by his grandparents.

Raman was awarded a scholarship and he remained at Presidency College to study for his master’s degree. His outstanding potential was recognized, and he was given unlimited access to the laboratories, where he pursued investigations of his own design.

Although Raman was intent upon a scientific career, his brother persuaded him to sit the civil service exams. Civil service jobs were highly paid and his family was deeply in debt.

For 10 years Raman worked as a civil servant in the Indian Finance Department in Calcutta (now Kolkata), rising quickly to a senior position. In his free time he carried out research into the physics of stringed instruments and drums. He did this work at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS).

The IACS had been in a state of hibernation until Raman stumbled upon it and set about reviving it. In addition to his research work, Raman gave public lectures in Calcutta popularizing science.

At the end of October 1970, he collapsed in his laboratory, the valves of his heart having given way. He was moved to the hospital and the doctors gave him four days to live. He survived and after a few days refused to stay in the hospital as he preferred to die in the gardens of his Institute surrounded by his flowers.

Two days before Raman died, he told one of his former students, “Do not allow the journals of the Academy to die, for they are the sensitive indicators of the quality of science being done in the country and whether science is taking root in it or not.” That same evening, Raman met with the Board of Management of his Institute and discussed (from his bed) with them any proceedings with regards to the Institute’s management. Raman died from natural causes early next morning on 21 November 1970.