Our Alma Mater
Compiled by the Dhaka Physics Group
Reviewed by Hammad Ali
Arguably the best memories any person treasures are those of his university years. So much of our life is intertwined with our Alma Mater both in quality and quantity that it becomes almost impossible to, at one point, look back at our lives and not recall at least a few episodes of those wonder years. Indeed, there are people who often go as far as to say that they miss their university more than a childhood home.
Stemming from this nostalgia is an urge to do something that takes one back to those days, or allows one to spend time with associates from those days. One example of such an endeavor would be the book in question. Back in 2005, in order to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the theory of relativity, alumni of the Department of Physics in the University of Dhaka got in touch with their friends all over the globe and collected contributions for a small collection of articles, which was meant to be a tribute to both the miracle of science that is Physics, as well as the Department where they spent some of their best years. This book, christened “Our Alma Mater”, is the product of that initiative.
The Dhaka Physics Group, the society responsible behind this book, is a collection of kindred souls, coming out of the Department of Physics at different times and forever united by their love of the Department and the discipline. Some of them are now teachers in that same department, although this is not by any means a criterion for membership.
The book, which is dedicated to members of the DU family who laid down their lives in 1952 and 1971, opens by mentioning prominent members of the DU Physics Department, Satyendra Nath Bose being one of the most prominent names in that area. Divided into six parts, the first part of the book is entitled “Revolutions in Physics”. The very first article to appear in this section is a reprint of a paper on electrodynamics by Albert Einstein himself, aptly so since the whole idea behind the book is to pay tribute to the great physicist. This is followed by reprints of letters sent back and forth between Satyen Bose and Albert Einstein, and a paper by Dr. Bose, printed first in the original German and then in Bengali. This section concludes with an article by Professor A. M. Harun ar Rashid, in which he describes some of the early debates in the field of Quantum Mechanics, in particular those between Einstein and Niels Bohr. Excerpts are also included from correspondence between Einstein and Tagore, where Tagore's opinions seem to take a leaning towards those of Niels Bohr.
The second section, “Establishment of the University of Dhaka”, opens with the transcript of an address made by Tagore at Dhaka University, entitled “The Rule of the Giant”. This is followed by two articles describing the reason behind the establishment of DU, and some incidents in the very first days of the new university. In particular, articles by professors of Kolkata University who moved to the new University in Dhaka provide a wealth of information on the early days, and the relation between the two universities in Dhaka and Kolkata. Renowned historian Muntasir Mamun then writes about the history of Curzon Hall, the building that houses the Physics department. This section concludes with records of correspondence between Satyen Bose and the then vice chancellor, regarding Bose's appointment as teacher in the University of Dhaka, followed by his study leave to Europe being granted.
The third section, “Pursuit and Promotion of Science”, starts fittingly with an article by a man who spent a large portion of his life promoting science and education in this part of the world, the Pakistani Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salam. This is followed by several other articles on the state of scientific research being done in this part of the world. The fourth section is basically a collection of several reminiscent articles about Curzon Hall by different people, ranging from members of the alumni recounting their glorious days in Curzon Hall to students writing about the teachers that they remember as having left a mark in their lives. The fifth section includes select scientific publications by Curzon Hall alumni, on ground-breaking issues in Physics such as Cosmic Strings and Atmospheric Plasmas. Lastly, the sixth section once again features writings by Curzon Hall alumni, although these are writings of a more popular nature, mostly consisting of scientific issues explained to the lay reader, as well as a tribute to Einstein, the man who probably did more for modern physics than any number of other physicists taken together.
Summing up, this book is a wealth of information for anyone who might be interested in the history of the early days of the University of Dhaka. Alumni and current students of the University should find the book immensely interesting. As for those who lean towards the study of Physics, this book is an absolute treasure trove, including not only articles on ground-breaking topics in Physics, but also articles by and about prominent physicists and the history of Physics in general. One cannot help but be left awestruck as they read through the book, realizing the high stature our biggest university once enjoyed in the world scenario. As the saying goes, one needs to know the road behind in order to prepare for the road ahead. Keeping this in mind, this book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to excel in their own discipline and represent Bangladesh to the rest of the world.