24 Jan 2020

Subramanyan Chandrashekhar2 min read

  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, born in 1910 was an American astrophysicist of Indian origin who spent his professional life in the United States.
  • Chandrasekhar was tutored at home until the age of 12.
  • He later attended the Hindu High School, Madras and subsequently studied at Presidency College.
  • There he wrote his first paper, “The Compton Scattering and the New Statistics”, in 1929.
  • He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Physics, in June 1930.
  • After getting a Government of India scholarship in 1930 to pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge.

His works and achievements:

  • At the University of Cambridge, he developed a theoretical model explaining the structure of white dwarf stars.
  • He showed that the mass of a white dwarf could not exceed 1.44 times that of the Sun – popularly known as the Chandrasekhar limit.
  • Chandrasekhar revised the models of stellar dynamics first outlined by Jan Oort and others by considering the effects of fluctuating gravitational fields within the Milky Way on stars rotating about the galactic centre. 
  • After receiving a bronze medal for his work on degenerate stars, in 1933, he was awarded his PhD degree at Cambridge.
  • He was elected to a Prize Fellowship at Trinity College for the period 1933–1937, becoming only the second Indian to receive a Trinity Fellowship after Srinivasa Ramanujan 16 years earlier.
  • He served as editor of The Astrophysical Journal from 1952 to 1971.
  • He became the Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics in 1952.
  • In 1953, he and his wife took American citizenship. 
  • After the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research (LASR) was built by NASA in 1966 at the University, Chandrasekhar occupied one of the four corner offices on the second floor. 
  • His efforts resulted in the book “Newton’s Principia for the Common Reader”, published in 1995.
  • He was an honorary member of the International Academy of Science.
  • He was on the faculty at Chicago from 1937 until his death in 1995.


  • In 1979, NASA named the third of its four “Great Observatories” after Chandrasekhar. 
  • The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on 23 July 1999.
  • The Chandrasekhar number, an important dimensionless number of magnetohydrodynamics, is named after him.
  • The asteroid 1958 Chandra is named after him.
  • The Himalayan Chandra Telescope is named after him. 
  • After his death, his wife made a gift of his Nobel Prize money to the University of Chicago towards the establishment of the Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Memorial Fellowship. 
  • S. Chandrasekhar Prize of Plasma Physics is an award given by the Association of Asia Pacific Physical Societies (AAPS) to outstanding plasma physicists, started in the year 2014.
  • The Chandra Astrophysics Institute (CAI) is a program offered for high school students who are interested in astrophysics mentored by MIT scientists and sponsored by the Chandra X-ray Observatory.


  • He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1944.
  • Henry Norris Russell Lectureship (1949)
  • Bruce Medal (1952)
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1953)
  • Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1957)
  • National Medal of Science, USA (1966)
  • Padma Vibhushan (1968)
  • Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1971)
  • He was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics with William A. Fowler for “theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars”. 
  • Honorary Fellow of the International Academy of Science (1988).

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