But India’s association with helium goes back to more than a century, with the publication of a paper on helium at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
Publication of research papers has become a tradition at IISc and the author of the first paper published was Morris Williams Travers, the first director of IISc, whose paper ‘ The Condensation of Helium’ was published in international journal ‘Nature’ in 1908 on March 29. A copy of the paper, obtained from the Archives and Publication Centre, IISc by Deccan Herald is said to be one of the shortest scientific papers with a diagram on condensation of helium. The paper is a brief description of the process to condense helium with a diagram.
The use of helium today is widespread. On the significance of the condensation of helium, R Karunanidhi, Assistant Professor, Centre for Cryogenic technology says that liquefied helium is used widely in medical application like MRI scanning.
Helium is used as a propellant in cryogenic engines. It is also used in scuba diving. “The helium, being a light gas, can be condensed into liquid. Eight hundred litres of gas can be converted into one litre of liquid,” said Karunanidhi. Travers, a chemist from London was a student of Nobel prize winner William Ramsay at the University College London. According to an editorial by P Balaram, present Director IISc, published in a leading Scientific journal, Travers assisted Ramsay in the famous experiments, which led to the isolation of the inert gases neon, krypton and xenon.
In his article ‘Morris Travers: Remembering an Institution Builder’ he says “Travers appears to have been a meticulous documenter of events and experiments and an author of uncommon talent. In 1901 he published an Experimental Study of Gases (Macmillan, London).”
Travers began the task of building an institution that has weathered the tumultuous century that followed. Travers is not a well-known name in India. Even at the IISc, a lecture in his memory, marking his research interests in Chemistry, was established only in 1990, over eight decades after he began the work of building an institution.
Travers became the youngest director of IISc in 1906 at a age of 34. However he resigned in the midst of a growing controversy between him and members of the governing council of the Institute in 1914.
DH News Service