A brief life sketch of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose

December 20, 2011

Obaidur Rahman
Born on 30th November, 1858, in the Rarikhal village of Bikrampur during the British era, which is now under the Munshiganj district of Bangladesh; Sir Bose was all together a physicist, biologist, botanist, archeologist and the author of the very first major work in the arena of Bangla science fiction, Niruddesher Kahin, written in the year 1896. But it was Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, who paved the grand way to the investigative research in the field of Radio and microwave optics, made the vital contribution to the field of plant science and became the authority that inspired the practice of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent. In other words, it was him who proved that plants too have feelings and invented wireless telegraphy, much earlier than Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian
inventor who is given much of the credit for the long distance radio communication system.
But before getting into details how Sir Bose was practically disregarded when it came acknowledge his contribution to the original works regarding radio technology, few words are in order concerning how he became the stellar of a scientist that he truly was.
Upon the advice of his father, Bhagawan Chandra Bose, who was a deputy magistrate/ assistant commissioner in Faridpur, the young Bose was admitted into a pathsala (a traditional primary school in a village), despite the family’s ability to bear the cost of pursuing a primary education in an English medium school.
The objective was simply to strengthen young Bose’s root to his community and know, understand and befriend the real people who constitute the traditional Bengali community. Later in life the scientist would admit that, learning lessons in an open environment and having peers who shared their mesmerising stories of birds, creatures of the wild and aquatic splendours, would influence his adulthood decision to devout a life in studying the enigmatic workings of Nature.
As the time progressed he went to Hare School in 1969 and St. Xavier’s school in Kolkata and passed the Entrance Examination of University of Calcutta in 1875 and graduated from St. Xavier’s college, Calcutta with a B.A. in Science in the year of 1879. In 1880, he went to England where, initially he wanted to study in a subject matter that would strengthen his competence for the Indian Civil Service; however his father, himself a civil servant, wished that his son would be a scholar which inspired Bose to shift his academic interest into medicine and admitted himself in the University of London.
However, due to illness caused by the odour in the dissection room, Bose had to quit studying medicine and upon the recommendation of his brother-in-law Anand Mohan Bose (a noted barrister and politician), secured admission to the Christ’s College, Cambridge to study Natural Science.
As per his academic brilliance, he received the Natural Science Tripos (final honours degree examinations at Cambridge University) from the University of Cambridge and a B.Sc Degree from the University of London in 1884.
The next year Bose returned to India and despite the opposition of C.H. Tawney, the then principal of Presidency College became the first Indian Professor of Physics at the reputed institution. But he was fiercely discriminated in terms of salary as his European counterparts received a salary of Rs. 300, other Indian professors receives a sum of R.200, whereas, Bose, the young academic was offered only R.100 per month! But driven by an exemplary sense of pride, dignity and patriotism, he refused to accept any such discriminatory payment and continued to teach for three years without any payment. Later realising his scholarly excellence and a genuine passion for teaching, the University authority sealed his appointment, resumed his rightful salary-scale along with compensating him with the sum of full salary for the past three years. Jagadish Chandra Bose continued to teach there until retirement in 1915 and in the year 1917 he became the founder-director of the Bose Institute, the first scientific research institute in the Indian subcontinent, and was knighted in the same very year and later, got elected as a fellow of Royal Society in 1920.
It was in 1894, while in Presidency; Jagadish Chandra Bose decided to devote his life to the quest of pure scientific research and converted a small 24-square-foot adjourning bathroom of his office into his laboratory.
Despite the then British Government’s lack of interest in promoting original research in their colonies, Bose carried out his research far into the night, investing most of his hard-earned money on equipments and within few years emerged as a pioneer in the early research field of wireless waves, chiefly by improving the coherer, an early form of radio detector that senses radio waves, by attaching a mercury-filled tube and also connecting a telephonic receiver. And this is how the story goes; after the discovery of electromagnetic waves, Bose started his own research in the generation, reception and optical properties of microwaves.
In 1895, he gave a public lecture in the Town Hall in Kolkata and demonstrated the travel of microwave signals across the walls. Bose also wrote a Bengali essay titled Adrisya Alok (Invisible Light), where he stated, in his own words, “The invisible light can easily pass through brick walls, buildings etc. Therefore, messages can be transmitted by means of it without the mediation of wires”.
And this, mind you, was two years before Marconi’s first successful wireless signalling experiment which took place in May, 1897. Bose’s demonstration was so successful that the, the then West Bengal Government on nine month tour to Europe and during which, in December, 1896, Bose repeated his demonstration at the Royal Society of London, a year before Marconi’s demonstrations. Bose aspired to do more research in this very field and perfect his machine; however, he never thought of patenting it as he clearly disliked the idea of commercialising this technology. This is where Marconi scored the big one. Marconi’s wireless signalling experiments took place in May, 1897, in Salisbury Plain, England. At that time he was fully aware of Bose’s original work in this regard; however, the Italian claimed the exclusive patent rights, patent No. 777 for improvement in Apparatus for Wireless Telegraphy.
But everybody was aware that it was Bose who did the original work in this regard. In 1896, after Bose’s presentation, the Daily Chronicle of England wrote, “The inventor (J.C. Bose) has transmitted signals to a distance of nearly a mile and herein lies the first and obvious and exceedingly valuable application of this new theoretical marvel.”
The Englishman’s 18th January, 1896 wrote, “Should Professor Bose succeed in perfecting and patenting his ‘Coherer’, we may in time see the whole system of coast lighting throughout the navigable world revolutionised by a Bengali scientist working single handed in our Presidency College Laboratory.” But sadly Marconi is still credited for the invention of wireless radio telegraph system.
Around 1900, Jagadish Chandra Bose, shifted his genius into another of his longtime scientific interest, animal and plant physiology. He went on to invent a highly sensitive instrument, the Chrestograph, which was developed to record the tiniest movements of the plant growth, magnifying the process as much as million times.
And through this he discovered the fact that, electrical signals pass between plant cells and plants do respond to various external stimuli as if they had a central nervous system just like that of the animals. And it is this theory of Bose’s electromechanical pulsations of living plant cells along with his research on the action and affect of electromagnetic radiation in plant tissues, seasonal effect on plants and their reactions to wounds, pesticides and insects as well as his analysis of the variation of the cell membrane potential of plant under different circumstances allowed Jagadish Chandra Bose to come up with the revolutionary conclusion that plants have feelings too and they indeed can feel pain and understand affection. He also conducted experiments which clearly showed that plants grow faster and more soundly to pleasant music whereas the growth process is delayed in the presence of noise or harsh sounds. All these discoveries, pioneered by this Bengali scientist Bose, laid the very foundation of the study of the plant physiology.
Prior to his plant physiology, Bose investigated the nature of inorganic matter (metals and certain rocks) in the same way a trained biologist examines a muscle or nerve of an organic entity, i.e. terrestrial life form as we know.   Driven by the believe that inorganic substances like metal, too have feelings, the noted scientist subjected metals to numerous kinds of stimulus like mechanical, thermal, chemical and electrical. He sincerely believed that he has discovered the very fact that proves the age old mystical believe; that is all is united in this Universe, the natural world is a live one and both the living and the non-living ones very much well connected.
In this regard, he presented a paper titled “On the Similarity Responses of Inorganic and Living Matter” before the Paris International Congress of Physicists in 1900, which is considered one of the most important ones ever to be received by the congress.
Bose, a good friend of Rabindranath Tagore, penned down about a dozen of books on his vast arrays of research interest as well as on science fiction, numerous publication in international Science journals. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, a devoted scientist, admired teacher and husband to a dedicated wife Abala Bose, passed away on 23rd November in 1937, at the age of 79 at Giridih, Bihar.
He left behind such ground breaking works in science that inspired generations and surely made a significant impact in the very way mankind communicates with each other.   And it’s about time we fully acknowledge his contribution, rightfully and judiciously, just like the great man truly deserved.

Article originally published on The Independent

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