Jagadish Chandra Bose

30 Nov 1858
23 Nov 1937
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Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, CSI, CIE, FRS ( 30 November 1858 – 23 November 1937) was a polymath, physicist, biologist, biophysicist, botanist, archaeologist, as well as an early writer of science fiction.

Living in British controlled India, he pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made very significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent. IEEE named him one of the fathers of radio science.

He is considered the father of Bengali science fiction. He also invented the crescograph. A crater on the moon has been named in his honour.

Born in Mymensingh, Bengal Presidency during the British Raj, Bose graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta. He then went to the University of London to study medicine, but could not pursue studies in medicine because of health problems.

Instead, he conducted his research with the Nobel Laureate Lord Rayleigh at Cambridge and returned to India. He then joined the Presidency College of University of Calcutta as a Professor of Physics.

There, despite racial discrimination and a lack of funding and equipment, Bose carried on his scientific research. He made remarkable progress in his research of remote wireless signalling and was the first to use semiconductor junctions to detect radio signals.

However, instead of trying to gain commercial benefit from this invention, Bose made his inventions public in order to allow others to further develop his research.

Bose subsequently made a number of pioneering discoveries in plant physiology. He used his own invention, the crescograph, to measure plant response to various stimuli, and thereby scientifically proved parallelism between animal and plant tissues.

Although Bose filed for a patent for one of his inventions because of peer pressure, his reluctance to any form of patenting was well known. To facilitate his research, he constructed automatic recorders capable of registering extremely slight movements; these instruments produced some striking results, such as Bose’s demonstration of an apparent power of feeling in plants, exemplified by the quivering of injured plants.

His books include Response in the Living and Non-Living (1902) and The Nervous Mechanism of Plants (1926).

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was born in Mymensingh, Bengal Presidency, (present day Bangladesh) on 30 November 1858. His father, Bhagawan Chandra Bose, was a Brahmo and leader of the Brahmo Samaj and worked as a deputy magistrate/ assistant commissioner in Faridpur, Bardhaman and other places.

Bose’s education started in a vernacular school, because his father believed that one must know one’s own mother tongue before beginning English, and that one should know also one’s own people. Speaking at the Bikrampur Conference in 1915, Bose said:

At that time, sending children to English schools was an aristocratic status symbol. In the vernacular school, to which I was sent, the son of the Muslim attendant of my father sat on my right side, and the son of a fisherman sat on my left.

They were my playmates. I listened spellbound to their stories of birds, animals and aquatic creatures. Perhaps these stories created in my mind a keen interest in investigating the workings of Nature. When I returned home from school accompanied by my school fellows, my mother welcomed and fed all of us without discrimination.

Although she was an orthodox old-fashioned lady, she never considered herself guilty of impiety by treating these ‘untouchables’ as her own children. It was because of my childhood friendship with them that I could never feel that there were ‘creatures’ who might be labelled ‘low-caste’. I never realised that there existed a ‘problem’ common to the two communities, Hindus and Muslims.

Bose joined the Hare School in 1869 and then St. Xavier’s School at Kolkata. In 1875, he passed the Entrance Examination (equivalent to school graduation) of University of Calcutta and was admitted to St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta.

At St. Xavier’s, Bose came in contact with Jesuit Father Eugene Lafont, who played a significant role in developing his interest to natural science. He received a bachelor’s degree from University of Calcutta in 1879.

Bose wanted to go to England to compete for the Indian Civil Service. However, his father, a civil servant himself, cancelled the plan. He wished his son to be a scholar, who would “rule nobody but himself.”

Bose went to England to study Medicine at the University of London. However, he had to quit because of ill health.[self-published source] The odour in the dissection rooms is also said to have exacerbated his illness.

Through the recommendation of Anandamohan Bose, his brother-in-law (sister’s husband) and the first Indian wrangler, he secured admission in Christ’s College, Cambridge to study Natural Science. He received the Natural Science Tripos from the University of Cambridge and a BSc from the University of London in 1884.

Among Bose’s teachers at Cambridge were Lord Rayleigh, Michael Foster, James Dewar, Francis Darwin, Francis Balfour, and Sidney Vines. At the time when Bose was a student at Cambridge, Prafulla Chandra Roy was a student at Edinburgh. They met in London and became intimate friends. Later he was married to Abala Bose, the renowned feminist, and social worker.

On the second day of a two-day seminar held on the occasion of 150th anniversary of Jagadish Chandra Bose on 28–29 July at The Asiatic Society, Kolkata Professor Shibaji Raha, Director of the Bose Institute, Kolkata told in his valedictory address that he had personally checked the register of the Cambridge University to confirm the fact that in addition to Tripos he received an MA as well from it in 1884.

Bose returned to India in 1885, carrying a letter from Fawcett, the economist to Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India. On Lord Ripon’s request, Sir Alfred Croft, the Director of Public Instruction, appointed Bose officiating professor of physics in Presidency College. The principal, C. H. Tawney, protested against the appointment but had to accept it.

Bose was not provided with facilities for research. On the contrary, he was a ‘victim of racialism’ with regard to his salary.

In those days, an Indian professor was paid Rs. 200 per month, while his European counterpart received Rs. 300 per month. Since Bose was officiating, he was offered a salary of only Rs. 100 per month. As a form of protest, Bose refused to accept the salary cheque and continued his teaching assignment for three years without accepting any salary.

After time, the Director of Public Instruction and the Principal of the Presidency College relented, and Bose’s appointment was made permanent with retrospective effect. He was given the full salary for the previous three years in a lump sum.

Presidency College lacked a proper laboratory. Bose had to conduct his research in a small 24-square-foot (2.2 m2) room. He devised equipment for the research with the help of one untrained tinsmith.

Sister Nivedita wrote, “I was horrified to find the way in which a great worker could be subjected to continuous annoyance and petty difficulties … The college routine was made as arduous as possible for him, so that he could not have the time he needed for investigation.” After his daily grind, he carried out his research far into the night, in a small room in his college.

Moreover, the policy of the British government for its colonies was not conducive to attempts at original research. Bose spent his own money for making experimental equipment. Within a decade of his joining Presidency College, he emerged a pioneer in the incipient research field of wireless waves.

The Scottish theoretical physicist James Clerk Maxwell mathematically predicted the existence of electromagnetic radiation of diverse wavelengths, but he died in 1879 before his prediction was experimentally verified. Between 1886 and 1888 German physicist Heinrich Hertz published the results of his experiments that showed the existence of electromagnetic waves in free space.

Subsequently, British physicist Oliver Lodge, who had also been researching electromagnetic, conducted a commemorative lecture in August 1894 (after Hertz’s death) on the quasi optical nature of “Hertzian waves” (radio waves) and demonstrated their similarity to light and vision including reflection and transmission at distances up to 50 meters.

Lodge’s work was published it in book form and caught the attention of scientists in different countries including Bose in India.

The first remarkable aspect of Bose’s follow up microwave research was that he reduced the waves to the millimetre level (about 5 mm wavelength). He realised the disadvantages of long waves for studying their light-like properties.

During a November 1894 (or 1895[21]) public demonstration at Town Hall of Kolkata, Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using millimetre range wavelength microwaves. Lieutenant Governor Sir William Mackenzie witnessed Bose’s demonstration in the Kolkata Town Hall.

Bose wrote in a Bengali essay, Adrisya Alok (Invisible Light), “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.”

Bose’s first scientific paper, “On polarisation of electric rays by double-refracting crystals” was communicated to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in May 1895, within a year of Lodge’s paper. His second paper was communicated to the Royal Society of London by Lord Rayleigh in October 1895. In December 1895, the London journal the Electrician (Vol. 36) published Bose’s paper, “On a new electro-polariscope”.

At that time, the word ‘coherer’, coined by Lodge, was used in the English-speaking world for Hertzian wave receivers or detectors. The Electrician readily commented on Bose’s coherer. (December 1895). The Englishman (18 January 1896) quoted from the Electrician and commented as follows:

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.

Bose planned to “perfect his coherer” but never thought of patenting it.

Bose went to London on a lecture tour in 1896 and met Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who had been developing a radio wave wireless telegraphy system for over a year and was trying to market it to the British post service.

In an interview, Bose expressed disinterest in commercial telegraphy and suggested others use his research work. In 1899, Bose announced the development of a “iron-mercury-iron coherer with telephone detector” in a paper presented at the Royal Society, London.

Bose’ work in radio microwave optics was specifically directed towards studying the nature of the phenomenon and was not an attempt to develop radio into a communication medium.

His experiments took place during this same period (from late 1894 on) when Guglielmo Marconi was making breakthroughs on a radio system specifically designed for wireless telegraphy and others were finding pratical aplications for radio waves, such as Russian physicist Alexander Stepanovich Popov radio wave base lightning detector, also inspired by Lodge’s experiment.

Although Bose’s work was not related to communication he, like Lodge and other laboratory experimenters, probably had an influence on other inventors trying to develop radio as communications medium.

Bose was the first to use a semiconductor junction to detect radio waves, and he invented various now-commonplace microwave components. In 1954, Pearson and Brattain gave priority to Bose for the use of a semi-conducting crystal as a detector of radio waves.

In fact, further work at millimetre wavelengths was almost non-existent for the following 50 years. In 1897, Bose described to the Royal Institution in London his research carried out in Kolkata at millimetre wavelengths. He used waveguides, horn antennas, dielectric lenses, various polarisers and even semiconductors at frequencies as high as 60 GHz;.

Much of his original equipment is still in existence, especially at the Bose Institute in Kolkata. A 1.3 mm multi-beam receiver now in use on the NRAO 12 Metre Telescope, Arizona, US, incorporates concepts from his original 1897 papers.

Sir Nevill Mott, Nobel Laureate in 1977 for his own contributions to solid-state electronics, remarked that “J.C. Bose was at least 60 years ahead of his time. In fact, he had anticipated the existence of P-type and N-type semiconductors.”

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