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Jagadis Chandra Bose

Jagadis Chandra Bose

(1858-1937)

biography

During the twentieth century, India has produced some eminent scientists but Jagadis Chandra was unique in many ways. His biophysical and plant physiological researches are a metaphysical attempt at fitting empirical results into the Vedic doctrine of unity in diversity. Thus, he became the only Indian scientist to be admired and eulogized by nonscientists like
Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tagore, Sister Nivedita and others. Even literary men in Europe, like G. B. Shaw, Galsworthy and WB Yeats, showed great interest in Bose’s scientific experiments.
Jagadis Chandra Bose
Jagadis Chandra Bose was born on 30 November 1858 at Mymen singh, now in Bangladesh. His father Bhagwan Chandra Bose was in government service, working as deputy magistrate. In spite of his high government position, Bhagwan Chandra was an admirer of Indian culture and traditions. Thus, it was not surprising that Bhagwan Chandra sent his son to a local school instead of sending him to an English school. He should learn his mother tongue before he learnt a foreign language, argued his father. This early learning of Bengali proved an asset for Jagadis in later life, while popularizing science among the masses. At the age of nine, Jagadis joined Hare School in Calcutta and soon after was admitted to St. Xavier School and College, passing the Entrance Examination of Calcutta University in 1875 and B.Sc. in 1879. The following year he left for England to study medicine but had to switch to Natural Science because of ill health. He studied at the Christ College, Cambridge. There he was fortunate to have famous scientists like Lord Rayleigh, a physicist and Sydney Vinis, a botanist, as his teachers. Rayleigh’s inspiring lectures and careful experimentation contributed greatly to the making of the physicist Jagadis Bose. In 1884, he passed the Natural Science Tripos of Cambridge as well as the B.Sc. examination of the University of London.
    Jagadis returned to India in 1885 and was appointed as assistant professor of Physics at the Presidency College, Calcutta. He protested against the discriminatory pay scales white teachers being paid almost twice as much as Indian teachers. Jagadis did not draw his salary for three years and ultimately won his case: the College paid all the arrears that being paid to the British teachers. Along with teaching, J.C. Bose wanted to do research work. But he saddled with a heavy schedule of class lectures. He was also “subjected to continuous annoyances and' petty difficulties - with the evident earnest desire of those who about him to end his distinction which was personally galling to them”, wrote Sister Nivedita, his friend and admirer. However, a determined Bose overcame all these difficulties and found time to do research work staying up late into the night. He built a small laboratory for the' purpose, designing and fabricating his own tools and instruments in an ingenious Ways. In this modest laboratory, his research career started around 1894, when his interest in electric waves was roused by the work of German physicist, H.R. Hertz, as explained in a small book by Oliver Lodge. Hertz had shown the existence of electromagnetic waves in free space, found their speed to be the same as that of light. Hertz further showed that such waves had all the usual optical properties the properties of visible light waves. Hertz died in 1894 and Bose started his research work on the same lines as that of Hertz. Lodge had also started working on similar lines. Bose devised a series of experiments to demonstrate the optical behavior of electric waves such as reflection, refraction, total reflection, polarization, diffraction and so on. He even managed to polarize the electromagnetic waves in order to further lay bare their identity with light rays. “By his contrivance of a Wide variety of delightfully simple and yet wonderfully ingenious instruments he proved the underlying unity of electrical and optical beams. As early as 1895, hedemonstrated at a public lecture in Calcutta, how electric waves could travel from his radiator in the lecture room to another seventy-five feet away, where his receiver managed to pick up enough energy to ring a bell and fire a pistol. To accomplish this amazingly remarkable feat with his feeble radiator, Bose anticipated the lofty antennae of modern wireless telegraphy”. Today’s radio and broadcasting stations are based on the experimentation and theories as propounded by Hertz and Bose. The results of his investigations appeared in leading scientific journals, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Electrician, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Thus, by the end of 1895, Bose ranked high among the successors of Hertz. Further, Bose concentrated on short radio waves reducing the waves to the millimeter level, unlike Hertz, who dealt with decimeter waves and Lodge who studied the centimeter waves. Bose was successful in making devices for receiving the polarisation of electric waves using simple material such as `jute fiber. These receivers were called ‘coherers’. He was able to make a perfect coherer, which he could have commercially exploited. His contemporary, Marconi, who worked with other European scientists, exploited his research venture in the same field by designing a long distance radio signaling device, patented it and made a fortune. But Bose had an antipathy towards commercializing science for pecuniary gain. This attitude of Bose was called ‘impractical quixotism' by some Westerners, but did not move Bose to change his attitude.
Bose wrote a paper based on his research, ‘The Determination of the Wavelength of Electric Radiation by Diffraction Grating’ and sent it to the University of London as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Science. Bose was awarded the DSc.degree. The university even waived the requirement of his presence at the examination, which was a great honour.
Lord Rayleigh had suggested to Bose vide a letter that he should visit England and meet the scientists there and talk about the work he had done. Bose reached England in October 1896. With the presentation of a paper on ‘Electric Waves’ at the Liverpool meeting of the British Association, Bose made his debut in England as a scientist. He was an immediate success, and brought, in its wake, an invitation to deliver a series of Friday Evening Discourses at the Royal Institution. ‘It was during these discourses, with his free exhibition of all his appliances, that Bose revealed his characteristically ascetic trait that astonished many and even disappointed a few. For he never thought of patenting his apparatus, like his improved coherer– an instrument for the reception of radio waves – which had made him justly famous.
Surprisingly, when he was earning laurels as a pioneering physicist he left this field, which was still replete with undiscovered nuggets, and ventured into another altogether new one – biophysics or the physics of life." Bose spent less than five years doing research in physics in a ramshackle laboratory fitted with ingenuously made instruments and earned praise from leading physicists of the world. Bose was really the pioneer in utilizing the Hertzian waves for signaling purposes, and laid the foundation of wireless telegraphy. Bose did not care to follow up his great achievement, as his attention was now diverted to an entirely different type of research, which evidently he regarded as of even greater importance. The switchover was accidental. While doing research with the coherer, he found that continuous exposure of metals to electric waves was causing fatigue or less of sensitivity of the metal. He hypothesized that it was similar to the muscular fatigue of animals. These and many other instances of similitude between the responses of the living and the inert that he discovered, encouraged Bose to take up the study of life. During the remaining years of his life, Bose, to prove his point of unity in diversity (between metals, plants and animals), brought into biophysics the quantitative precision of a physicist. He did so by introducing new experimental methods and inventing many delicate and sensitive instruments for demonstrating the effects of sleep, air, light, food, drugs, irritation etc. in plants, in order to prove a complete parallelism between the responses of plants and animals and even between plants and inanimate materials like metals. This he tried to prove with the help of the cresograph, a supersensitive instrument for recording plant growth by magnifying a small movement as much as ten million fold. His first demonstration was at the International Congress of Physics in Paris in July, 1900. Swami Vivekananda was also present at the Congress. He congratulated Bose after the demonstration and called him the heroic son of India. An even greater compliment came from the French writer and philosopher Romain Rolland; you have made us enter into the Kingdom of the universe of silent life, which till yesterday was thought as dead and buried in the night." Bose visited England and Europe several times on scientific deputation. He lectured at Oxford, Cambridge, London, Aberdeen, and Leipzig. During 1923-24, Bose visited Europe for the sixth time. This time the audience of his lecture at the India Office, London, included Ramsay Macdonald, the prime minister, Lord Hardinge, former viceroy and George Bernard Shaw. The topic was the Phenomenon of the Growth of Plants. After the lecture, Bernard Shaw presented Bose a special edition of his collected works bearing the inscription From the least to the greatest biologist" The synthetic philosophical outlook that underlay Bose’s scientific work had a natural appeal for the sensitive men of literature.
But Bose had his detractors too. They considered his biophysical and plant physiological researches as a metaphysical attempt at fitting empirical results into the Vedic doctrine of unity in diversity. Among such critics were Dr. Waller and Burdon Sanderson, who had even succeeded in persuading the Royal Society not to publish Bose’s paper. He was blamed for having been carried away by a sort of enchantment exercised by verbal ghosts, like fatigue, sleep, exaltation, irritability, of his own conjuring. But the urge to satisfy his longing to bring about the unity of animals and inanimate nature, sustained Bose in the midst of all the criticism that his biophysical work provoked. And during his life time, undaunted by criticism, Bose continued to try to obliterate the boundary lines and establish new points of contact between the domains of the living and the inert. However, his assumption that the phloem tissues in plants are equivalent to nerves in animals was disproved by later investigations.
Jagadis Chandra Bose had married Abala Das, daughter of Durga Mohan Das and a cousin of C. R. Das, in 1887. They had only one child, who died in infancy. The childless couple led a very happy married life. Abala was always by the side of her husband whenever he was in difficulty and often accompanied him during his frequent lecture tours to Europe and America. She was a gracious hostess and acted as a mother to Bose’s students, some of whom stayed with them. After Bose’s retirement from Presidency College in 1915, Abala founded Nari Siksha Samiti devoted to the education and welfare of women.
Bose had many admirers outside the scientific circle, the greatest of them being Rabindranath Tagore and Sister Nivedita. Bose was in constant correspondence with Tagore, who was always anxious to know about the progress of Boses research and their response among scientists as well as non-scientists. In all, eighty-two letters were exchanged between the two, all written in Bengali. Tagore also immortalized Bose through many essays and poems including the one on Mimosa (chhui-mui plant) used by Bose in many of his experiments and demonstrations. What really brought them together was the fact is that both were in quest of an ultimate cosmic unity in the midst of diverse manifestations of Nature. Another sphere," wrote Tagore, where Jagadis felt affinity towards me was his profound patriotism." Tagore was three years younger than Bose and outlived him by four years.
Another great friend was Sister Nivedita, who played an inspiring role in the life of Bose. Boses wife Abala was equally attached to Nivedita and the latter found solace in their company and was a frequent visitor to the Boses home. Actually Nivedita died in Boses summer resort at Darjeeling in 1911. Before her death, Nivedita had urged Bose to build a research institute epitomising the renascent wisdom of India. The Bose Research Institute did come into existence in 1917 through the generous donations of the people as well as substantial grant from the government, where scholars would ceaselessly pursue the quest for truth. An inaugural song was composed by Tagore. The famous painter Nandlal’s mural decorated the walls of the lecture hall.
During his life time, Bose was showered with national and international honours. He was knighted in 1916 and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920. In 1926, he was nominated a member of the League of Nations Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. In 1928, he became corresponding member of the Vienna Academy of Science. He was honorary member of several scientific societies of Europe and America. He was the general president of the 1927 session of the Indian Science Congress.
Bose authored a number of books and papers, both in English and Bengali. Bose also tried to popularize science by writing scientific essays in Bengali. In 1921, .he brought out a collection of these essays titled Avyukta (the unmanifest), written since 1894 and published in various magazines.
Bose had been suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure for many years, which had affected his health. Only his love and enthusiasm for research Work sustained him through those years. He died on 23 November 1937.

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