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Pioneers of Indian Science – Part 1

It was on 28th February, 1928 Sir C.V. Raman announced his discovery of Nobel prize winning Raman Effect at a press conference.  In commemoration of this event and also to inspire all in scientific enquiry, India celebrates February 28 as the National Science Day. The story of Raman and his work is in many ways the history of the beginning of organized science in India. He arrived at the scene in the beginning of the twentieth century when there was a national resurgence in all spheres of creativity. Though Raman strode like a colossus of Indian science, he was in the midst of many eminent scientists who received international recognition for their outstanding research work. Notable among them were J.C.Bose, P.C.Ray, M.N.Saha and S.N.Bose. It is interesting to note that there are certain unique features that characterized their lives and works. All of them were fired by great nationalistic spirit. Declining the wonderful opportunities offered by the  western world for their pursuit in science they chose to remain in their beloved motherland. Despite the poor infrastructure available to them, they carried out world class research work by sheer indomitable spirit and with unswerving dedication. All of them were great teachers and their lectures with lively demonstrations left legions of students greatly inspired. They made huge contributions in diverse fields and endeavored to ensure their research work yielded immense societal benefits. They were all connoisseurs of art and literature. Finally they were all great institution builders and together left a strong foundation for the development of science and technology in independent India. A brief sketch of these pioneers is given here.

Jagadis Chandra Bose (1858-1937)

Jagadis after graduating from St.Xavier’s college, Calcutta went to England for his B.A. degree at Cambridge and B.Sc. degree at London.  He was greatly influenced by such illustrious teachers like Lord Rayleigh, Sir James Dewar, Sir Michael Foster and Francis Darwin. On his return he joined Presidency College, Calcutta as Professor of Physics. Despite  extremely poor infrastructure, he carried out experiments on refraction, diffraction, and polarization by building the equipment he needed by sheer ingenuity.

J.C. Bose: Why the great scientist's legacy remains astonishing a ...
J.C Bose
Source: Internet

The experiments culminated in the invention of a device for producing electromagnetic waves. In November 1894, Bose gave the first public demonstration of wireless transmission using electromagnetic waves to ring a bell and to explode remotely a small charge of gunpowder. Bose developed the use of Galena crystals for making receivers, both for short wavelength radio waves and for white and ultraviolet light. He was conferred D. Sc. by London University for his thesis on Measurements of Electric Rays. After doing pioneering work in the field of photoconductivity, Bose turned his interest to comparative physiology, plant physiology in particular. He devised a crescograph for recording micrographic growth movements of plants. With this instrument he could record automatically the minute elongation growth of plant tissues and their modifications through various external stimuli. The Royal Society honored him in 1920 by electing him a Fellow. He established the Bose Institute in Calcutta, an institute of excellence for inter disciplinary research work.

Prafulla Chandra Ray - Wikipedia

Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944) Prafulla Chandra Ray after graduation in Calcutta went to the University of Edinburgh in England for his D.Sc. degree in Chemistry. On return home he took up the post of  Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the Presidency College and later on became the prestigious first Palit Professor in the Calcutta university.  Prafulla had a deep knowledge of ancient Indian literature and in particular he was fascinated by Rasa Ratnakara a text written by an ancient Indian chemist Nagarjuna .He loved to recite poems of Rabindranath Tagore. He exhorted his students to use their  technical knowledge and skill to start their own business. He himself established  The Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works which became a name to reckon with.

He was associated with establishments such as Bengal Potteries, Bengal Enamel Works, Calcutta Soap Works, National Tanneries and so on. With his inspiring dynamism Prafulla became the driving force behind the industrialization of the country that had just begun. Ray never kept himself away from research work at the Presidency College. His work on mercurous nitrite and its derivatives brought him worldwide recognition. He continued publishing scientific papers and guiding doctoral students.

Sundararajan A R
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