New Delhi: A biologist, botanist, physicist, author and an inventor — Jagdish Chandra Bose was a man who had donned many hats in his life.
Born in 1858, in the district Mymensingh of the Bengal Presidency (present day Bangladesh), Bose was known most significantly for his research on radio development. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a New York-based international body, even called him the ‘Father of Radio Science’ since the science behind radio technology was first explained by Bose.
His work in radio science was instrumental to another significant discovery he made. Bose was one of the first to employ an interdisciplinary approach — combining botany with physics — to prove that plants also had life. He invented the Crescograph, a device that measures tiny reactions and changes in plant cells in response to stimuli.
This invention led to a friendship between him and popular British playwright George Bernard Shaw. After Bose’s discovery about plants, Shaw reportedly shed tears for his ‘dead cabbage’. The playwright also gifted many of his plays to the former, with one inscription saying, “From the least biotechnologist to the greatest biotechnologist of the world.”
Aside from his scholarly achievements, he had an ardent interest in science fiction literature and was among the few writers to author stories of the genre in India. He published several short stories in Bengali such as Niruddesher Kahini (The Story of the Missing One) in 1896 and Palatak Tuphan (Runaway Cyclone) in 1921.
On his 162nd birth anniversary on 30 November, ThePrint looks at the polymath, his achievements and how he went on to establish the Bose Institute in 1917.
Discovery of wireless communication & aversion to patents
Bose attended the University of Cambridge, the University of London and St Xaviers College in Kolkata for his higher studies. But before all this, his school life was spent in a village pathshaala (school).
Even though he belonged to a well-to-do family, Bose’s father believed it was important to know one’s mother tongue and people before mastering English.
At a conference in 1915, Bose looked back on his time in the village pathshaala and 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.”
He also credited the pathshaala as the place where he developed a keen interest in the “workings of Nature”.
He highlighted how as a student, he was unaware of any differences in caste or religion among his classmates.
He said: “It was because of my childhood friendship with them that I could never feel that there were ‘creatures’ who might be labeled ‘low-caste’. I never realized that there existed a ‘problem’ common to the two communities, Hindus and Muslims.”
Bose initially wanted to study medicine, however due to his sickly disposition he instead attended Christ College at the University of Cambridge and got a B.A. degree in Natural Sciences.
He returned to India in 1885 and took up a job as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Presidency College in Kolkata.
Bose was among the pioneers of research in radio technology and demonstrated, for the first time ever, wireless communication using radio waves, almost two years before Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi, who is credited for developing the first proper system of radio communication in 1897.
Marconi is credited with the development of radio technology because Bose had an aversion to patenting. The latter’s scientific contribution was used by Marconi to send the first transatlantic radio signal in 1901.
Bose was against patenting because he believed knowledge should be available to everyone and not constrained by patenting. As a result, despite his extensive scholarship, he is almost ‘forgotten’ in the West and by many others.
Patenting was even discouraged at the Bose Institute — a research institute — which he founded in 1917. When asked by his nephew who the real inventor of the radio was, Bose said, “It is not the inventor but the invention that matters.”
Author Subrata Dasgupta, in his biography on Bose, wrote that the physicist’s three articles in The Electrician in December 1895 were the first scientific papers published by an Indian.
Dasgupta also refers to an incident when a proprietor of a famous telegraphy company told Bose not to reveal details of his work in his lecture at the Royal Institution in London but instead allow him to procure a patent on Bose’s behalf, so that they may share the profit.
In a letter to poet Rabindranath Tagore, Bose wrote, “If only Tagore would witness the country’s (England’s) greed for money,” adding, “What a dreadful all-consuming disease it was.”
The Bose Institute
Inspired by nationalist ideals, in 1917, on his 60th birthday, Bose founded the Bose Institute.
For the inauguration of the Institute, Tagore wrote a special song for the occasion — “Matri mondiro punya angono”. In Bose’s own words, he dedicated the institute to the nation and said that it was not “merely a laboratory but a temple.”
While inaugurating the institute, Bose said, “The power of physical methods applies for the establishment of that truth which can be realised directly through our senses, or through the vast expansion of the perceptive range by means of artificially created organs.”
In his ten-page long speech titled ‘The Voice of Life’, he also noted, “It is my further wish that as far as the limited accommodation would permit, the facilities of this Institute should be available to workers from all countries. In this I am attempting to carry out the traditions of my country, which so far back as twenty-five centuries ago, welcomed all scholars from different parts of the world, within the precincts of its ancient seats of learning, at Nalanda and at Taxilla.”
The Bose Institute is Asia’s first modern research centre which focuses on interdisciplinary research. It has conducted research across the board, in the fields of plant sciences, biotechnology, structural biology, biomedical sciences and molecular biology. It also fosters research in interdisciplinary physics such as astroparticle physics and cosmic rays and foundations of quantum physics.
In 1971, it became an autonomous grant-in-aid institution of the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India.
To recognise his achievements in the field of wireless telecommunications, a crater on the moon has been named after Bose. The crater has a diameter of 91 km and is located near Crater Bhabha (named after Indian nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha) and Crater Adler (named after German chemist Kurt Adler).