Prof J.C. Bose, the Indian scientist who deserved the Nobel
J.C. Bose: The Indian scientist who blazed a new trail both as a scientist and a nationalist
Even the most skeptical western observer today agrees that Prof. J.C. Bose should have won the Nobel Prize for his many path-breaking discoveries spanning Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
The credit for discovery of the wireless should have gone to him rather than to Marconi. But, in the European psyche, an Indian scientist from a British colony simply did not deserve it. Here is his full story (Written by Parthasarathy, published earlier in The Hindu in 2002)
JAGADISH CHANDRA BOSE was born on November 30, 1858 in Myemsingh (now in Bangladesh). His early education was in a village Patshala in the Bengali medium, till the age of 11. In 1869, he was sent to Calcutta to learn English and was educated at St. Xavier’s School and College. Here he came into contact with Fr. Eugene Lafont S.J. who inspired him. He passed the B.A. in physical sciences in 1879.
In 1880, Bose went to London, where he joined a medical school. Due to ill health, he had to give up the study of medicine. He then joined Christ’s College, Cambridge. In 1884 he obtained the B.A. degree of the Cambridge University.
On returning home, he was appointed in 1885 as Assistant Professor of Physics in the Presidency College. The job was made available to J. C. Bose, only through the intervention of Lord Rippon, then the Viceroy of India.
Bose accepted the job but refused to draw his salary for next three years, because it was fixed at half that of an Englishman doing the same duty. Bose demanded parity in salary. His demand was conceded by a special order from the Government.
What motivated Bose to undertake research? The long trial of British contempt for Indians doing science stung Bose. He resolved in 1894, at 36, to become a scientist rather than remain a science teacher. He saw embarking on scientific research and shining in it as a possible means to confound the British critics, so dismissive about Indian talent. Bose took upon himself the task to reclaim India’s ancient glory.
Making waves in Calcutta
Bose made waves in Calcutta as Hertz had done in Karlsruhe. He produced some thirteen papers: 7 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, one in Philosophical Magazine and the others in The Electrician.
The ordeal of scientific solitude was temporarily broken in 1896 when Bose set out on a voyage to England. At the meeting of the British Association of Advancement of Science, Liverpool, he demonstrated his apparatus for the study of the properties of electric waves. History was being made as his wife recorded, when Bose stood in front of the world, prepared to wage the battle in the realm of science. Among those present, she saw Oliver Lodge, Lord Kelvin and J.J.Thomson. After Bose’s presentation, the ageing Kelvin limped up to the gallery and congratulated her on her husband’s work.
On Friday 29 January 1897, Bose delivered a lecture at the Royal Institution the famed ‘Evening Discourse’ on ‘The Electromagnetic Radiation and the Polarisation of the Electric Ray.’ The University of London conferred on him the D.Sc. degree for his work on electric waves. Bose’s discourse gave a clear indication that his was the work of one belonging to a cultural tradition which was not rooted in Europe. It was also, as much, the realization of Sircar’s vision of scientific research in India.
Invention of radio
The origin of radio telegraphy has a convoluted history which historians are still trying to unravel. Bose has a definite place in this history. It is true that Bose’s article appeared in The Electrician in December 1895 – Marconi may well have chanced upon it. But by then, the latter’s experiments were well under way. And thereafter their paths diverged. Marconi forged ahead in the pursuit of his goal of a practical system for radio telegraphy, when Bose pursued the physics of microwave optic. Nowhere in his papers is even the possibility of radio telegraphy discussed. (Subrata Dasgupta: J.C.Bose, Oxford University Press, 1999).
Bose made many important contributions to the elucidation of ‘coherer’ action. Bose’s ‘coherer’ took the form of a single metal point contact on a metal plate, which was used as an early form of radio detector, that figures in the history of solid-state physics. He published several books, well known among them, Comparative Electrophysiology (1907) and Response to the Living and Nonliving (1920).
Bose performed delicate experiments on plant life and invented recorders of high magnification and great precision. Bose was knighted in 1917 and was elected F.R.S. in 1920, the first Indian physicist to receive the honour. He founded the Bose Institute in November 1917, largely with his own fortune and donations from the Government and his well-wishers. He served as the Institutes life-time Director till his death.