J C Bose: Karma-Yogi who served humanity through science


By Nithin Sridhar

Today is the 157th birth anniversary of one of the most outstanding scientists and a pioneer in plant research and wireless communication in the last few centuries- Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose.

He was born in 1858 in Mymensingh, which is now in Bangladesh. His father Bhagawan Chandra Bose was Deputy Magistrate. Bose graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta in Physical sciences and then went to Cambridge to study Natural Sciences. He returned back to India in 1884 and later joined the Presidency College of University of Calcutta as a Professor of Physics.

Bose faced racial discrimination while he was working in Presidency College. His very appointment was opposed by the Principal of the college C H Tawney. Discrimination was also shown in the salary allotted to him. He was offered a salary of just 100 rupees per month, though his European counterparts were earning 300 rupees per month.

Bose refused to accept his salary in protest and worked for three years without salary. Only after three years, was his salary raised and paid in full retrospectively. Further, Bose faced difficulties with respect to research space. He was forced to create a makeshift laboratory at his home.

Bose’s major field of research was in wireless communication and plant physiology. Though, Marconi is popularly given credit for developing radio, it was Bose who first developed the wireless communications and demonstrated the practical use of microwaves. In 1894, he ignited the gunpowder and rang the bell present at a distance using microwaves. He also developed Mercury Coherer, which was later used by Marconi in his experiments.

In the field of Plant physiology, Bose’s most important contribution was his demonstration that plants do respond to various external stimuli like heat, cold, light, etc. He invented an instrument called Crescograph and used it to record even minute responses that plants exhibited to external stimuli. Thus, he successfully proved parallelism between tissues of animals and plants.

Throughout his life, Bose was against the concept of patenting and commercialising his scientific inventions and discoveries. He believed that scientific work must be done for the sake of humanity and not for monetary gains. This was also one of the contributing factors behind the radio controversy.

Bose authored many books and papers, including science fictions. He set up Bose Institute in Calcutta and, in 1920 he was elected the Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also awarded Knighthood in 1917. Finally, he passed away on November 23, 1937. He was a scientist par excellence, but above all, he was a traditional Indian at heart, who was rooted in Indian culture and values. He was a true Karma Yogi, who dedicated his whole life in the service of mankind through Science.