Jagadish Chandra Bose

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (November 30, 1858 – November 23, 1937) born in a Bengali Hindu Kayasth family was a polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and writer of science fiction. He pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made very significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent. He is considered one of the fathers of radio science,[3] and is also considered the father of Bengali science fiction. He was the first person from the Indian subcontinent to get a US patent, in 1904.

Born during the British Raj, Bose graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta. He then went to the University of London to study medicine, but could not complete his studies due to health problems. He returned to India and joined the Presidency College of University of Calcutta as a Professor of Physics. There, despite racial discrimination and a lack of funding and equipment, Bose carried on his scientific research. He made remarkable progress in his research of remote wireless signaling and was the first to use semiconductor junctions to detect radio signals. However, instead of trying to gain commercial benefit from this invention Bose made his inventions public in order to allow others to develop on his research. Subsequently, he made some pioneering discoveries in plant physiology. He used his own invention, the crescograph, to measure plant response to various stimuli, and thereby scientifically proved parallelism between animal and plant tissues. Although Bose filed for a patent for one of his inventions due to peer pressure, his reluctance to any form of patenting was well known. He is being recognised for many of his contributions to modern science

Bose was born in Munshiganj District in Bengal (now in Bangladesh) on November 30, 1858. His father, Bhagawan Chandra Bose, was a Brahmo and leader of the Brahmo Samaj and worked as a deputy magistrate/ assistant commissioner in Faridpur, Bardhaman and other places. His family hailed from the village Rarikhal, Bikrampur, in the current day Munshiganj District of Bangladesh.

Bose’s education started in a vernacular school, because his father believed that one must know one’s own mother tongue before beginning English, and that one should know also one’s own people. Speaking at the Bikrampur Conference in 1915, Bose 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. I listened spellbound to their stories of birds, animals and aquatic creatures. Perhaps these stories created in my mind a keen interest in investigating the workings of Nature. When I returned home from school accompanied by my school fellows, my mother welcomed and fed all of us without discrimination. Although she was an orthodox old fashioned lady, she never considered herself guilty of impiety by treating these ‘untouchables’ as her own children. It was because of my childhood friendship with them that I could never feel that there were ‘creatures’ who might be labelled ‘low-caste’. I never realised that there existed a ‘problem’ common to the two communities, Hindus and Muslims.”

Bose joined the Hare School in 1869 and then St. Xavier’s School at Kolkata. In 1875, he passed the Entrance Examination (equivalent to school graduation) of University of Calcutta and was admitted to St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta. At St. Xavier’s, Bose came in contact with Jesuit Father Eugene Lafont, who played a significant role in developing his interest to natural science. He received a bachelor’s degree from University of Calcutta in 1879.

Bose wanted to go to England to compete for the Indian Civil Service. However, his father, a civil servant himself, canceled the plan. He wished his son to be a scholar, who would “rule nobody but himself.” Bose went to England to study Medicine at the University of London. However, he had to quit because of ill health. The odour in the dissection rooms is also said to have exacerbated his illness.

Through the recommendation of Anand Mohan, his brother-in-law (sister’s husband) and the first Indian wrangler, he secured admission in Christ’s College, Cambridge to study Natural Science. He received the Natural Science Tripos from the University of Cambridge and a BSc from the University of London in 1884. Among Bose’s teachers at Cambridge were Lord Rayleigh, Michael Foster, James Dewar, Francis Darwin, Francis Balfour, and Sidney Vines. At the time when Bose was a student at Cambridge, Prafulla Chandra Roy was a student at Edinburgh. They met in London and became intimate friends.

On the second day of a two-day seminar held on the occasion of 150th anniversary of Jagadish Chandra Bose on 28-29th July at The Asiatic Society, Kolkata Professor Shibaji Raha, Director of the Bose Institute, Kolkata told in his valedictory address that he had personally checked the register of the Cambridge University to confirm the fact that in addition to Tripos he received an M.A. as well from it in 1884.

Radio research

The British theoretical physicist James Clerk Maxwell mathematically predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves of diverse wavelengths, but he died in 1879 before his prediction was experimentally verified. British physicist Oliver Lodge demonstrated the existence of Maxwell’s waves transmitted along wires in 1887-88. The German physicist Heinrich Hertz showed experimentally, in 1888, the existence of electromagnetic waves in free space. Subsequently, Lodge pursued Hertz’s work and delivered a commemorative lecture in June 1894 (after Hertz’s death) and published it in book form. Lodge’s work caught the attention of scientists in different countries including Bose in India.

The first remarkable aspect of Bose’s follow up microwave research was that he reduced the waves to the millimetre level (about 5 mm wavelength). He realised the disadvantages of long waves for studying their light-like properties.

In 1893, Nikola Tesla demonstrated the first public radio communication. One year later, during a November 1894 (or 1895) public demonstration at Town Hall of Kolkata, Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using millimetre range wavelength microwaves. Lieutenant Governor Sir William Mackenzie witnessed Bose’s demonstration in the Kolkata Town Hall. Bose wrote in a Bengali essay, Adrisya Alok (Invisible Light), “The invisible light can easily pass through brick walls, buildings etc. Therefore, messages can be transmitted by means of it without the mediation of wires.” In Russia, Popov performed similar experiments. In December 1895, Popov’s records indicate that he hoped for distant signalling with radio waves.

Bose’s first scientific paper, “On polarisation of electric rays by double-refracting crystals” was communicated to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in May 1895, within a year of Lodge’s paper. His second paper was communicated to the Royal Society of London by Lord Rayleigh in October 1895. In December 1895, the London journal the Electrician (Vol 36) published Bose’s paper, “On a new electro-polariscope”. At that time, the word ‘coherer’, coined by Lodge, was used in the English-speaking world for Hertzian wave receivers or detectors. The Electrician readily commented on Bose’s coherer. (December 1895). The Englishman (18 January 1896) quoted from the Electrician and commented as follows:

”Should Professor Bose succeed in perfecting and patenting his ‘Coherer’, we may in time see the whole system of coast lighting throughout the navigable world revolutionised by a Bengali scientist working single handed in our Presidency College Laboratory.”

Bose planned to “perfect his coherer” but never thought of patenting it.

In May 1897, two years after Bose’s public demonstration in Kolkata, Marconi conducted his wireless signalling experiment on Salisbury Plain. Bose went to London on a lecture tour in 1896 and met Marconi, who was conducting wireless experiments for the British post office. In an interview, Bose expressed disinterest in commercial telegraphy and suggested others use his research work. In 1899, Bose announced the development of a “iron-mercury-iron coherer with telephone detector” in a paper presented at the Royal Society, London.

It appears that Bose’s demonstration of remote wireless signalling has priority over Marconi. He was the first to use a semiconductor junction to detect radio waves, and he invented various now commonplace microwave components. In 1954, Pearson and Brattain gave priority to Bose for the use of a semi-conducting crystal as a detector of radio waves. Further work at millimetre wavelengths was almost nonexistent for nearly 50 years. In 1897, Bose described to the Royal Institution in London his research carried out in Kolkata at millimetre wavelengths. He used waveguides, horn antennas, dielectric lenses, various polarisers and even semiconductors at frequencies as high as 60 GHz; much of his original equipment is still in existence, now at the Bose Institute in Kolkata. A 1.3 mm multi-beam receiver now in use on the NRAO 12 Metre Telescope, Arizona, U.S.A. incorporates concepts from his original 1897 papers.

Sir Nevill Mott, Nobel Laureate in 1977 for his own contributions to solid-state electronics, remarked that “J.C. Bose was at least 60 years ahead of his time” and “In fact, he had anticipated the existence of P-type and N-type semiconductors.”

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