Jagadish Chandra Bose

(1858 – 1937)

Jagadis Chandra Bose (1858 -1937) was one of the greatest scientists born in India. In eminence he ranks with Satyendranath Bose and C.V. Raman. He did pioneering work and became famous as a physical scientist and plant physiologist. He put plants in par with animals and succeeded in demonstrating the parallelism between plant life and animal life. His contribution to physical science on account of his researches on electrical radiation is as important as his contribution in the field of animal and plant physiology.

J.C. Bose presented his thesis at an international conference of scientists (1900) at Paris. The thesis, which discussed the responses of animate and inanimate objects to electrical current and also to heat or poison, was received by the erudite audience with dismay and admiration. None other than Swami Vivekananda was one among the audience and he was excited at the originally brilliant presentation of the young Indian scientist.

Jagadis was born in 1858 in Mymensingh, now in Bangladesh, to Bhagawan Chandra Bose, the founder of a school in the locality,  the first headmaster of the first English school in the area and the one who became a just and energetic deputy magistrate of Faridpur. Matriculating at the age of 16 with a scholarship, Jagadis entered St Xavier's College in Calcutta, where he came to know Father Lafont, an illustrious teacher of physics. It was this teacher's influence which led to his taking up Physics in spite of his own inclination towards the study of living things. Jagadis left for England in 1880 and took up medical studies in London which included zoology, botany and anatomy, apart from physics and chemistry. But later he gave up the study of medicine and pursued the study of science at Cambridge. Returning to India with a degree, he took up the professorship of physics at the Presidency College in Calcutta. In 1887, he married Abala Das, a student of the Madras Medical College and the second daughter of his father's friend Durgamohan Das. He took a vow on his 36th birthday that he would spent the rest of his life in learning and teaching science and doing research on the fundamental aspects of living beings. When he started research, he had no laboratory to speak of. Yet within three months he was able to build a new apparatus for his first work on electric radiation. Within a year, the Royal society, the premier scientific body in Britain, undertook the publication of his studies and even gave him a research grant.

Though known more as biologist, Bose's contributions to Physics too are valued highly even today. He continued his research on a variety of topics like animals, metals and plants. He made several instruments including the one to record the growth rate and another one to record the responses of plants. He proved that in plants there is respiration without gills or lungs, digestion without stomach and movement without muscle, so there is excitation without a highly developed nervous system. He showed for the first time that such stimulations were always accompanied by the generation of an electric current, as in animals. There was also a change in electrical conductivity and a mechanical response, detected by his magnifying device called the Optic Lever. Thus he gave a place of honour for the plants.

The greatest dream of this great scientist was to set up a scientific institute similar to the Royal Institution of London. The necessary funds came from various sources and there were donations. He raised funds by travelling all over and demonstrating his discoveries and inventions. The government of India too helped him, and on his 59th birthday the Bose Institute was formally inaugurated.

He died in 1937. His important works included the following: Comparative electro-physiology, Response to the living and non-living, Plant response, Life movements of plants, Nervous mechanism of plants, Motor mechanism of plants, Plants autographs and their elevations, Growth and movements in plants, and Avyakta, a compilation of articles in Bengali.