Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose

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Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose

Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose (1858-1937) was an Indian physicist and plant physiologist who did pioneering work in the measurement of plant growth and the responsiveness of plants to external stimuli.

The life and scientific career of Jagadis Chandra Bose are rooted in the social ferment and the vital nationalism that made Bengal the intellectual center of India in the 19th century. He was born on Nov. 30, 1858, at Mymensingh (now in East Bengal), where his father was a deputy magistrate. The elder Bose sent Jagadis to the traditional village school to give him a grounding in Indian culture and then to St. Xavier's school and college in Calcutta, where a Jesuit teacher encouraged his scientific interests.

At great financial hardship to the family, Bose went to the University of London in 1880 to study medicine; after a year he transferred to Cambridge to study science. He received degrees from Cambridge in 1884 and from London in 1885. His teachers, including the famous physicist Lord Rayleigh, recognized his brilliance and recommended him to high British officials in India for employment. Bose became professor of physics at Presidency College, Calcutta. Although he encountered some discrimination as the first Indian to hold the post, within a few years he was acknowledged as a scientist of a caliber unknown before in India. At that time there was virtually no provision for scientific research in Indian universities, so his achievements were all the more extraordinary. In 1887 he married a Madras medical student, Abala Das, who shared in her husband's scientific interests.

Bose's first experiments, which concerned the transmission of electrical energy, were extensions of the work of such pioneers as James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Rudolph Hertz. This work led Bose to an interest in the possibilities of radio communication, and some of his experiments paralleled, if they did not actually precede, those of Guglielmo Marconi. Bose is said to have demonstrated radio transmission in Calcutta in 1895.

Researches in Plant Life

Bose then turned to the work that brought him his greatest fame: the measurement of the responses of plants to such stimuli as light, sound, touch, and electricity. His research convinced him that there were no clear-cut boundaries between the nervous systems of plants and of animals. To carry out his experiments, he invented the crescograph, an instrument capable of magnifying the movements of growth in plants 10 million times.

Bose's experiments brought him world fame while he was still a young man, and he made many lecture tours to the universities of Europe and America. The British government knighted him in 1916, the year after his retirement from Presidency College. The validity of his experiments was often attacked, partly on the basis of his experimental techniques, but more often because of the mystical, religious implications that he found in his research, as when he claimed that plants, like animals, adjusted to change through "inherited memory of the past." He insisted that not only could no line be drawn between plants and animals but that his researches had shown there was no line between living and nonliving matter. He felt that he had substantiated in the laboratory the Hindu religious belief that the whole universe was an aspect of the Eternal One.

Bose was deeply patriotic, and his encouragement of research in the universities and in the Bose Research Institute, which he founded in Calcutta in 1917, was a reflection of his conviction that Indians must add scientific skills to their great religious tradition. He succeeded in communicating his own enthusiasm and excitement to a new generation of students, who carried on his work. He died on Nov. 23, 1937.

Further Reading

The most interesting biography of Bose is Patrick Geddes, The Life and Work of Sir Jagadis C. Bose (1920). Geddes, a town planner and social scientist, examined Bose's life in the context of the social changes of that time. Sir Jagadish Chunder Bose: His Life, Discoveries and Writings (1921) is useful for examples of Bose's writings. Monoranjon Gupta, Jagadishchandra Bose: A Biography (1964), corrects some factual errors in Geddes's work, gives a fuller account of Bose's life, and lists Bose's numerous publications.

Additional Sources

Nandy, Ashis, Alternative sciences: creativity and authenticity in two Indian scientists, New Delhi: Allied, 1980. □

Bose, Jagadis Chunder

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Bose, Jagadis Chunder

(b. Mymensingh, Bengal, India [now East Pakistan], 30 November 1858; d. Giridih, Bengal, India, 23 November 1937)

physics, comparative physiology.

The son of a deputy magistrate, Bose studied at St. Xavier’s, a Jesuit college in Calcutta, and then went to London to study medicine. He transferred to Cambridge University after receiving a scholarship to Christ’s College and graduated in natural science in 1884. He was immediately appointed to the professorship of physics at Presidency College, Calcutta, where he remained until his retirement in 1915.

Bose first attracted worldwide attention in 1895 with his meticulous experiments on the quasi-optical properties of very short radio waves, which led him to design and construct some fine generating apparatus. His improvements in the coherer, a tube of iron filings widely used as an early form of radio detector, were of both scientific and technological importance, and led him to formulate a more general theory of the properties of contact-sensitive substances that figures in the history of solid-state physics.

Bose was struck by the way in which the responses of certain inorganic substances to various stimuli resembled biological response. That observation led him to compare the behaviors of animal and plant tissue, a study that occupied him for the rest of his life. His papers and lectures on these subjects fell short of general acceptance, however. In 1901 and again in 1904, his papers were rejected by the Royal Society, partly because of the philosophical terms in which they were couched. Today, when biophysics is a generally recognized discipline and comparative physiology rests on a more scientific basis, the idea that animal and plant tissues exhibit similar responses seems less controversial and may even be taken as foreshadowing Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics. Bose aroused general admiration, however, for the extremely sensitive automatic recordres he devised to measure plant growth with great precision and for the way in which he used them to accumulate records of microscopic changes caused by various stimuli.

Bose was knighted in 1917 and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1920, the first Indian physicist so honored. In 1915 he had retired from government service to organize the Bose Research Institute, which he founded in 1917, largely with his own considerable fortune but also with contributions from private well-wishers and from the government of India. He was a great friend of another famous Bengali, the Nobel Prize-winning author Rabindranath Tagore. Bose was happily married for fifty years to Abala Das, daughter of the Calcutta lawyer and political leader Durga Mohan Das.


I. Original Works. Bose’s books are Response in the Living and Non-living (London, 1902); Plant Response as a Means of Physiological Investigation (London, 1906); Electro-physiology: A Physico-physiological Study (London, 1907); Researches on Irritability of Plants (London, 1913); Life Movements in plants (Calcutta, 1918); The Physiology of the Ascent of Sap (London, 1923); The physiology of Photosynthesis (London, 1924); Mechanism of Plants (London, 1926); Plant Autographs and Their Revelations (London, 1927); and Tropic Movement of Plants (London, 1929).

His Collected Physical Papers (London, 1927) were compiled by Bose himself.

II. Secondary Literature. A contemporary biography is Sir Patrick Geddes, The Life and Work of Sir Jagadis C. Bose (London, 1920). An obituary by M. N. Saha appears in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 3 (1940), 2–12. An appreciation by S. K. Mitra is in Journal of the British Institution of Radio Engineers, 18 (1958), 661; an announcement of an annual award named in Bose’s honor appears in an earlier issue of the same journal: 13 (1953), 130.

Charles SÜsskind

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