Bose, Jagadischandra

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(b. Mymensingh, India [now Nasirabad, Bangladesh], 30 November 1858; d. Giridih. India. 23 November 1937)

physics. plant physiology.

Bose was the son of Bhagawanchandra Bose, a functionary in the Indian civil service, who was a deputy magistrate at Mymensingh, in the Dacca district of Bengal, at the time of his son’s birth. His mother was Bamasundari Bose. The family were members of the Kayastha caste, though Jagadis-chandra later joined the Brahmo Samaj. Bose’s early childhood was spent in Faridpur, where he attended a vernacular school established by his father. In 1869 he was enrolled in St. Xavier’s School in Calcutta, and in 1875 he passed the entrance examinations for St. Xavier’s College. where he received the B.A. in 1879. At St. Xavier he was deeply influenced by the professor of physics, the Belgian Jesuit Eugene LaFont. who had become renowned in Calcutta for his public lecture demonstrations.

Bose traveled to England in the late spring of 1880 to begin medical studies in London. Recurrent attacks of a fever (probably kala azar) contracted during his late teens, however, made those studies too taxing and he decided to pursue pure science instead. He entered Christ’s College. Cambridge, in January 1881, taking the natural science tripos and receiving the B.A. in 1884. In the same year he also was awarded the B.Sc. by London University. His teachers at Cambridge included Sydney Vines in botany. Francis Darwin in plant physiology, and Lord Rayleigh in physics. Following his return to India in 1884, Bose was appointed officiating professor of physics in the Imperial Education Service at Presidency College, Calcutta. Three years later he received a lifetime appointment as professor of physics at the college, a post he held until his retirement from the service in 1915. On 30 November 1917 he presided over the dedication of the Bose Research Institute in Calcutta. Modeled on the Royal Institution, London, the establishment was endowed from the proceeds of Bose’s own investments, from private benefactions, and from public donations. He retained the directorship of the institute until his death, although from 1931 lived in virtual retirement.

Bose has generally been regarded as the first modern Indian scientist to establish an international reputation. The first phase of his research was concerned with the generation, reception, and properties of radio waves with wavelengths of about one centimeter. He was awarded the D.Sc. from London University in 1896 for a dissertation based on this research. His first paper, “On the Polarisation of Electric Rays by Double Refracting Crystals,” was published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in May 1895. A second paper, “On the Determination of the Index of Refraction of Sulphur for the Electric Ray,’ was submitted to the Royal Society by Lord Rayleigh and was published in its Proceedings in October 1895. During that year, Bose demonstrated the capabilities of centimeter waves for wireless telegraphy, transmitting them over a distance of seventy-five feet. In 1896- 1897 the government of Bengal sent him on a nine-month lecture tour of Europe. Most of his time was spent in England, where he repeated his wireless telegraphy demonstration; he also visited France and Germany.

Bose’s attempts to improve his transmitting and receiving apparatus resulted in the observation that after being exposed for a time to centimeter radiation, most materials experience a decreasing ability to respond to further irradiation but ultimately recover their former sensitivity if left in a quiescent state. In a paper read at the 1900 International Congress of Physics in Paris, Bose likened the electrically induced fatigue in inorganic matter to muscle fatigue in living tissue. His further research on the responses of a wide variety of plants to electrical and mechanical stress led him to posit, in 1901. that vegetable matter might be regarded as a connecting link between animal and inorganic matter. Although the ingenuity of his physiological experiments was generally appreciated, his conclusions and several of his observations were disputed by a group of plant physiologists, including J. S. B. Sanderson, and several of his papers were rejected by the Royal Society.

From about 1902 until his retirement from active scientific work some thirty years later, Bose’s research was devoted primarily to studies of plant responses to a broad range of stimuli. These investigations were carried out with a number of ingenious and highly sensitive instruments of his own design. Although the precise measurements that Bose made with these instruments were generally regarded as valid, the body of his research was not taken seriously by the majority of contemporary plant physiologists. Bose’s stated ambition during the latter part of his career was to comprehend the lives of plants in their entirety. Ultimately he expressed the conviction that animal and vegetable life exhibited a fundamental unity, and also stated that science had provided him with the means to comprehend the truths inherent in the classical philosophy of India.

Bose maintained a close and lasting friendship with Rabindranath Tagore, whom he met after the poet had dedicated a poem in Bengali to him on the occasion of his return from Europe in 1897. He became a leading exponent of Tagore’s Bengali renaissance movement serving from 1911 to 1913 as president of the Bangiya Sahitya Sammilan (Bengali Literary Society).

Bose was made Companion of the Indian Empire in 1903 and Companion of the Star of India in 1912. and was knighted in 1916. In 1920 he was elected fellow’ of the Royal Society, in 1926 was appointed to the Intellectual Cooperative Committee of the league of Nations, and in 1927 was elected president of the Indian Science Congress Association.


I. Original Works. Bose’s major books are Response in the Living and Non-Living (London. 1902); Plant Response: As a Means of Physiologic al Investigation (London. 1906); Comparative Electrophysiology. A Physico-Physiohgical Study (London, 1907); Researches on Irritability of Plants (London, 1913); Life Movements in Plants, 4 vols. (Calcutta. 1918- 1921); The Ascent of Sap (London, 1922); Physiology of Photosynthesis (London, 1924): Nervous Mechanisms of Plants (London, 1926); and Plant Autographs and Their Revelations (London, 1927).

His early papers are in Collected Physical Papers (London. 1927), with a foreword by J. J. Thomson.

II. Secondary Literature. See Patrick Geddes. The Life and Work of Sir Jagadis C, Bose (London, 1920); Monoranjon Gupta. Jagadischandra Bose: A Biography (Bombay, 1964); and Meghnad Saha, “Sir Jagadis Chunder Bose.” in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London.3 (1939- 1941). 3–12. with portrait

William A. Blanpied