In a world where Leonardo da Vinci was merely a painter, one might say that Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was a scientist. But in the real world, he was much more.
[Image Source: The Birth Centenary Committee via Wikimedia Commons]
While being a terrific teacher and grooming younger scientists, Bose also started original research here in the area of microwaves, carrying out experiments involving refraction, diffraction, and polarization. Ten years after his return to India, and while still teaching at Presidency College, he demonstrated wireless communication using radio waves, nearly two years before Marconi achieved the same feat. He also suggested the existence of electromagnetic radiation from the Sun, which was confirmed much later, all the way in 1944.
During the same period, he got married to Abala Bose, spared time to write Bangla science fiction, as well as became intrigued by plants and their response phenomena. He showed that vegetable tissues produce electric responses under the effect of stimuli, just like in animals.
How Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose Proved Plants have Life
Thanks to his work in radio waves, Boss perhaps began to think about the larger world of physics, beyond what is obvious to the naked eye. He had been fascinated by the reactions seen in the mimosa (the touch-me-not plant, not the cocktail!), which, when touched or irritated, reacts with shriveling up of its leaves. His curiosity about this little-understood world of plants compelled him to study the reactions of plans to stimuli. Through his work, he was able to establish the similarities between plants and animals with respect to response to external stimuli.
Toward this area of research, Bose’s flagship contribution was the invention of a machine called the “crescograph“, a device for measuring growth in plants. There are two things in this instrument that help measure plant growth and development, and these are: a smoked glass plate and a number of clockwise gears. The plate is marked after regular distance intervals, and the clockwise gears are used to measure how growth is influenced, as well as how it moves under different conditions. The plate catches the reflection of the plant and is marked according to the movement of the plant. For measurement, the plant is dipped in bromide, which is poisonous.
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose authored two illustrious books: Response in the Living and Non-living (1902) and The Nervous Mechanism of Plants (1926).
The honours which the great Indian scientist received include Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1903, Knighthood in 1917, Member of the Vienna Academy of Sciences in 1928, Member of Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters in 1929, Founding fellow of the National Institute of Sciences of India (now renamed as the Indian National Science Academy), Companion of the Order of the Star of India in 1912, Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920, President of the 14th session of the Indian Science Congress in 1927, Member of the League of Nations’ Committee for Intellectual Cooperation, etc.
The (Relatively) Unsung National Hero
Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose’s entire lifetime of 78 years was during the British rule in India, a period that gave rise to legends such as Gandhi, who is a familiar face for almost everyone around the globe. On that scale, Bose is a lesser-known legend. Yet one or the other of his scientific achievements and inventions forms the basis of the gadgets and gizmos we use every day.
However, in British India, Bose was much more than all his accolades; he was a source of inspiration to a nation otherwise struggling for independence and a fresh identity, in a difficult economic and political climate. The Better India writes about his impact on his close friend and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore:
An avid supporter of Bose’s researches and discoveries, Tagore had always found an essence of Indian scientific spirit, a reflection of Indian national culture, in Bose’s work. In his poem for Bose, published in Kalpana, Tagore, addressing the scientist, was effusive in his praise:
“From the Temple of Science in the West,
far across the Indus, oh, my friend,
you have brought the garland of victory,
decorated the humbled head of the poor Mother…
Today, the mother has sent blessings in words of tears,
of this unknown poet.
Amidst the great Scholars of the West, brother,
these words will reach only your ears.”
As Tagore’s words portray, for a country in the throes of colonial rule, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was not just a scientist, he was a symbol of national pride. Bose too had always acknowledged his responsibilities as a scientist to revive the national pride of his country. In a letter to Tagore, he wrote:
“I am alive with the life force of the mother Earth, I have prospered with the help of the love of my countrymen. For ages, the sacrificial fire of India’s enlightenment has been kept burning, millions of Indians are protecting it with their lives, a small spark of which has reached this country through me.”
[Image Source: Google Doodle]
Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, An Undying Legacy
For a country going through an identity crisis, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was a source of immense national pride and hope. Prior to his death in 1937, he founded the Bose Institute at Calcutta, devoted primarily to the study of plants.
Bose Institute [Image Source: Patrick Geddes via Wikimedia Commons]
He was greatly helped in his ambitious and noble endeavour, both financially and otherwise, by Tagore. Today, this Institute also carries research on various other fields. As per their website:
The Institute was set up with the purpose of investigating fully, “the many and ever opening problems of the nascent science which includes both life and non-life”. Bose’s early career included many marvelously inventive and pioneering experiments on electromagnetism which, in JJ Thomson‘s words, marked, “the dawn of the revival in India, of interest in researches in the Physical Sciences”, and on the commonality of the response of plants and inorganic materials to electric and mechanical stimuli.
To recognize his achievements in the field of wireless telecommunications, among other fields, an impact crater on the far side of the Moon is named after Bose. The Bose Crater has a reported diameter of 91 kilometres. Its outer rim has become worn and the edges rounded by impacts, although the shape of the site has been well-preserved.
[Image Source: AshLin via Wikimedia Commons]
Interestingly, one tribute that is mistakenly attributed to him is the naming of Bose Corporation, an American firm that designs and sells audio equipment. Bose Corp. was actually named after its founder Amar Bose, and engineer, academic, and entrepreneur. While he probably shares his descent with Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the two aren’t related.
Today, the legend may not physically be with us, but his legacy shall endure. Several scientists have backed his work on plants using more sophisticated equipment and methods. At the same time, scientists are also trying to unravel the mystery of the molecular-level changes that happen within plants giving rise to the different reactions to different stimuli, such as light, touch, and sound.
Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose will continue to hold a unique place in the history of modern science.