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Bose, Sir Jagadish Chandra

Category: Genius


Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (30 November 1858 – 23 November 1937) was a man of extraordinary genius, a genius sprinkled with just a dash of mysticism.

Born in British controlled India, he laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent, but contributed to scientific progress in numerous other countries.

From “Beyond Boundaries: from Physics to Plant Sciences”- Christ’s College, Cambridge

A distinguished alumnus of Christ’s College, where he studied Natural Sciences, Jagadis Chandra Bose was a true polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist and a writer of science fiction…… he was the first person in the world to demonstrate wireless transmission of electromagnetic waves after returning to India in 1885.
He then moved on to study plant physiology in which he demonstrated how plants responded to various stimuli as if they had nervous systems like those of animals, demonstrating they could feel pain and understand affection.
In 1898 Bose wrote Niruddesher Kahini, becoming the first science fiction writer in the Bengali language. He was knighted in 1917, made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920, was a member of the League of Nations’ Committee for Intellectual Cooperation and was a founding Fellow of what is now the Indian National Science Academy.


His other honours included:

  • Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE, 1903)
  • Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI, 1912)
  • Member of the Vienna Academy of Sciences, 1928
  • President of the 14th session of the Indian Science Congress in 1927.
  • Member of Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters in 1929.

The Indian Botanic Garden was renamed as the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden on 25 June 2009.  A crater on the moon has also been named in his honour.


Wireless and telecommunications

Bose was the first to produce millimeter-length radio waves and study their properties. And in recent years there has been welcome news of proper credit being given to Bose for his pioneering work in the area of wireless telegraphy. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in one of their publications wrote :

Our investigative research into the origin and first major use of solid state diode detector devices led to the discovery that the first transatlantic wireless signal in Marconi’s world-famous experiment was received by Marconi using the iron mercury-iron-coherer with a telephone detector invented by Sir J.C. Bose in 1898.

Bose was a pioneer in microwave optics technology. He was the first to show that semiconductor rectifiers could detect radio waves. Bose’s galena receiver was amongst the earliest examples of a lead sulphide photo conducting device. Bose made remarkable progress in his research of remote wireless signalling and was the first to use semiconductor junctions to detect radio signals.

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. In fact, he had anticipated the existence of P-type and N-type semiconductors."

Research into plants

Bose made a number of 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. To facilitate his research, he constructed automatic recorders capable of registering extremely slight movements; these instruments produced some striking results, such as Bose's demonstration of an apparent power of feeling in plants, exemplified by the quivering of injured plants.


Bose’s theories about the relationship between living and non-living and plant’s response to stimuli were not taken seriously in his time and even today some of his ideas are regarded as ‘esoteric’.  But in the context of what is at last happening today, where an understanding of spirit/software as the driver of form/physical/hardware is at last beginning to trickle through, his findings are an exceptionally important contribution to any study of what has consciousness and what consciousness actually is. 

He recognised the difference between perceptions and memory.  He recognised the universality of perceptions – that all objects, animate and inanimate, have perceptions but only some have organised database like memory.  He also made major contributions in our understanding of emotions, with descriptions of how many emotions that we label with different words, are simply degrees of intensity in one overall emotion eg miserable, very sad, sad, at ease, happy, ecstatic.

Henri-Louis Bergson would develop similar theories, but his philosophical studies complement Bose’s practical studies, and Bose extended their relevance to plants, not just humans and other animals.


The crescograph

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was born in Mymensingh, Bengal Presidency during the British Raj.  He graduated from St. Xavier's College, Calcutta and then went to the University of London to study medicine:

after a year’s study he had to abandon his plan to study medicine because of the recurrence of a fever he had contracted earlier, which was exacerbated by the odours of the dissecting rooms.

The ‘fever’ was caused by malaria, and over the course of his life Bose had repeated attacks and life threatening recurrences of the illness.  In September 1900, for example, whilst in the UK, Bose fell ill and was confined for two months.

Thus instead of medicine, Bose turned to Natural sciences and conducted his studies and research with the Nobel Laureate Lord Rayleigh at Cambridge, and after gaining his degree, he returned to India. He then joined the Presidency College of University of Calcutta as a Professor of Physics.  

Bose was the first Indian to be appointed Professor of Physics in the Presidency College. His appointment was strongly opposed by Sir Alfred Croft, then Director of Public Instruction of Bengal and Mr. Charles R. Tawney, Principal of the Presidency College. But Bose finally managed to get the appointment because of the intervention of Lord Ripon, then Viceroy of India. In getting his appointment Bose was helped by Professor Fawcett, the economist and then Postmaster-General of Britain.


As a female I can greatly empathise with Bose in the trials and tribulations he had to go through.  Though Bose, because of Lord Ripon’s personal intervention, was given an appointment in the higher service he was taken on temporary basis with one-half of the pay attached to such an appointment. Bose protested and he asked for the same salary as a European was entitled to get. When his protest was not entertained, he refused to accept his salary. He continued his teaching assignment for three years without any salary. Finally both the Director of Public Instruction and the Principal of the Presidency College fully realised the value of Bose’s skill in teaching and ‘also his lofty character’. As a result his appointment was made permanent with retrospective effect. He was given the full salary he was owed.  He used it to pay off his father’s debts.

In 1894 on his thirty-fifth birthday Bose decided to pursue scientific research. There was no laboratory or apparatus he could use and he had no peers. He conducted his researches in a small 24 square foot room, which he was given in the Presidency College. With the help of an untrained tinsmith he devised and constructed new apparatus for his first research on ‘electric radiation’. Bose was inspired to study the properties of electric waves after reading Oliver Lodge’s book Heinrich Hertz and His Successors. Bose devised and fabricated a new type of ‘radiator’ for generating radio waves. He also built a unique and highly sensitive ‘Coherer’ or radio receiver for receiving radio waves.


In May 1895, he read his first research paper before the Asiatic Society of Bengal ‘On the polarisation of Electric Rays by Double Reflecting Crystals”. In the same year one of his papers entitled “On the Determination of the Indices of Refraction of Sulphur for the Electric Ray” was communicated to the Royal Society of London by Lord Rayleigh. The paper was read before the Royal Society in December 1895 and it was accepted for publication in the Society’s proceedings in January 1896. Bose’s three articles were published in The Electrician of Friday 27 December. These were probably the first papers to be published by an Indian in a western scientific periodical.

The Royal Society of London not only accepted his paper for publication, they also offered him financial help from their Parliamentary grant so that Bose could continue his researches. The University of London awarded him Doctor of Science ( DSc) without any examination. Lord Kelvin congratulated Bose by stating that he was “literally filled with wonder and admiration…for his success in the difficult and novel experimental problem”.

Bose sailed for England on 24th July 1896. He gave a lecture and demonstration on his new findings on radio waves at the meeting of the British Association for Advancement of Science at Liverpool. Among those present were Sir James Johnson Thomson (1856-1940), Oliver Lodge and Lord Kelvin. Bose’s peers in England were so impressed by his achievements that they wanted to help improve the conditions under which he was working. Lord Kelvin wrote to Lord George Hamilton, then Secretary of State asking that he be provided with  “a well-equipped Physical Laboratory.” This was followed by a letter jointly signed by Lord Joseph Lister (1827-1912), then President of the Royal Society, Professor Fitzerland, Sir William Ramsay, Sir George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1902) and many others, which said:
to the great importance which we attach to the establishment in the Indian Empire of a Central Laboratory for advanced teaching and research in connection with the Presidency College, Calcutta. We believe that it would be not only beneficial in respect of higher education, but also that it would largely promote the material interest of the country; and we venture to urge on you the desirability of establishing in India a Physical Laboratory worthy of that great Empire.”

The foundation of such a laboratory was laid in 1914, just one year before Bose’s retirement.


Bose had been studying the peculiar behaviour of his electric-wave receiver, which seemed to show signs of “fatigue” after prolonged use but could be `revived’ to its original sensitivity after some rest, and he took up a systematic study to understand this phenomenon. He started believing that metals too had “feelings”. From metals he turned his attention to plants and he found the latter responding more favourably to his experiment than the former and it was through this route that his studies in plants started to take form. Bose thought that he had hit upon the underlying unity in the natural world between living and non-living. Indeed, many in India thought that Bose had given a fresh scientific impetuous to the age-old wisdom of the East which believed in the basic unity of all life.

In 1900 Bose read his paper “On the Similarity Responses of Inorganic and Living Matter’ before the Paris International Congress of Physicists. Bose’s paper was considered as one of the most important ones received by the Congress. It was published in the Proceedings of the Congress.

Bose demonstrated that plant tissues under different kinds of stimuli like mechanical, application of heat, electric shock, chemicals and drugs, produce electric response similar to that produced by animal tissues. For his investigations Bose invented several novel and highly sensitive instruments. Among these the most important one was the Crescograph -an instrument for measuring the growth of a plant. It could record a growth as small as 1/100,000 inch per second.

Bose retired from educational service as Senior Professor of Physics in 1915. In fact he was to retire in 1913, on the completion of his fifty-fifth year, as per Government rules of those days. However, the Government of Bengal, in recognition of his service to the Presidency College and of his scientific achievements, extended his period of service for two years. After his retirement the Government also made him Professor Emeritus on full pay instead of pension. And this way he remained permanently connected to the Presidency College. Even after his retirement his researches were not interrupted. He continued his plant physiological investigation in a small laboratory set up in his own house. In the meantime he was also working towards the establishment of a research institute. The foundation ceremony of this institute took place on 23rd November 1917. Bose was able to collect about Rs. 11 lakhs for its endowment, in this effort he was greatly helped by his friend Rabindranath Tagore. Bose became its lifetime director.

Saha, M. N. (1940). "Sir Jagadis Chunder Bose. 1858–1937". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 3 (8): 2–0.
Bose was a man of many sided activities and interests.  He was a friend and supporter of many foremost artists and writers of Bengal … The Institute buildings erected under Bose’s direction are a beautiful example of Hindu architecture adapted to the requirements of modern life.  He was an artist in his sensibilities and romantic by temperament.

M N Saha, J C Bose, J C Ghosh, Snehamoy Dutt, S  N  Bose, D M Bose, N Sen,  J N Mukherjee, N C Nag

Beliefs and source of inspiration

Bose, despite his great achievements, was a man of great humility and love for his fellow man.  Despite discrimination and a lack of funding and equipment, Bose carried on his scientific research for the good of man.  So what inspired him?

LOVE and friendship - Bose was a close friend of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and received much emotional support from him at difficult times, friendship formed a very firm foundation for all that Bose achieved.  Bose also married Abala in 1887, who was herself a social reformer and political leader. Their 50 years of married life were described as ‘very happy’, full of varied and interesting experiences.  Lady Bose was a constant companion and helpmate for her husband, accompanying him in is early tours to places of religious and historical interest in India and in many excursions to the Himalayas.  Later in life, she accompanied her husband in all his lecture tours to foreign countries.

Squash the big I am -  Even when he made discoveries, instead of trying to gain commercial benefit from his inventions, Bose made them public in order that others could further develop his research. 

When one of his inventions was demonstrated to the Royal society, for example, the journal the Electric Engineer expressed ‘surprise that no secret was at any time made as to its construction, so that it has been open to all the world to adopt it for practical and possibly moneymaking purposes.” In 1901, one of the great manufacturers of wireless apparatus, approached Bose with an offer for his new type of receiver. Bose declined the offer. One of his American friends, Sara Bull was able to persuade Bose to file a patent application for his galena receiver. The application was filed on 30 September 1901 and it was granted on 29 March 1904 (US patent No. 755,840). However, Bose allowed the patent to lapse.   Bose’s reluctance to any form of patenting was well known.

Believing in the spiritual world [in general] - Bose was also exceptionally tolerant and well informed about the belief systems of others.  In 1875, Bose 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.  Bose as a consequence was not only exposed to Hindu and Moslem beliefs via his early vernacular schooling, but also Christian beliefs.  Father Lafont played a significant role in developing his interest in natural sciences.

Patrick Geddes:
All the pupils of Father Lafont, Professor of Physics in that College (St. Xavier’s College), recall his teaching and influence as truly educative. His wealth of experiments and vivid clearness of exposition of them, made his class the most interesting in the whole college; and his patient skill, his subtlety, as well as brilliance of experimentation, were appreciated by this young student above all.

Communing with Nature - Before seriously taking up scientific investigation (1894), Bose spent many of his vacations visiting and photographing historic places of scenic beauty, armed with a full sized camera. Thus Nature in all her forms was undoubtedly one major source of inspiration to Bose.  Some of his experiences he wrote down in vivid Bengali prose. These,together with some of his other literary addresses and writings, were published in a volume called ‘Abyakta’.

Not in matter but in thought, not in possessions nor even in attainments but in ideals, is to be found the seed of immortality. Not through material acquisition but in generous diffusion of ideas and ideals can the true empire of humanity be established. Thus to Asoka, to whom belonged this vast empire, bound by the inviolate seas, after he had tried to ransom the world by giving away to the utmost, there came a time when he had nothing more to give, except one half of an Amlaki fruit. This was his last possession, and his anguished cry was that since he had nothing more to give, let the half of the Amlaki be accepted as his final gift.

2014, at the Bose Institute in Kolkata, India


Bose's place in history has thankfully been re-evaluated. He is now credited with inventing the first wireless detection device, discovering milli-metre length electromagnetic waves, and being a pioneer in the field of biophysics.  Many of his instruments are still on display and remain largely usable now, over 100 years later. They include various antennas, polarisers, and wave-guides, which remain in use in modern forms today.

With increasing age, Bose gradually withdrew from all public activities and for the last few years lived in retirement.  He passed away peacefully on the 23rd November 1937, at his summer house in Giridih, a small town in the Manbhum district of Bengal.

Lord Geddes
“The life-story of Jagadis Bose is worthy of close and ardent consideration by all young Indians whose purpose is shaping itself towards the service of science or other high cause of the intelligence or social spirit. It is possible that looking upon the triumph of the end and knowing nothing of the long uphill road, the slow costly attainment of ends, they may think that a fine laboratory or other material endowment the antecedent condition of successful achievement in intellectual creation. The truth indeed, is far otherwise. The countless obstacles which had to be surmounted only called forth in Bose all the endurance and all the effort which are latent in manly natures, welding them to the fullest strength of character and intensity of thought by which alone a great life-task can be accomplished. In contemplating the great career of his fellow countrymen, the young India will be stimulated to put brain and hand to fine tasks, nothing fearing. Thus will he be inspired not only to recover the noble intellectual tradition of the Indian past, but to restate these traditions in modern times and find the greatest challenge for mind and soul in achieving their vital relation with the coming age



Books written by Bose

Response in the Living and Nonliving, Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1902.
Plant Response as a Means of Physiological Investigations, Longmans, Green & Co. London, 1906.
Comparative Electro-Physiology, Longmans, Green & Co. London 1907.
Researches on the Irritability of Plants, Longmans, Green & Co. London 1913
Collected Physical Papers, Longmans, Green & Co. London 1920.
Plant Autographs and Their Revelations. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1927.
Abyakta (in Bengali) Bangyia Vigyan Parishad, Calcutta, 1921
Physiology of Ascent of Sap, Longmans, Green & Co. London 1923
Letters to Rabindranath Tagore (in Bengali Patrabali), (edited & annotated by D.Sen). The Bose Institute, Calcutta, 1994.

Niruddesher Kahini (The Story of the Missing One), 1896 - a short story that was later expanded and added to Abyakta (অব্যক্ত) collection in 1921 with the new title Palatak Tuphan (Runaway Cyclone). It was one of the first works of Bengali science fiction. It has been translated into English by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay.

For Further Reading

Geddes, P. The Life and Works of Sir Jagadish C.Bose. Longmans, Green & Co. London 1920

Saha, M. N. (1940). "Sir Jagadis Chunder Bose. 1858–1937". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 3 (8): 2–0.


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