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Why Jagadish Chandra Bose And His Legacy Must Be Celebrated The World Over

The life and mind of a genius.

30/11/2016 11:45 AM IST | Updated 30/11/2016 12:35 PM IST
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One of the first lessons in kindness we are taught in life is not to harm plants -- because they, too are sentient beings, our elders tell us. Like animals, vegetation breathes in and out, feels pain and anxiety, eats food and reproduces, grows and dies. Such notions may not seem revolutionary any longer, but it was thanks to one Bengali scientist that the world learned of these facts only about a hundred years ago. That incredible man was Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937).

In case you're seeing the Google homepage today in India, France, the US or Australia, you will find a doodle dedicated to Bose on the occasion of his 158th birth anniversary. His legacy is not for India to celebrate alone, but for the entire world to remember with gratitude.

Born to an affluent family in Mymensingh, now in Bangladesh, on 30 November 1858, Bose had a lively curiosity since childhood. "Although he wasn't overly exposed to nature as a child, he loved to hear the other children talk about their adventures in the outdoors," says Gizmodo about his early life, "and as an adult he reflected that their stories might have sparked an early interest in the sciences."

Even though he went on to study medicine in London, poor health made him shift to the natural sciences, which, in the 19th century, embraced a wide range of subjects, including physics. On his return to India Bose started teaching the subject at Presidency College, Calcutta, though the experience wasn't always pleasant.

Working as a researcher during the height of the British Raj, he faced racial discrimination and was barred from the laboratories a number of times. Undeterred, he went on with his pursuits, pioneering discoveries in radio transmission. He demonstrated the ringing of a bell as well as explosion of gunpowder by activating devices remotely, but refused to take patents on his inventions. He believed his discoveries should remain publicly accessible for these to have the maximum impact. Bose also created the Mercury Coherer, a radio wave receiver, which was used for long-distance communication later on.

However, it was in the field of botany that his extraordinary genius came through. Using a machine called crescograph, which he made, Bose showed a way of measuring growth in plants by amplifying the process 10,000 times. He proved plants too have emotions, their own ways of responding to stimuli, especially to affection and pain, often by allowing their physiology to morph according to changes in temperature and seasons.

Equally gifted with the written word, Bose is remembered as one of the early writers of science-fiction fantasy in Bengali. A small crater on the far side of the Moon is named after him, in recognition for his contributions to wireless technology, which paved the way for satellite communication. Bose was also elected the Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920 and founded the Bose Institute in Calcutta, one of the oldest and most reputed research organisations in India.

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