Special Supplement, Heroes of History

The Father of modern Wi-Fi

Published : 21 Nov 2019 06:48 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 05:03 PM

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.

The genius born on 30th November 1858 in the Eastern part of British India (the area now being part of Bangladesh) was a physicist, a biologist, a botanist, an archaeologist, an author, and a connoisseur of fine arts. He is most famously known for his contribution to natural sciences and has been named by Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers as one of the fathers of radio science, alongside scientists such as Tesla, Marconi, and Popov. He is also said to be the first Indian biophysicist and even the first Indian modern scientist. In fact, his work on radio and wireless communication effectively make him the father of modern Wi-Fi.

The Making of a Prodigy

Bose was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. His father, Bhagawan Chandra Bose, was a civil servant in British India and held prestigious positions of responsibility in the then Bengal Presidency, apart from being active in reform movements. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose could have had a very comfortable upbringing, with negligible contact with the problems that the rest of the country was facing in those times, under the colonial rule of the British. However, his father chose to have him start his education at a vernacular school founded by his father, as opposed to an expensive English-language school, where he would get a chance to learn his own language (Bangla) and know and understand his people. He was raised in a home committed to pure Indian traditions and culture. The impact of this early-life humility and contact with the masses stayed with Bose throughout his life and was clear in his attitude toward his work and life.

The Mentorship of Eugène Lafont

Eugène Lafont was a Belgian priest, who became a missionary in India, where he went on to become a scientist, and also found the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science to increase people's awareness of and interest in science. Lafont was a research scholar, an inventor, but most of all, an educator. He served in the Senate of the University of Calcutta for many years, and his Association served as the center of research for several noted scientists, including Nobel Laureate Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (CV Raman), and his protégé of sorts, Sir Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan (KS Krishnan).

Lafont inspired in Bose a great interest in physics and natural sciences. Bose started out as his student, but quickly grew to become friends with him.

Bose's Return to India

He returned to India in 1885 and took up a job as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Presidency College, the oldest college in Calcutta. In his time there till 1915, Bose observed the racism at the workplace: the salary differential between Indians and Brits was 3X! He held a steadfast protest against this horrible system by refusing to accept the lower salary for three years, and in the fourth year, he was finally paid in full, including the backlog since his joining!

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.

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 the 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.

The device can take measurements of the order of 1/100,000th of an inch! Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose's first experiments were conducted with a leaf, a carrot, and a turnip plucked from his own garden.

As per his biography on Daily Sun:

The who's who of the scientific community had all gathered at the central hall of the Royal Society in London on May 10, 1901. Everyone wanted to know how Bose would demonstrate that plants have "feelings" similar to other living beings.

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose chose a plant whose mots were cautiously dipped up to the stems in a vessel filled with bromide solution, considered poisonous. He plugged in the crescograph with the plant and viewed the lighted spot on a screen showing the movements of the plant. The spot began to move in a pendulum-like motion with the "pulse" of the plant. As the bromide began to act, within minutes, the spot began to vibrate violently and finally came to a stop, akin to an animal fighting poison.

The event was greeted with much appreciation however, some physiologists were not content, and considered Bose an intruder. They harshly knocked the experiment but Bose did not give up and was quite confident about his findings. Using the crescograph, he further researched the response of the plants to other stimuli such as fertilizers, light rays, and wireless waves. The instrument received widespread acclaim, particularly from the Path Congress of Science in 1900. Many physiologists also corroborated his findings later on, using more advanced instruments.

Bose himself wrote: “All around us, the plants are communicating. We just don’t notice it.” His research was also instrumental in helping humans understand how to better care for plants, and also paved the way for enhanced research into crop cultivation and agricultural best practices.

He was also the first to study the action of microwaves in plant tissues and the changes in the plant cell membrane potential, proving through this study that plants are sensitive to pain and affection.

To spread the knowledge from his learnings to the world, Bose described his experiments and their results in his 1902 paper/book,”Responses in the Living and Non-Living”. He described how plants feel pleasure and pain. Under the effect of stimuli like pleasant and gentle music, the speed of growth of plants increased and decreased when exposed to harsh or loud music. Similarly, plants that were spoken to, as one would with babies and pets, would be "happier" than others.

It is now agreed that Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose had made very significant contributions to the fields of chronobiology and circadian rhythms before these were even coined. He was greatly helped in his ambitious and noble endeavor, both financially and otherwise, by Tagore. Today, this Institute also carries research on various other fields. 

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 kilometers. Its outer rim has become worn and the edges rounded by impacts, although the shape of the site has been well-preserved.

Source: Interesting engineering