Jagadish Chandra Bose and the invention of radio

Jagadish Chandra Bose in Royal Institution, London

Jagadish Chandra Bose in Royal Institution, London

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, A Black, for sharing the following article from the excellent Hackaday blog:


The early days of electricity appear to have been a cutthroat time. While academics were busy uncovering the mysteries of electromagnetism, bands of entrepreneurs were waiting to pounce on the pure science and engineer solutions to problems that didn’t even exist yet, but could no doubt turn into profitable ventures. We’ve all heard of the epic battles between Edison and Tesla and Westinghouse, and even with the benefit of more than a century of hindsight it’s hard to tell who did what to whom. But another conflict was brewing at the turn of 19th century, this time between an Indian polymath and an Italian nobleman, and it would determine who got credit for laying the foundations for the key technology of the 20th century – radio.

Appointment and Disappointment

In 1885, a 27-year old Jagadish Chandra Bose returned to his native India from England, where he had been studying natural science at Cambridge. Originally sent there to study medicine, Bose had withdrawn due to ill-health exacerbated by the disagreeable aroma of the dissection rooms. Instead, Bose returned with a collection of degrees in multiple disciplines and a letter of introduction that prompted the Viceroy of India to request an appointment for him at Presidency College in Kolkata (Calcutta). One did not refuse a viceroy’s request, and despite protests by the college administration, Bose was appointed professor of physics.

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3 thoughts on “Jagadish Chandra Bose and the invention of radio

  1. Sushobhan Roy

    Thanks Mr. Richard for sharing the valuable info! The world should know about this incredible polymath of Bengal (Physicist; Biologist; Biophysicist, Botanist; archaeologist; and yes, a great writer in Bengali!).

    Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937),
    (1) Invented ‘Mercury Coherer’ (which was used by Marconi to receive the radio signal in his first transatlantic radio communication over a distance of 2000 miles in December, 1901: for what so called ‘achievement’ he was celebrated worldwide) which was first of its kind.

    (2) Secondly, in November 1895, Sir J.C. Bose gave his first public demonstration of the radio wave in Calcutta (now Kolkata), with his arrangement he ignited some gunpowder and rang a bell. At Town Hall he sent an electromagnetic wave across 75 feet (the signal travelled from the lecture room, and through an intervening room and passage, to a third room, distant from the radiator, thus passing through three solid walls on the way) and through body of the Chairman, Alexander Mackenzie (who happened to be the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal). The Electrician magazine commented on Bose’s Coherer (December 1895). Next year, The Englishman quoted from the magazine: “Should Professor Bose succeed in perfecting and patenting his ‘Coherer’, we may in time see the whole system of coast lighting throughout the navigable world revolutionised by a Bengali scientist working single handed in our Presidency College Laboratory. (18th January 1896)” The British newspaper, Daily Chronicle reported: “The inventor (J. C. Bose) has transmitted signals to a distance of nearly a mile and herein lies the first and obvious and exceedingly valuable application of this new theoretical marvel.”

    (3) Thirdly, Sir Bose hold the first patent in the world (although he was not interested in patenting his pioneering work rather planned to make it perfect) to invent a solid-state diode detector for EM waves, which was built using galena crystal.

    (4) He was Fellow of Royal Society (FRS), much ahead of his time (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.”), but despite his groundbreaking research in Radio-physics, did not want to commercially exploit this achievement and consciously refused to make billion dollars.

    (5) He, then did his astonishing work in Biophysics. Sir Bose invented ‘Crescograph’ and ‘Auxanometer’. He was the first to study the action of microwaves in plant tissues and corresponding changes in the cell membrane potential. He hypothesised that plants can “feel pain, understand affection etc.”

    (6) A great litterateur! Wrote only one book in his mother tongue (i.e. Bengali/ Bangla language) named ‘Abyakta’ [‘???????’ means: unexpressed/ inexpressible] which is immensely enriched with poetic panache. He was an early writer of science fiction; wrote a short story (collected in the aforementioned book with his other creative writings) called “Palátak Tuphán” [“????? ?????” means: “Eluded Storm”] actually deals with ‘surface tension of liquids’ in a very much unexpectedly amusing manner (published in 1896).

    (7) It’s a common trait of the Bengali scholars that they love literature, often enjoy to write and write really good. There was many engineer-poets and mathematician-musician and poet-filmmakers and philosopher-physicist and every possible combination. For example, Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974) advocated for Bengali as a medium ideal for teaching science, especially physics among educated fellows of his state and citizen of his country. He was a polymath and a polyglot. He loved to play ‘Esraj’ (an Indian string-instrument similar to the violin). He was another ‘Bose’! Who was he? The physicist after whom Paul Dirac named the particles with integer spin; hence there is two family in the sub-atomic world of ‘Particle Physics’ viz.: Fermion (after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi) & Boson (after S.N. Bose). He was behind the world-renowned ‘Bose-Einstein Statistics’ (1924) and the theory of ‘Bose-Einstein Condensate’ confirming the discovery of a new phase of matter. He again became relevant and topic of discussion/debate in 2013 at the holy moment of discovering the ‘Higgs-Boson’ (the iconic “God Particle”) and the subsequent Nobel prize winning of Peter Higgs. Legacy of S.N. Bose is a different story.

    (8) Lord Kelvin, Lord Rayleigh and all of those senior scientists of 19th century applauded for his achievements. But still Sir J.C. Bose haven’t got his legitimate recognition today. It’s like the tragedy of Nicola Tesla (1856-1943), the wizard of electricity, who invented AC current (along with numerous technological innovations) and helped mankind to enter a whole new era. But we read about Edison and the textbooks usually circulating in schools always implant wrong history in the minds of every new generation.

    (9) I am a big fan of Tesla, but yes, again, in the field of radio-physics, there is nobody comparable to Bose at all. I think there’s a light. On 14 September 2012, Bose’s experimental work in millimetre-band radio was recognised as an IEEE Milestone in Electrical and Computer Engineering, the first such recognition of a discovery in India.

    (10) We, the Bengalis, generally call him “Acharya” [“??????” means: master, teacher, “an influential mentor” or etymologically: “Hindu or Buddhist spiritual leader”] instead of “Sir”. And the name “Jagadish Chandra Bose” is itself the anglicised form of “Jagadishchandra Basu” [In Bengali: ??????????? ??? (where ‘Chandra’ is not a middle name)]. He is the unsung hero of Radio-physics.

  2. Richard Langley

    One of my favourite technical authors is Paul J. Nahin, professor emeritus in the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of New Hampshire. In his book The Science of Radio (2nd edition), he comments on the work of Sir Jagadish:
    “Rayleigh was apparently motivated to do his theoretical study [[on microwave waveguides]] after visiting the world’s second microwave radio laboratory, that of his former student Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937). (Bose publicly demonstrated his microwave equipment before the Royal Institution in London years before Tesla made his claim to have secretly achieved radio contact with Mars.) The Indian physicist had, in fact, constructed a complete transmitting-and-receiving system operating at 60,000 MHz (or 60 GHz, pronounced ‘gigahertz’). Just think–waveguide theory was first worked out when Queen Victoria still sat on the English throne, four decades before waveguides would be used in the radars that saved England from the Luftwaffe in the Second World War! See Rayleigh’s “On the passage of electric waves through tubes …,” Philosophical Magazine, February 1897, pp. 125-132, and Tapan K. Sarkar and Dipak L. Sengupta, “An Appreciation of J. C. Bose’s Pioneering Work in Millimeter Waves,” IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine 39, October 1997, pp. 55-63.”

    And, the use by Marconi of Sir Jagadish’s coherer for his trans-Atlantic work is documented here:
    Bondyopadhyay, P.K., “Sir J.C. Bose diode detector received Marconi’s first transatlantic wireless signal of December 1901 (the “Italian Navy Coherer” Scandal Revisited),” in Proceedings of the IEEE , vol.86, no.1, pp.259-285, Jan 1998, doi: 10.1109/5.658778


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