Tag Archives: Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose

“We are all interconnected.” The Story of Dr. Jagadish Chandra Bose – Part II


This is my mini-bio about one of our world’s most fascinating (and unsung) scientists. I wrote it a few years ago and it first appeared in Greenwoman Volume 1. Last week I posted Part I in celebration of Dr. Bose’s birthday!

I hope you will find this man’s work, showing how close and connected we are to plants, and, indeed, to all matter, as enlightening as I did.

—Sandra Knauf

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Plant Sleep and “Death Spasms”

Dr. Bose showed that there is no physical response in the most highly organized animal tissue that does not also occur within the plant. His “Researches on Diurnal Sleep” showed that plants react with different intensity depending upon whether it is day or night, and that there is a periodic insensibility in both plants and animals that correspond to what we call sleep. Furthermore, plants’ responses matched animals’ in comparison to what time of day they become alert. By tracking reaction on an impulse through all hours of a day, Bose found that a plant “wakes up during morning slowly, becomes fully alert by noon, and becomes sleepy only after midnight, resembling man in a surprising manner.”
Dr. Bose also showed that plants undergo a “death spasm” at the time of death, that is the same as in animals’. He invented an instrument (Morograph) with which he recorded the critical point of death of a plant.

He also demonstrated that there is an essential unity regarding the effects of drugs on plant and animal tissues and that the effects were determined by the individual plant or animal’s “constitution” (size, strength, health, etc.).

In 1903 Dr. Bose presented research papers to the Royal Society on “Investigation on Mechanical Response in Plants,” “On Polar Effects of Currents on the Stimulation of Plants,” and five other related topics.

These new contributions were seen as important by the Royal Society and the papers were recommended to be published in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions. However, opposition was once again raised and publication ultimately withheld. The Royal Society stated that while Dr. Bose’s discoveries were important they were also so unexpected and so contrary to existing theories that they made the choice to reserve judgment on the research until at some future time the plants themselves could be made to record their answers to questions put to them. This stipulation was interpreted by some as the final rejection of Dr. Bose’s theories, and, worse, the support which he was relying on for his research was in danger of being withdrawn.

Undeterred, Bose directed his attention to a single goal—how to reveal the plants’ reactions by means of their own “autographs.”

In Dr. Bose’s book, Comparative Electro-physiology: A Physico-Physiological Study, he stated that plants, like animals, were single organic wholes, all parts interconnected, their activities coordinated by “conducting strands” which we call in animals, nerves. Positive and negative responses, pleasure and pain, could be determined in all organisms.

Again, Dr. Bose was treading new ground. His view on the function of nerves was seen as alarming—“causing the dividing frontiers between Physics, Physiology, and Psychology to disappear.” At this time, nerves were universally regarded as typically non-motile (or incapable of movement) and theirs responses believed to be characteristically different from those of muscle. Bose showed that nerves were indeed motile and similar to muscle in their responses; through experiment he showed that the isolated vegetal nerve was indistinguishable from that of animal nerve.

It took years for Dr. Bose to design the supersensitive instruments and apparatus which would make it possible to show plant response by means of their own “autographs.” His ingenious “Resonant and Oscillating Recorders” gave a simple and direct method of obtaining a record. “The plant by its self-made records, showed exultation with alcohol, depression with chloroform, rapid transmission of a shock with the application of heat, and an abolition of the propagated impulse with the application of a deadly poison like potassium cyanide. This variation in the transmitted impulse, under physiological variations, showed that it was not a physical one.”

Royal Society

Dr. Bose had achieved what had seemed impossible, creating a mechanism that would enable a plant to tell its own story through records made by its reactions. Through the convincing character of the demonstrations he gave with his Resonant Recorder and other delicate instruments, leading Scientific Societies became convinced and Dr. Bose soon secured a world-wide acceptance of his theories and results. The Royal Society could no longer withhold recognition and his paper, “On an Automatic Method, for the Investigation of the Velocity of Transmission of Excitation in Mimosa,” was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1913.

In 1911 Dr. Bose was awarded the insignia of the Companion of the Order of the Star of India by His Majesty the King Emperor, and The Calcutta University conferred the honorary Doctor of Science degree to him. In 1913 he published the book Researches on Irritability of Plants and by 1915 he had received hundreds of invitations to speak throughout the United States. “The very convincing character of the demonstrations that he gave, before the leading Scientific Societies of the world, with his newly invented Resonant Recorder and other delicate instruments, secured a world-wide acceptance of his theories and results.

On January 1, 1917, in recognition of his important scientific work, the English government conferred on him a Knighthood. This was the first time that this honor had been given to an Indian.

Later that year, on his 60th birthday on the 30th of November, Sir Jagadish realized a dream that he’d had for many years. He founded the Bose Institute in India. Here students could study the inhabitants of a garden—plants, vines, trees, and more—in their natural environment. Here, according to the Presidency College Magazine, “the student would watch the panorama of life,” and “isolated from all distractions, would learn to attune himself with nature and to see how community throughout the great ocean of life outweighs apparent the dissimilarity.” Opening this institution of learning, which he dedicated to the Nation, for the progress of Science and for the Glory of India, took his entire life savings.

The aims of the Institute were clear. An article in Modern Review stated that there would be no academic limitation to the widest possible diffusion of knowledge. The facilities of the Institute would be available to workers from all countries and there would be no desecration of knowledge by its utilization for personal gain; in other words, no patents would be taken of the discoveries made there. This “great Seat of Learning” would be  maintained through those means and by presenting lectures that were not secondhand knowledge repeated, but lectures focused on new discoveries announced to the world for the first time. 

A Wise Man’s View of “Failure”:

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose saw failure as an “antecedent power which lies dormant for the long subsequent dynamic expression in what we call success.”

“And if my life,” he said, “in any way came to be fruitful, then that came through the realization of this lesson.” (From ‘History of a Failure that was Great,’ Modern Review.)


 Sir Jagadis Chunder Bose – His Life and Speeches. Filiquarian Publishing. Madras: The      Cambridge Press, Print.
“The Man who Found a Plant’s Heart.” Literary Digest. 2 Oct. 1926 : 46,50. Print.

Note: Sir Bose’s name is spelled in various ways in different publications.


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Sandra Knauf is the one-woman-show behind Greenwoman Publishing. Her books include the six-volume series Greenwoman, (a literary digest), her young adult fantasy novel, Zera and the Green Man, and an anthology of sexy gardening stories that she says is the feminist gardener answer to Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades of Green. She was a 2008-09 featured “Colorado Voices” columnist for The Denver Post and her humorous essays have appeared nationally in GreenPrints and MaryJanesFarm. Sandra lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her family, dogs, huge urban garden, and lots of books.


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“The Man Who Found a Plant’s Heart”: The Story of Dr. Jagadish Chandra Bose – Part I



This is my mini-bio about one of our world’s most fascinating scientists. I wrote it a few years ago and it first appeared in Greenwoman Volume 1. Imagine my surprise and delight today to realize that it’s Dr. Bose’s birthday! I planned to post this some time ago, it got pushed back, and now it’s the perfect time to share. ENJOY!

—Sandra Knauf

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May 10, 1901. The setting is a grand lecture hall in the Royal Society of London. An audience of scientists and scholars is awash in murmurs over what they’ve just seen.

Sitting on the lecture table are unusual metal instruments. They include something called a crescograph, a mechanical recording device created by the visiting scientist. This device is said by journalist F. Yeats-Brown, who is there reporting for The Spectator, to magnify “so inconceivably that the pace of a snail would become eight times faster than a bullet.” Nearby is a potted mimosa plant under artificial lights.

Yeats-Brown takes notes on what will be cabled as a “modern miracle of science.” The world will be “startled” to learn that Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the Indian biologist, has demonstrated in the presence of this learned audience that a plant has a “heart,” which acts physiologically very much as a heart does in the animal kingdom.

The scientist Sir Jagadish described the mimosa earlier in his lecture saying, “This poor little plant is rather depressed, and no wonder. But it’s alive in spite of your climate, and so I shall be able to show you its nerve impulses and its reactions to various drugs.”

The audience watches as Sir Jagadish takes a pair of scissors and cuts a branch from the mimosa. He inserts it into his recording machine. A needle pierces the branch’s skin.
The audience watches the plant’s pulsations, like heart-beats, magnified a “million fold,” on a wall projection.

Sir Jagadish explains, “The pulse will grow fainter and fainter, of course, as it bleeds to death.”

The audience watches this occur, just as he predicted.

“Of course!” writes Yeats-Brown, as the audience stares at the spot of light that illustrates the “death-struggle” of the plant.

Earlier, the audience had witnessed Sir Jagadish as he administered a little bromide into the plant, which almost caused its death. Then he injected an extract of thyroid, which made for “skittish” readings, then, finally, the cobra venom, which produced a stimulus, then the death-pang.

The implications of Bose’s discoveries? In the words of Yeats-Brown: “Carrots can get drunk and write the scrawling story of their dissipation. Plants tell Sir Jagadis [sic] how they feel when he shocks them with a loud noise; fat ones feel it less than their more slender and sensitive sisters.”

An amazing revelation: Plants feel and react very much like we do.

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose is best known as one of the founding fathers of radio science.  His demonstration of remote wireless signaling predated Marconi’s and he was a pioneer in the investigation of radio waves. His discoveries and inventions were many, including the design of an instrument in 1897 which generated very short electrical waves (measured in millimeters) when others were struggling with Hertzian electric waves that were about three meters long. Bose was also the first to use a semi-conducting crystal to detect radio waves, and he invented various microwave components that are in common use today.

Bose was what is known as a polymath (someone with knowledge of many subjects). Aside from being one of the fathers of radio science, he was a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and the father of Bengali science fiction. But what may be most fascinating to those of us with an interest in botany is Bose’s discoveries about plant life. He was the first to proclaim, “We are all interconnected.”

Bose was born on the 30th of November, 1858, in Rarikhal, Bengal, India. His father was a civil servant who rebelled against the standard children’s education of that time for someone of his rank in society—he chose not to send his children to an English school for their early education, which was expected. Instead, he insisted his children learn first among their own people. In a vernacular school, young Jagadish studied his native language and culture among the children of those “who tilled the ground and made the land blossom with green verdure and ripening corn, and the sons of the fisher folk.” From his country’s literature he became familiar with the great epics, and from his fellow students he drew his love of nature. This early experience would forge a strong bond to his culture and Bose would remain connected to his people.

Bose’s education continued in Xavier’s Collegiate School in Calcutta, the Calcutta University, and finally at Christ’s College in Cambridge, England. He earned two science degrees. He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of London in 1884. In 1885, he became an officiating Professor of Physical Science at the Presidency College in Calcutta. There, being an Indian, and an officiating Professor, he was allowed to only draw one-third of his pay grade. In protest, Bose refused to accept any salary for three years. After those three years he was appointed to Professor, and received a pay increase of double his prior salary (which was still only two-thirds the pay of European professors) and the three years back pay. He would not receive an equal wage for 18 more years.

This, however, was only one of many challenges he would face. Unlike his American and European counterparts, Professor Bose did not have an appropriate laboratory in which to work. His facilities consisted of a 24-square foot room and he received only the help of one untrained tinsmith to assist in constructing research equipment. Research was conducted on his own time and with his own money. Nevertheless, within a decade Bose emerged as a pioneer in the developing research field of wireless waves.


J. C. Bose demonstrating wireless signaling in Calcutta, by The Birth Centenary Committee, printed by P.C. Ray, via Wikimedia Commons


In recognition of his many contributions during this decade, the University of London conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Science, and, in 1896, the Cambridge University awarded him the degree of M.A. The Royal Institution of Great Britain invited him to deliver a ‘Friday Evening Discourse’ on his work, which was considered a privilege and the highest distinction that could be bestowed on a man of science.

Bose met Guglielmo Marconi in 1896, at least a year before Marconi conducted his wireless signaling experiment on Salisbury Plain, and a year after Bose conducted his public demonstrating of remote wireless signaling in Kolkata (Calcutta). Later, in an interview, Bose expressed disinterest in commercial telegraphy and made it known that others were welcome to use his research work. In 1904 he was the first from the Indian subcontinent to get a U. S. patent, for his invention of a certain crystal receiver which proved to be the most sensitive detector of the wireless signal. There were no secrets as to the construction of his inventions and he did not use the patents granted to him for personal gain. He declared that his work was, “open to all the world to adopt for practical and money-making purpose.” He was quoted in the Calcutta magazine Modern Review saying, “The spirit of our national culture demands that we should forever be free from the desecration of utilizing knowledge for personal gain.”

According to another article in Modern Review it was during this time, while he researching radio waves and materials used for receivers, that Bose became interested in the response of other materials, namely metals and plants. “[Bose] found that the uncertainty of the early type of his receiver was brought on by ‘fatigue’ and that the curve of fatigue of his [metal] instrument closely resembled the fatigue curve of animal muscle.” This spurred him to further experiments and he soon saw that the fatigue of his instrument was removed by suitable stimulants. In addition, he found that application of certain poisons permanently eradicated the instrument’s sensitiveness. He was amazed at this discovery—this parallelism in the behavior of the ‘receiver’ material to the living muscle tissue of animals. This led him to a systematic study of all matter, organic and inorganic, living and non-living.

Universal Response

Dr. Bose began to research how metals reacted to stimulus in a full range of experiments: mechanical, thermal, chemical and electrical. He found that each stimulus produced a measurable electric response. This led him to try the same stimulus in plants and animal tissues, and he found, again, the same results. All materials—metals, plant tissues, and animal tissues, were affected in the same ways. In his book, Response in the Living and Non-Living, Bose wrote that they were “benumbed by cold, intoxicated by alcohol, fatigued by excessive work, stupefied by anesthetics, excited by electric currents, stung by physical blows and killed by poison—they all exhibit essentially the same phenomena of fatigue and depression, together with possibilities of recovery and exaltation, yet also that of permanent irresponsiveness which is associated with death—they are all responsive or irresponsive under the same conditions and in the same manner.” This finding is what Dr. Bose termed “universal response.”

Dr. Bose wrote a paper on his findings in 1900, and on June 5, 1901 he presented a demonstration to the Royal Society “On Electric Response of Inorganic Substances.” Immediately, he was met with objections and strong criticism, particularly from Sir John Burden Sanderson (the leading physiologist) and his followers, who attacked him on the belief that a physicist should not be straying into the work of physiologists. Bose’s paper was not published but placed in the archives. A Modern Review article revealed how another paper, published in another journal by another Society, eight months later, was found to be a plagiarism of Dr. Bose’s work and led to “much unpleasantness.” The article also stated that “the determined hostility and misrepresentation of one man succeeded for more than 10 years to bar all avenues of publications for his [Bose’s] discoveries.”

The end result of all this would be that Dr. Bose would work for the next decade to prove his research was valid.

In March 1902, he performed a series of experiments before the Linnean Society showing electric response in plants when subjected to fatigue, temperature changes, poisons and anesthetics. Again, the responses were identical with those seen in animal muscle and nerve tissue. In June 1902 he wrote a paper, “On the Electric Response in Animal, Vegetable, and Metal.”

While Dr. Bose used the Mimosa pudica plant (now known as “sensitivity plant”) for his experiments to most easily demonstrate his findings, he made it clear in his book On Electric Response of Ordinary Plants Under Mechanical Stimulus that “all plants are sensitive.” He went on to demonstrate that not only every plant, but every part of every plant exhibited an electric response to stimulus. “. . . all plants, even the trees,” he was quoted in Modern Review, “are fully alive to changes of environment; they respond visibly to all stimuli, even to the slight fluctuations of light by a drifting cloud.”



‘Tropic’ Movements,” Ascent of Sap” and “Growth”

Bose found that plants gave not only electric responses to stimulus but response through movement (also called tropic or motive response) which could be measured. These movements, however, were extremely diverse. Light, for example, sometimes induced a positive curvature in plant tissue, sometimes a negative one. Gravitation induced one movement in the root, and the opposition in the shoot. Other movements, not outwardly visible, could also be measured. Growth and the ascent of sap, for example, were shown to be reactions to outward stimulus. This may now seem simplistic, especially to gardeners who are used to thinking in these terms, but viewing plants as connected and perceptive life forms, and researching this through scientific means was unusual at that time. Bose invented a machine called the “shoshungraph” that measured the ascent of sap and a “growth recorder” or “balanced crescograph” that determined the influences of various agencies on growth. The instruments were so finely created that they could measure, within a few seconds, real growth, and in less than fifteen minutes the response of a plant to a fertilizer, food, poison, electrical current, or other stimulants.

(Stay tuned for Part II next week!)

—Sandra Knauf


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Sandra Knauf is the one-woman-show behind Greenwoman Publishing. Her books include the six-volume series Greenwoman, (a literary digest), her young adult fantasy novel, Zera and the Green Man, and an anthology of sexy gardening stories that she says is the feminist gardener answer to Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades of Green. She was a 2008-09 featured “Colorado Voices” columnist for The Denver Post and her humorous essays have appeared nationally in GreenPrints and MaryJanesFarm. Sandra lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her family, dogs, huge urban garden, and lots of books.


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