In spite of all the constraints of limited space, equipment and funds, J C Bose, born exactly 150 years ago in Bangladesh, then part of India, carried out research in the area of the newly discovered Hertzian waves, the story of which goes back to Maxwell (1831-1879). Prof. Bose, when he took up research, foresaw the possibility of exploiting the Hertzian waves for wireless communication which was unthinkable those days. All it needed, he thought, was to develop a method of receiving the message sent from a distance in the form of Hertzian waves.
By 1895, he did invent a gadget which could do the job. It is a quirk of fate that robbed Bose of getting the Nobel for the invention. The irony is that the award went to Marconi, in 1909 for the very same invention. The sordid story of this technological plagiarism was first brought to light by Prof A Banti of Italy and has been presented in detail in the proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (Vol. 86, No. 1, PP 259.85, January 1998). The gadget invented by Bose has been called a ‘Coherer’ and it consists of a container of loosely packed metal filings, which ordinarily conducts little current, but conducts quite a bit when Hertzian waves fall on it. The very year in which he invented it, he demonstrated, in a public lecture in Calcutta, how Hertzian waves could travel from his radiator kept in the lecture room to on other room 75 feet away where his gadget picked up enough electrical energy to ring a bell and fire a pistol. Some time in 1901, Lieutinent L Solari of the Royal Italian Navy, a childhood friend of Marconi, experimented with the detector device and presented it to Marconi who, then, applied for a British patent on the device. The Nobel awards men, it seems, were oblivious of the Royal Society records and were carried away by Marconi’s British patent and his much publicized demonstration of trans-Atlantic transmission of radio signals.
Credit : J R Lakshmana Rao
(The author is former president of Karnataka Rajya Vijnana Parishat)