World’s Super Scientists – Prafulla Chandra Ray

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The ray of hope for chemists – Prafulla Chandra Ray

Scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861 to 1944) was born in 1861 in a village in Khulna (now in Bangladesh), ‘Father of Indian Chemistry’.

Scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray had his early education in Calcutta. In 1882 B.Sc, 1887 D.Sc, from the University of Edinburgh. On return to India he joined as Asst.

Professor in Chemistry, Presidency College, Calcutta; in 1916 retired as Professor and Head of the Department of Chemistry in the same college. Rabindranath Tagore said, “I offer felicitations to Acharya (Guru) . could infuse a spirit of enquiry in his students…”

Cattle – bones experiment

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray used to collect bones of dead cattle and store them in the yard, much to the annoyance of the neighbours due to the foul smell. Once when he made a bonfire of the bones, Police came to the spot.

However, from the waste cattle bones he produced phosphate of soda having medicinal tonic properties.In 1892 Ray started a small chemical industry in Calcutta which later came to be known as Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd.

May it be known to the readers that Sri Pattabhi Sitaramayya started Andhra Bank in a small building in Masulipatam (now Machilipatnam) 75 years go – Humble beginnings with noble thoughts! Ray started the industry with a capital of Rs.800 only 105 years ago.
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In 1904 the working capital grew up to Rs.23,500 (70 workers) and in 1983 about Rs.80 lakhs (5000 workers). This is a manufacturing unit for injectables, soaps, perfumes, alkaloids, toilet goods, disinfectants, etc. It has become a giant organisation now – beginning small, progress phenomenal.

  • In 1894 discovery of mercurous nitrate, a salt of the flowing metal, white crystals obtained by the action of cold nitric acid on mercury (excess); later step mercuric nitrate. This discovery added a new feather in his cap and emerged as a turning point in his career. The finding was reported to the Journal of Asiatic Society in 1896 and later published in the Journal of Chemical Society, London.
  • He began preparing ammonium nitrate, a colourless crystalline salt, used as a fertilizer and as a high explosive by mixing with TNT. and aluminium powder.

Ray and N R Dhar published a paper on the vapour density of ammonium nitrite. Ramsay and Veley warmly congratulated the authors. Ray was acclaimed as ‘master of nitrites’.

In 1912 Prafulla Chandra Ray attended the Congress of the Universities of the British Dominions; also he attended the 250th anniversary of the Royal Society, London, as a delegate from Calcutta.

  • In the capacity of Palit Professor of Chemistry, he presided over the Indian Science Congress in 1920.

Mahatma Gandhi and G.K. Gokhale were his friends. Prafulla Chandra Ray began wearing Khaddar (Khadi) and supported Swadeshi (indigenous) goods; boycotted foreign goods. He joined the ‘Non-cooperation movement’.

Applied sciences develop pari passu pure sciences. The Sulphuric acid plant in Glasgow impressed him very much. Ray was interested mainly in inorganic chemistry.

Industrialization developed gradually with the technical advice of Ray; the Calcutta Pottery works, Bengal Enamel Works, etc. were the ventures.

Scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray trained many students in the University College of Sciences in Calcutta. His students/juniors include Dr. B.B. Dey, Dr. H.K. Sen, Naik from Bombay, J.C. Ghosh, J.N. Mukherjee, Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar, Meghnad Saha, Prof. A.C. Ghosh.

Prafulla Chandra Ray’s, Autobiography and History of Hindu Chemistry are famous.

Prafulla Chandra Ray lived full 83 years of fruitful life and died in 1944, a year before the end of World War II. Scientists are people who live for others. Ray is a ray on the ‘Scientific horizon’.
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