World’s Super Scientists – Sir Ronald Ross

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A Benefactor or Mankind – Sir Ronald Ross

It is a matter of genuine pride for the people of India and Andhra Pradesh in particular, to honour a Britisher, born on Indian soil — a born genius who made one of the greatest discoveries in the medical history of the world.

Ronald Ross was born in Almora in the Kumaon Hills region of Himalayas in the year 1857; son of Major General Campbell Ross, an Infantry officer in the British Army.

As a youth, Ross had no predilection for medicine but he had to yield to his  father’s wish to see Ross enter the Indian Medical Service; he qualified for MRCS – Member of Royal College of Surgeons.

Ronald Ross Scientist joined I.M.S. (Indian Medical Service) in 1881 in Madras. By nature he was kind-hearted, assiduous and tenacious.

First furlough (1888-89) : Ronald Ross Scientist went to England, took diploma in Tropical Diseases. In London Sir Patrick Manson, an authority on tropical diseases inspired Ross to unearth  the mystcry of malaria which was believed to be caused by ‘mal air’ (bad air).

Who knew at that time that this credit would go to this legendary figure, Ross, the benefactor of mankind!

Ronald Ross Scientist was a poet, painter, musician, soldier, writer, mathematician and medical doctor. He had great praise for Byron.

Poems by Ronald Ross Scientist


The wings of Fancy are but frail,

And Virtue’s without Wisdom weak;

Better than Falsehood’s flowery vale,

The Truth, however bleak.

Tho’ she may bless not nor redeem,

The Truth is true, and reigns supreme.’


The Indian Mother

An Indian mother there,

Young, but so wretched that her staring eyes

Shone like the winter wolf’s with ravening glare

Of hunger, struck me.For, to much surprise

A three-year child well nourish’d at her breast,

Wither’d with famine, still she fed and press’d –

For she was dying. ‘I am too poor’, she said,

‘To feed him otherwise’; and with a kiss

Fell back and died. And the soul answered,

‘In spite of all the gods and prophets- this!’

Bangalore 1890 – 3.

Indian Fevers

The painful faces ask, can we not cure?

We answer, No, not yet; we seek the laws.

O God, reveal thro’ all this thing obscure

The unseen, small, but million – murdering cause.

Bangalore 1890 – 3.

In Exile

We live, we earn the wealth

The joyous hours may bring,

But jealous time by stealth

Puts all of it to wing;

World Sorrows

Great East; O aged Mother,

Too old for Fear and Hope —

Fear that is Pleasure’s brother,

And Sorrows sister, Hope—

His mentor Manson suggested that mosquito and malaria go hand in hand — may be (i) drinking water contaminated with mosquitoes gives rise to malaria, (ii) some spores of malaria fever floating in the air lead to malaria, by inhalation. At that age of ignorance and speculation, what a gulf of difference between myth and reality!

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3.   In  Secunderabad in  1893  Ross participated in a meeting sponsored by Major Edward Lawrie, Principal,Hyderabad Medical School.

Ronald Ross Scientist was a member of Secunderabad club. He was a good horse polo player. He played tennis in Secunderabad club.

Ross served in the British Army at many places— Madras, Andaman Islands, Burma, Bangalore, Berhampur, Vizianagaram and Calcutta.

Ronald Ross Scientist wrote poems, dramas, essays and composed tunes in music. He solved some difficult mathematical problems.

4. Ross devised a hanging microscope on his shoulder to observe the details about the mosquito. He was nick­named as a “Mosquito-man,” for his above venture!

He happened to examine mosquito species in Coonoor, a place rampant for malaria; in the bargain Ross himself contracted severe malarial fever.

He observed closely “Anopheles” mosquitoes, the species responsible for malaria. His tenacity was to find out the chain of transmission of malaria from mosquito to man.

Experiments done by Ross

  1. Ronald Ross Scientist fed mosquitoes on known malarial patients, powdered the bodies of those mosquitoes, inhaled it as snuff. He did not develop malaria.
  2. Ronald Ross Scientist examined under microscope the water contaminated with the faeces, eggs and larvae of mosquitoes. No micro-objects were seen.
  3. The water with dead mosquitoes was given to a volunteer (a hospital servant) to drink. He did not suffer from malaria.

Yet the stubborn scientist Ronald Ross would not abandon his experiments. An epoch-making event could dawn one day!

5. Ronald Ross Scientist went to England on second furlough (1894). Before the year’s leave from 1894 to 1895 was obtained to proceed on furlough, Ross began to consider seriously whether he should change from medicine to literature, profession – wise!

In Britain he discussed with Manson about his experiments. His mentor, Manson encouraged him to continue his research.

{tab=Ross Wrote in Ecstasy }

6. He returned to Secunderabad in May 1897. He was posted as R.M.O. (Resident Medical Officer) of 19th Madras Infantry station hospital in Secunderabad Cantonment.

This reminds one of the dual rule in those days, the Nizam and British Government. His place of work was a humble simple red-tiled building adjacent to Hyderabad airport.

Who ever guessed this structure would be the venue of this epoch-making world-event of the discovery of the malarial parasite!

His superiors were skeptical about Ross; they thought he was trying to dodge work under the garb of research.

Actually Ross was transferred to Secunderabad, a relatively less malaria-infested place from a posting in Assam, an endemic area (of high prevalence) of malaria, so as to thwart his research activities. Ronald’s urge for research, however, did not fade away with such tricks of the authorities.

The “mosquito-man” began work with zeal and renewed vigour, continued weaving his string of experiments.

Twenty mosquitoes were allowed to bite a malarial patient, Hussain, and later they were kept in glass jars.

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Ross used to dissect those mosquitoes one or two a day, after completing his routine work. Sweat used to fall on the microscope. He sacrificed the comfort of “punkah” (a type of fan swung by a punkah-puller in those days) since the breeze generated would disturb the dissection.

Swarms of flies and fine insects used to enter his eyes and ears; yet perseverance and tenacity [bulldog tenacity, though applied formally to Winston Churchill] were his weapons — undergoing misery for the would-be benefit of others; that’s how he earned the name ‘benefactor of mankind’.

On 20th August, 1897 in the afternoon, he dissected the nineteenth mosquito. Having failed to see any micro-objects of parasites, he was about to discard that also (not knowing he was at the threshold of success!).

He ordered for a cup of tea, scanned the dissection again, and found some elevations on the outer wall of the stomach of the mosquito.

On splitting open the elevations, he found dark pigmented granules oscillating and hence he inferred that they were not inert bodies but live.

A thought flashed in his mind while sipping the tea he had ordered, whether these structures could be a stage in the development of the parasite. He made drawings meticulously and later incorporated them into his book The Memoirs.

He dissected the twentieth mosquito also and found the same observation. At last, the Angel of Fate blessed him!

Ross wrote in ecstasy a poem :

This day relenting God

Hath placed within my hand

A wondrous thing; and God

Be praised. At his command,

Seeking His secret deeds

with tears and toiling breath,

I find thy cunning seeds,

O million- murdering Death.

I know this little thing

A myriad men will save,

O Death, Where is thy sting?

Thy Victory, O Grave?

He reported his findings to his mentor, Manson in London and forwarded a copy of his notes to Army Medical Corps Headquarters in Calcutta.

7. Ronald Ross Scientist was very much disgusted with the bad treatment meted out to him by his superiors.

Ronald Ross Scientist resigned his post of Surgeon -Major in I.M.S. and returned to England in 1899. He joined as a lecturer in Tropical School of Medicine, Liverpool. Nobody would be convinced that mosquitoes cause malaria.

Ronald Ross Scientist methods of mosquito control practiced in Sierra Leone, “White Man’s Grave”, because of highly infested malaria, brought down the incidence of malaria in that region; mortality came down steeply in the span of one year. Soon the Governments of Italy, Greece, Russia, British Colonies in Africa and Suez Canal zone sought the advice of Ross in malaria control.

Ronald Ross Scientist emphasised that breeding of mosquitoes should not be allowed.

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Ronald Ross Scientist received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1902, first India-born Britisher to get this coveted honour. Soon he was knighted by the King of England.

The mosquito carries both malaria and yellow fever. Hence attack on mosquitoes is a two-pronged health drive.

Ronald Ross Scientist completed writing his autobiography, The Memoirs in 1922. The statement made by Sir Ronald in 1926: “The toll of human lives made by malaria is greater than that of the World War.”

Ross died in 1932. The world acclaimed him as the ‘benefactor of mankind’.

In 1935 the Cantonment Authority of Secunderabad installed a marble plaque at the Begumpet hospital where he worked. The inscription on it reads:


this building


20th August, 1897

The Late

Sir Ronald Ross

a benefactor of mankind

made the great discovery of

the parasites of malaria

in a dissected mosquito

20th August is celebrated as International ‘Mosquito Day’ all over the world.

The 140th birthday of the Nobel Laureate Sir Ronald Ross was celebrated on May 13, 1997.

A sum of rupees 30 lakhs was donated by the British Council for the renovation of the building in Begumpet where Ross discovered the malaria parasite.

On a global scale, malaria still causes death in more than a million people (mostly children) each year with a total of 250 to 450 million clinical cases annually.

Malaria is characterized by the clinical triad—chills, fever and enlarged spleen. When the episodes recur, anemia gradually develops.

National Malaria Eradication Programme (NMEP)

Government of India: Preventive measures

  • Screening of windows/doors of the house.
  • Proper clothing.
  • Use of mosquito repellant.
  • Use of mosquito net.
  • Do not allow water to stagnate in the house or surroundings for more than 7 days.
  • Dry your cooler every Sunday (complete change of water).



Malaria once supposed to be due to ‘mal air

anopheline mosquitoes vectors

life cycle in female anopheline mosquito and in man

asexual erythrocytic cycle in humans

red blood cells are lysed (haemolysis).

infection by the genus Plasmodium

anaemia, splenomegaly are after-effects.


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