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An institution builder

Sir J. C. Ghosh was the first Director of IIT, Kharagpur, and helped build up this institute which recently celebrated its golden jubilee.


JNAN CHANDRA Ghosh was born at Purulia (East Bengal) . On completing his schooling he joined the Presidency College in 1909. He obtained M.Sc degree in 1915 from the Calcutta University where the association of Sir P.C. Ray and Sir J.C. Bose has stimulating effect on him. He was awarded the Palit Scholarship to work for a doctorate at the University College, London, during 1919-1921.

Theory of strong electrolysis

In the University College, he took up for investigation problems of photo-chemistry and placed the theory of strong electrolytes on a permanent footing. His research work earned appreciation from leaders of science like Walter Nernst, Max Planck, William Bragg and G.N. Lewis. It was cited in Nernst's reputed book "Theoretical Chemistry" (1921) and Lewis and Randall's book "Thermodynamics".

Supporting Ghosh's theory, G.N. Lewis observed in his book that, it becomes a matter of terminology "to decide whether we shall say that a certain fraction of such an electrolyte is dissociated obeying Coulomb's law or say with Ghosh that a certain fraction of the ions are free or outside the sphere of mutual attraction".

It is only after Ghosh's postulate that the concept of strong electrolytes came to be modified by Paul Debye and Hueckel, which finally gave shape to a better theory.

Despite, the theory received severe and unjust criticism by Partington in `Transactions. Faraday Society, 1919', on account of which Ghosh declined to have his name proposed for election as an F.R.S.

Ghosh's career in the field of science and engineering education was spread over pre-eminent institutions in the country: Calcutta University (1915-1921), Dacca University (1921-1939), IISc, Bangalore (1937-1947), IIT, Kharagpur (1950-54). He was President of the Indian Science Congress (1939), President of the National Institute of Sciences of India (1943). He was knighted in 1940 for his contributions to science development in the country.

At Dacca, he built up an active research school in the newly-founded university, devoted to photo-chemistry and Gas reactions. With the reputation he built up and his personal qualities, he attracted to his laboratory students from all over India.

In 1939 Ghosh left Dacca for Bangalore where he joined the IISc as Director, succeeding Sir C.V. Raman.

Reaction in industrial gases

With his collaborators several of whom attained prominence, he pioneered investigations in two important areas: the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis for obtaining liquid fuel from carbon monoxide and hydrogen and step-wise mechanism of ammonia synthesis from its elements, nitrogen and hydrogen. These results were published as a book titled "Some Catalytic Gas Reactions of Industrial Importance" (1960).

Ghosh spearheaded the development of the Institute in the field of engineering education, creating new departments - Electrical Communication Engg, Internal Combustion Engg, Metallurgy, Power Engineering (with its own Power station) which did not take shape in the scale he envisaged, for graduates to specialise in the Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Power. The last split into Electrical, High Voltage and Civil Engineering divisions.

In April 1947, he was nominated the Director General of Industries and Supplies, New Delhi, which he relinquished in May 1940 to assume office as the Director of the IIT, Kharagpur, which was inaugurated on August 18, 1951. He created most of the departments of the Institute which he left in 1954, to become the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. In 1955, he joined the Planning Commission at the invitation of Pandit Nehru and served as a Member till his death.

R. Parthasarathy

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