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Father of Indian Chemistry

A prominent scientist, educationist, philanthropist, historian, and industrialist, Prafulla Chandra Ray has been known for his big contributions in many fields. Here’s a look at his life as a revolutionary scientist.
By ThisDay.app
PUBLISHED ON AUG 02, 2021 05:02 PM IST
The portrait of the man of science

Born on 2nd August 1861

Having been born on August 2nd, 1861, P.C Ray has been known to be one eminent personality who makes it impossible to go unnoticed when someone talks about the Indian field of chemistry. He has had many remarkable achievements and honours under his name, making himself undeniably the greatest scientists India has to offer.

His works and discoveries are largely associated with chemistry. Whether it's organic, inorganic, or the history of chemistry, he knows it all. You wouldn't expect any less from the Father of Indian Chemistry. He might have started at the Raruli-Katipara village of the Jessore district under the Bengal Presidency of British India, but he fled to places in his later life.

Ray's father was a teacher himself who pioneered in English medium as well as women's education. With that being said, Ray used to study in the same school his father taught in. After a while, they migrated to Calcutta where he continued his schooling in Hare School. However, Ray was unlucky to have gone through a serious attack of dysentery. While it did postpone his studies, a young mind of his got the chance to come across a variety of literature to kill time.

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Time passed and soon after his recovery, he joined the Albert School. Ray had remarkably moved ahead of his classmates due to all the knowledge he had gained over his leave. This progress made him sought for higher success as he passed his matriculation exam with a first division and was admitted as an FA student to the Metropolitan Institution. He focussed primarily on history and political science as his subjects but chemistry was considered to be a core subject in those days. Since chemistry wasn't available in his current college, he had to apply for it in the Presidency college.

Getting taught by Alexander Peddler made Ray curious to explore more in chemistry. He had soon decided to make a professional career out of it. Though he got qualified for a BA degree at the University of Calcutta, Ray had applied for the Gilchrist Prize Scholarship.

His passion for chemistry had made him win one of the scholarships after which he enrolled himself in the University of Edinburgh. At the age of 21, Ray was now studying under the supervision of Alexander Crum Brown and his demonstrator John Gibson. He might have embarked on his journey towards science, but he never let his interests deter him from political science and history. Legend has it, Ray's essay against the British Raj in India was widely publicized in the U.K. This was why he was always renowned to be a revolutionary in the garb of a scientist.

One quality that remained consistent throughout Ray's life was his curiosity to learn and explore more of the subjects that piqued his interest. Due to his consistency, Ray invested years and years of his life into studying and researching. After graduating with his B.Sc. degree, he stepped into the field of doctoral studies.

Following that, Ray undertook double salt as his subject of thesis and researched metal double sulfates. While he was at it he found out that double-double and higher-order sulfate salts did not exist as definite structures, proving Vohl's experiment inexplicable.

This was Ray's breakthrough as a scientist. He was thus awarded the Hope Prize which allowed him to carry the research further while he was elected as the Vice-President of the University of Edinburgh Chemical Society in 1888. Then came rushing down his other milestone achievements which earned him a big reputation in the field of worldwide science and made him the face of Indian chemistry.

Ray was credited for his in-depth research and thesis on chemical nitrates. In 1896, he had discovered the formation of the mercurous nitrate. In 1912, he was again counted upon as a major contributor to the field of chemistry by introducing ammonium nitrite in its tangible form. He proved that pure ammonium nitrite is indeed stable.

He was congratulated by noble laureates, his research was published in the Nature magazine and the Journal of Chemical Society. By 1920, he was made the president of the Indian Science Congress. He started the Indian School of Chemistry but by 1916, he retired from the Presidency College. He goes by the prefix Acharya only because of his regular teaching and ambition to develop the Indian field of chemistry ahead.

He retired at the age of 75 with a total of 107 written research papers, all in the branch of chemistry. His honorifics exceed expectations and that's what makes him memorable.

Such was the genius and ambitious life of Prafulla Chandra Ray. Apart from his major contributions to Indian science, he made sure to always stay associated with the Brahmo Samaj and help with all the charity. He also published literary works, one of which was Life and Experience of a Bengali Chemist, that he had primarily dedicated to the youth. It is only right to call Acharaya Ray the father of Indian chemistry.

This country is thankful for his prime contributions and discoveries along with his intense passion for expanding the Indian field of science. So next time you remember Acharya, make sure to say — thank you Acharya Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray CIE FNI FRASB FIAS FCS. (Talk about honorifics)

This story was first published in ThisDay.app.

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