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Prafulla Chandra Ray

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Prafulla Chandra was born on 2 August 1861 in Raruli-Katipara, a village in the District of Khulna (in present day Bangladesh). His father Harish Chandra Ray was a land proprietor. Prafulla Chandra Ray, was the younger of two brothers. Up to the age of nine, Prafulla Chandra studied in a school in his village.  In 1870 his family migrated to Calcutta and Rây and his elder brother were admitted to Hare School. It was in 1874, that young Prafulla contracted dysentery and was forced to discontinue his studies. For the next two years that he spent in Raruli-Katipara, he harboured a love for reading and later learnt the languages Latin and French. In 1879 after Ray completed his matriculation from the ‘Albert School’, he pursued higher education from the ‘Vidyasagar College’. As the institution had no facility for teaching science subjects, he took lessons in physics and chemistry at the ‘Presidency College’. He won the ‘Gilchrist Prize Scholarships’ in 1882 and he went on to pursue his bachelor’s degree in science from the ‘Edinburgh University’ in Scotland. Other than natural sciences, he even studied history, political science and literature. After graduating he pursued higher studies from Edinburgh and worked on his doctoral dissertation, upon completion of which he was awarded a doctoral degree in 1877.


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e continued further research on his thesis, for a year, which dealt with the isomorphous mixtures and then returned to Calcutta in 1888. The following year he was appointed to a temporary position at the ‘Presidency College’ in the city. As India was then a British colony, the natives were kept aloof from the highly ranked positions despite their qualifications and merit. Though he tried to attract the attention of the authorities but his pleas fell on deaf ears. In 1896, he published the results of his research on nitrites of mercury; he had developed the stable compound mercurous nitrite and it implored other scientists to study the nitrites of metals and amines. He founded the ‘Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Works Ltd.’ in 1901 with a capital of 700 INR. The company has expanded over the years and currently deals with manufacture of Alum, drugs and pharmaceuticals and household products such as naphthalene, floor and toilet cleaner. Over the course of next few years he studied many ancient texts on science and the result was the book ‘A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth Century’, published in 1902. Continuing his research, he published a second edition, six years later. Ray left his job at Presidency to accept the position of ‘Palit Professor’ at the ‘Rajabazar Science College’ in 1916. During his tenure he researched compounds of transition-metals such as platinum and iridium and sulphides of organic substances. By the year 1920, this eminent chemist had penned more than 100 scientific literature and many of them were published in the journal of ‘Indian Chemical Society’. The same year, he presided over the annual meet of ‘Indian Science Congress’, which is one of the foremost scientific associations of the country. An ardent social worker, he started a relief organisation when the state of Bengal was affected by massive floods in 1923. The ‘Bengal Relief Committee’ gathered funds and goods worth 2.5 million INR, which was distributed among the homeless and destitute. A voracious reader and lover of literature, he penned his own life story in the book entitled ‘Life and Experience of a Bengali Chemist’, in 1932. Three years later he came up with the second edition of his autobiography.


Personal life

He remained a bachelor throughout his life who took active participation in politics. His family, in particular, his father Harish Chandra Ray, was strongly associated with Brahmo Samaj. Prafulla Chandra developed direct connections with the Samaj as he grew up; he used to attend Sunday evening sermons of Keshub Chandra Sen and was deeply influenced by Sen's Sulabha Samachar. Later he was closely associated with Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and occupied various administrative posts during his lifetime and finally elected as the President and Trustee of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. He was elected solely on the basis of his potential, and not because of his father's influence in the Bramho Samaj.



On June 16, 1944, this eminent Indian scientist breathed his last in his Calcutta residence. His death was mourned by his family, friends and students who regarded Ray in high regard.


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