Birthday: August 2, 1861
Died At Age: 82
Sun Sign: Leo
Born in: Khulna
Famous as: Chemist
father: Harish Chandra Ray
Died on: June 16, 1944
place of death: Kolkata
Founder/Co-Founder: Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals
education: University of Calcutta, Presidency University, Kolkata, Vidyasagar College, University of Edinburgh, Hare School, 1887 - University of Edinburgh
Humanitarian Work: Founder of ‘Bengal Relief Committee’
Prafulla Chandra Ray was an eminent Indian scientist who is hailed as the “Father of Indian pharmaceuticals”. His work on the nitrites and hyponitrites of metals, especially mercury, earned him fame worldwide. Born in a well-to-do family, he received education at some of the premier educational institutes in the country. An illness in his childhood days forced him to discontinue studies for a while, but he made the best possible use of the time and harboured a liking for literature. He pursued higher education from the ‘University of Edinburgh’ and stayed on a year there to conduct further research. Returning to his homeland, Ray started his academic at the Presidency College and it was during his tenure that he discovered the compound mercurous nitrite. The pioneering chemist, founded a chemical manufacturing company, ‘Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Works Ltd.’. He lived an astute life and spent most of his life serving the poor and contributing toward scientific advancements. He remained associated with the ‘Sadharan Brahmo Samaj’ for most of his life and was even nominated the President of the division. A revered figure, many institutions have named after this scientist such as the ‘Acharya Prafulla Chandra College’, ‘Prafulla Chandra College’ in Calcutta, and the ‘Bagerhat P.C College’ of Bangladesh. Read on to know more about his life and works
Childhood & Early Life
Born to a rich land owner Harish Chandra Ray in Raruli-Katipara village, Bangladesh, on August 2, 1861, Prafulla Chandra Ray, was the younger of two brothers.
He was enrolled at a local school founded by his well-to-do family, for his early education till 1870, when they moved to Calcutta.
In Calcutta, the two brothers enrolled at one of the oldest schools of the city, the ‘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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He 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.
Prafulla Chandra ray was best known for his work on nitrites of mercury, which paved way for study of nitrites of other metals and amines. His discovery of a stable compound of mercurous nitrite earned him fame and recognition within the scientific community.
Awards & Achievements
Prafulla Chandra Ray was a recipient of the ‘Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire’, an honour that was conferred upon him in the year 1911.
This eminent chemist was awarded several honorary doctorates which includes one from the ‘Durham University’ and ‘Dhaka University’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Ray never married and remained dedicated toward sscientific advancement and elevation of the poor. He provided grants and donations to many scientific institutions to be used for research purposes.
Starting from his sixtieth anniversary, his salary was granted to the ‘Calcutta University’ which was utilised to expand the ‘Department of Chemistry’ and promote research at the ‘University College of Science’.
Several awards such as the ‘Nagarjuna Prize’ for chemistry and ‘Ashutosh Mukherjee Award’ for biology were established by this eminent scientist.
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.