Source: L. F. Rushbrook Williams, Great Men of India (Bombay: 1939)

Prafulla Chandra Ray

Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray, scientific genius and patriot, was born August 2, 1861.

Plagued with obstinate attacks of dysentery in his youth, he spent most of his younger years home-schooled. However, he managed to do well in the Gilchrist Scholarship Examination and entered the University of Edinburgh in 1882. He became passionately fond of chemistry there and was elected Vice-President of the University Chemical Society. Upon receiving his Doctorate degree, he was awarded a special scholarship by the Gilchrist Foundation along with the Hope Prize Scholarship.

He returned to Calcutta in 1888 and became assistant professor at the Presidency College, Calcutta in 1889. At that time in India, little credit was given to teachers for research. Dr. Ray thus felt the need to create enthusiasm for research in his young students and this led him to the foundation of the Indian School of Chemistry and the Indian Chemical Society.

In 1896, Dr. Ray became famous through his discovery of mercurous nitrate, a compound of unexpected stability. He continued research work with his students until his retirement from Presidency College in 1916. Thereafter, he worked as Director of Chemical Laboratories of the University College of Science, often spending his salary on new equipment and research fellowship maintenance. In 1936, he retired from active service and was awarded Emeritus Professor of Chemistry in the University of Calcutta.

Dr. Ray was also responsible for establishing Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works, India’s first Pharmaceutical Company, which he started from his own home as a young Doctor of Science. In 1902, it was converted into a limited concern and he made over his share in the concern to a trust for beneficent activities in Khulna.

Dr. Ray was also passionate about Swaraj and lived a frugal life. He was made companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1911 and was knighted after the war. He wrote an autobiography in 1932. In 1934, he was elected an Honorary fellow of the Chemical Society of London.

He passed away in 1944.

Source: L. F. Rushbrook Williams, Great Men of India (Bombay: 1939)

Works

Essays and discourses by Dr. Prafulla Chandra Ray; with a biographical sketch & a portrait (Madras: G.A. Natesan & Co., 1918)

Ideas of IndiaIdeas of India