Story of Dr.P.C.Ray, Pionner in manufacture of medicines in India

Prafulla Chandra was born on 2nd August 1861 in Raruli-Katipara, a village in the District of Khulna (now in Bangla Desh). His father – Harish Chandra Ray – a landlord with liberal views, belonged to a wealthy cultured family.


Interruptions in Education

Prafulla Chandra’s early education started in his father’s village school. But he often stayed away from school. His teacher, while making a search for the truant in almost every house in the village, would find the culprit resting comfortably on the branch of a tree, hidden under its leaves!

In 1870 Harish Chandra moved his family to Calcutta so that his sons could have higher education. Here, Prafulla Chandra was admitted to the Hare School. He took a great interest in books and read a vast number of them. But a severe attack of dysentery forced him to leave the school. The disease was slowly overcome, but it permanently injured his health; he became a life-long sufferer from chronic indigestion and sleeplessness. In his later days he sometimes thought of this as a blessing in disguise. For the rest of his life he was very strict about his food; and he had regular exercises.

Prafulla was now free from the tyranny of the dreary school routine; so he found time to satisfy his passion for the study of English and Bengali literatures. When barely ten years old, he learnt Latin and Greek (Languages of ancient Europe). He also studied the histories of Ehgland, Rome and Spain.

Two years later, Prafulla chandra resumed his studies and in 1874 joined the Albert School. He liked the attitude of the teachers of this school and their method of teaching. The teachers in their turn were very much impressed by his knowledge of English literature and other subjects. They were hopeful of his brilliant success in the
examinations. But Prafulla Chandra suddenly left for his village, without sitting for the examinations. He still had a secret desire to return to the Hare School. But if he sat for the examinations. He was sure to win prizes. Then it would be unfair to leave the Albert School. So he left that school before the examinations.

Prafulla Chandra, however, returned to Calcutta in 1876 and resumed his studies at the Albert School. His affectionate teachers made him agree not to leave the school to go back to the Hare School. This time Prafulla Chandra worked hard and got the first place in the examinations. He won a number of prizes. In 1879 he passed the Entrance Examination and joined the Metropolitan Institute (now called Vidyasagar College).

Harish Chandra’s financial position was bad. It grew worse and worse. He was forced to sell the ancestral property, to pay his creditors. To save money, he shifted his family back to Raruli. The sons lived in rooms in Calcutta

The Gilchrist Prize

While pursuing his studies in the Metropolitan Institute, Prafulla Chandra used to attend lectures by Alexander Pedlar on Chemistry, in the Presidency College. Pedlar was an inspiring teacher and a skilful experimentalist. His lectures influenced Prafulla Chandra to take up Chemistry for his higher studies in B.A.

The London University used to conduct competitive examinations in those days for the ‘Gilchrist Prize Scholarship’. The successful candidate could go abroad for higher studies.

What a chance-if only he could get the scholarship!

Prafulla Chandra started preparing for the examination secretly. He was born in a very rich family, but now all the wealth had disappeared. This was only chance to go abroad. His knowledge of languages was very helpful in this, since one of the requirements was knowledge of Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and French or German. But he had to compete with thousands of others.

Only his brother and a cousin knew about this at first. By and by the secret was leaked out by a classmate, who stood high in the University examinations, He taunted Prafulla Chandra saying “Oh, this very intelligent man’s name will soon appear in the special edition of the London University Calendar!”

A few months after the examinations the results were published in the ‘Stateman’.Prafulla Chandra and a Parsee of Bombay by name Bahadurji had won the scholarship. The Principal was overjoyed and showered praises on Prafulla Chandra.

Prafulla Chandra now decided to go abroad. His father readily gave his consent, but Prafulla Chandra was worried about his mother’s feelings.. He consoled his mother saying, “When I return from England, I will get a high position. My first duty will be to repay the debts and to repair our ancestral home.”


In England

In 1882 Prafulla Chandra left for Britain. The long journey on the seas was quite tiresome. Because of seasickness he could not eat enough food and felt very weak.

After a voyage, which lasted thirty-three days, he reached London. The Indian students there helped him in several ways. They equipped him with sufficient woolen clothes to endure the bitter cold of Edinburgh, to which place he had to go.

Edinburgh was four hundred miles from London. Prafulla Chandra joined the B.Sc. Class in the University there. He was very much influenced by the Professor of Chemistry, Mr. Crum Brown, at the University. Chemistry became his first love.

Prafulla Chandra took the B.Sc. degree in 1885. After this he did research in Chemistry for the D.Sc. degree of the University. In 1887 he was awarded this degree on the basis of a thesis on the results of his original work. He was only 27 years old at the time


The Professor – Scientist

In 1888 Prafulla Chandra returned to India. He had obtained letters of introduction from his Principal and Professors. It was his hope that with their aid he would be able to get a good position in the education department. But in those days all the high places in this department were reserved for Englishmen. Though Prafulla Chandra had a Doctorate in Science, it became difficult for him to receive recognition in his own country. For about a year he spent his time working with his famous friend Jagadish Chandra Bose in his laboratory.

In 1889 Prafulla Chandra was appointed as Assistant Professor of 4 Chemistry in the Presidency College at Calcutta. His salary was only Rs.250 a month. But he was quite satisfied with his work. He started teaching very enthusiastically. He soon earned a great reputation as a successful and inspiring teacher.

Prafulla Chandra was never tired of saying that the progress of India could be achieved only by industrialization.

He advocated the use of the mother – tongue as the medium of instruction in schools. For this, he began to write science texts-books in Bengali.

Why Should Our Patients Depend On Other Countries?

Eighty-five years ago Prafulla Chandra came to realize that the progress of India was linked with industrialization. Without this there could be no salvation. Even drugs for Indian patients had to come from foreign countries at that time. This put money into the pockets of the merchants of those countries. This had to be stopped. Drugs had to be manufactured in India. Prafulla Chandra wanted a beginning to be made at once. But who was to do it?

Prafulla Chandra was not rich. The family estates had been sold to pay his father’s debts. Prafulla Chandra’s salary was also meager. Still he ventured upon this pioneering attempt. He prepared some chemicals at home. His work grew so fast that a separate company had to be formed.

But he needed capital – a capital of only eight hundred rupees. But it became difficult to raise even this small amount.

In spite of all these difficulties he founded ‘The Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works’. In 1894 his father died. This was a great blow to Prafulla Chandra. The father was still in debts and thousands of rupees were needed. Only a small part of the property remained. Even this was sold, so that the debts could be repaid.

Prafulla Chandra bravely continued to run the new factory. At first it was difficult to sell the chemicals made there. They could not compete with the imported materials. But some friends, chiefly Dr. Amulya Charan Bose, supported his venture. Dr. Bose was a leading medical practitioner and he enlisted the support of many other doctors. Bengal Chemical became a famous factory. But Dr. Bose died suddenly in 1898 owing to an attack of Plague. His brother-in-law Satish Chandra Sinha, who was an enthusiastic chemist in the firm, died of accidental poisoning in the- laboratory. Thus one blow followed another and Prafulla Chandra was very unhappy. The entire responsibility of the factory fell on his shoulders. Still he faced everything with courage.

This achievement itself was admirable, but. Prafulla Chandra’s contribution to Indian industry was even greater. Directly or indirectly he helped to start many other factories. Textile mills, soap factories, sugar factories, chemical industries, ceramic factories and publishing houses were set up at the time with his active co-operation. He was the driving force behind the industrialization of the country, which began at that time.


Scientist – Author

During all these years, he was also actively engaged in research in his laboratory at Presidency College. His publications on Mercurous Nitrite and its derivatives brought him recognition from all over the world. He guided many students in their research in his laboratory. Even famous scientific journals abroad began to publish their scientific papers..


A ‘Doctor of Floods’

In 1901 Prafulla Chandra met Mahatma Gandhi for the first time in the house of a mutual friend, Gopala Krishna Gokhale. Gandhiji had just then returned from South Africa. Prafulla Chandra developed great reverence for Gandhiji at this very first meeting. Gandhiji’s simplicity, patriotism and devotion to duty appealed to him very much. He learnt that it was easy to talk about truth but that it is far nobler to practice it in one’s life. Gandhiji also had great regard for Prafulla Chandra. He knew how hard he worked to help the poor and the needy. When floods caused great suffering and destruction, Prafulla Chandra worked very hard to bring relief to the victims. This made Gandhiji call him a ‘Doctor of Floods’!

For The Sake Of Science

Prafulla Chandra said on one occasion that when the people of Europe did not know how to make clothes, and were still wearing animal skins and wandering in forests, Indian scientists were manufacturing wonderful chemicals. This is something we should be proud of.

But Prafulla Chandra also knew that it is not enough to be proud of our past. We should follow the example of our ancestors and seek knowledge and progress in science.

Prafulla Chandra did not rest content with giving such advice. He worked hard to practice it. In 1916 he retired from the Presidency College. Sir Asuthosh Mukherjee, the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, appointed him as professor of Chemistry at the University Science College. Here Prafulla Chandra trained many talented students and with them made famous discoveries.

Prafulla Chandra worked in this college for twenty years. He remained a bachelor all his life. All these twenty years he lived in a simple room on the first floor of the college. Some of his students who were poor and could not live anywhere else shared his room. In 1936, when he was 75 years old, he retired from the Professorship.

In 1921 when Prafulla Chandra reached 60 years he donated, in advance, all his salary for the rest of his service in the University to the development of the Department of Chemistry and to the creation of two research fellowships. The value of this endowment was about two lake rupees

In recognition of Prafulla Chandra’s great work he was elected President of Indian Science Congress and Indian Chemical Society more than once. Many Indian and Western Universities conferred honorary doctorates on him.


Inspiring Life of Alfred Nobel, inventor of Dynamite


It was Petrus Olavi Nobelius, abound with talent in music and other fields, who met Olof Rudbeck, an intellectual leader at the University of Uppsala, founder of musical life at the university and around the place in general. On coming of age, he ended up marrying Rudbeck’s daughter and from this couple descended the family of Nobel. It was one of his grandsons who as a youth in military service, adopted the name Nobel. And now,  that seems to go for eternity due to one man down the lineage, called Alfred.



The reference to Rudbeck is of exceptional importance. The Nobel progenies inherited his inventiveness, love for arts and music, and last but not the least, his scientific temper. All this was evident in the Immanuel Nobel, his illustrious son Alfred and his siblings. A practical man all his life, with no formal education nor any knowledge of languages, he was a powerhouse of ideas. All that displayed his uncanny ability and exceptional intelligence – a genius.




Immanuel Nobel was a self-taught inventor and building contractor in Stockholm. He grew up in a poor family without formal education. His father taught him how to read and write. At 14, he became a cabin boy and went on a three year tour to the Mediterranean from Galve, a port city in Northern Sweden. On his return , he was first apprenticed to a Builder there only to shift to Stockholm to join school of architecture of the Academy of Art – or Mechanical School. Practicing as an Architect at 24 or 25, he dived headlong in to the profession, only to go bankrupt. The cause being a building he bought burned down in 1833. 



 His mother Caroline Nobel (maiden name Andrietta Ahlsell), was a gifted woman and the daughter of an accountant. Earlier, in 1827, she married Immanuel Nobel. The third and the youngest was our hero Alfred, born on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. After the Nobels went bankrupt in 1833, the family moved to a simpler living quarter at Normansgatan, where Alfred spent the first nine years of his life.




Since Alfred suffered from chronic gastric ailments, he was confined to his house most of the time. His mother was his friend, nurse, teacher and his window to the world. Since he could not go to school, his mother read to him from his brother’s textbooks until he learned to read himself and became a avid reader. Alfred’s intelligence astounded his mother and she hoped that he would turn out to be a genius. When Alfred was eight, he joined school and was thrilled by the change. He was an eager learner and his health also improved. Soon the family rejoined Immanuel in Petersburg. The climate of Petersburg did not suit Alfred’s health. A spinal ailment and chronic cold added to his list of existing ailments.



Immanuel decided to provide first class private tutions to his sons. He employed a Swedish tutor, who taught them Russian. Alfred turned his bedroom into a classroom. He also helped his brothers, Robert and Ludwig in their lessons. Alfred became fluent in English, French, German, Spanish, besides Russian. Under the tutor’s guidance, he became acquainted with the Philosophes of the Enlightenment and discovered Shelley’s poetry. The English romantic’s rebellious spirit, his flaming protests against brutal authority, ignorance and base passions, became his lifelong inspiration.




At school, Alfred had picked up interest in chemistry. As he grew older, he found the family business more interesting and thought of promoting, it effectively. Alfred was sent abroad to study and to take care of business interests like buying tools, machinery, raw materials and supplying it with up-to-date technical and financial information. Immanuel then sent Alfred to America in 1850, for further education. There, he met John Erickson who had first designed the screw-propelled steamship in New York. He learnt mechanical techniques at the research room of John Erickson. He placed an order with him for some sketches on behalf of his father. He also spent a year in Paris with Jules Pelouse, a chemist, and it was here that he came to know about nitroglycerine that was found by an Italian scientist Ascanio Sobrero..




nobel4Immanuel wanted his sons to get involved in his business. On his return to Russia, Alfred joined Robert and Ludwig in research and development in their father’s factory. In 1853, the Crimean War broke out. As a result, the Nobel Steel and Machinery Manufacturing Company benefited by mass-production of military supplies for the Russian army. But in 1856 when the war was over and Tsar Nicolas I died, the new government unilaterally abolished the on-going contract with the Nobels and they once again faced bankruptcy. This crisis later turned into an opportunity. During the Crimean War, the Nobels had obtained a bottle of liquid explosive – nitroglycerine, which was very powerful but whose attributes were still unknown.


 However, they had to shelve the research on nitroglycerine and instead concentrated on the production of military supplies. Now that the business was over, Alfred Nobel could once again focus on conducting research on this new material. Alfred quickly saw that the advantages of nitroglycerin over gun powder were numerous and its uses could be exploited for commercial and technical purposes. His first achievement was the invention of the blasting cap (the explosion case), in 1863.



His hectic work schedule and travel did not leave him with much time for a private life. At 43, he felt exhausted too. It was at this time that he placed an advertisement in the newspapers, which read. “Wealthy, highly educated, elderly gentleman seeks lady of mature age, versed in languages, as secretary and supervisor of household.” The most qualified applicant, an Austrian, Countess Bertha Kinsky was hired. After working for a short time with Nobel she quit to return to Austria and get married to Count Arthur von Suttner. Nobel and Bertha remained friends and corresponded with each other.


 According to Bertha, Nobel had expressed a wish to produce material for a machine that would have such a devastating effect that war from then on, would be impossible. In 1891, he commented on his dynamite factories to Bertha saying, “Perhaps my factories will put an end to war sooner than your Congresses : on the day that two army corps can mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilized nations will surely recoil with horror and disband their troops.” Nobel did not live long enough to see the deterring effect of his invention and how wrong his conception was.


 Over the years, Bertha became increasingly critical of the arms race. She eventually became a prominent figure in the Peace Movement. This influenced Alfred Nobel a great deal and in his final will, included a prize for “persons or organizations that promoted peace”. Years after Nobel’s death, the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) decided to award the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha von Suttner.


After his father went bankrupt the second time, Alfred and his parents returned to Sweden. Alfred began experimenting with explosives in a small laboratory on his father’s estate. In spite of his invention of the blasting cap, he was not able to find a safer way to handle nitroglycerine. It was so volatile that once in 1864 while he was experimenting, it blew up Nobel’s factory killing his younger brother, Emil and many other people. This accident did not discourage him. In fact after his accident, Nobel built several factories to produce nitroglycerine with blasting caps, and among them the plants of Krummel, Germany and Vinterviken, Sweden were major.




 At that time the only dependable explosive used in the mines was black powder, a form of gunpowder. Nitroglycerine, a liquid compound that was recently discovered by Ascanio Sobrero was a much more powerful explosive. It could not be handled with any degree of safety, as it was extremely volatile. Alfred began manufacturing nitroglycerine in a small workshop at Helenberg and also concentrated in finding a safe way to handle it. During the research, he invented a detonator consisting of a wooden plug inserted into a larger charge of nitroglycerine held in a metal container. The explosion of the plug’s small charge of black powder aided in detonating the much more powerful charge of liquid nitroglycerine. This invention made Alfred a wealthy man and over a period of time, he gained recognition as an inventor of explosives. On further research on the detonator, he made a new improved detonator called ‘a blasting cap’. The blasting cap consisted of a small metal cap containing a charge of mercury fulminate that exploded either by shock or moderate heat. This invention of the blasting cap launched the use of high explosives in the modern world.





This was Nobel’s second most important invention. He observed that a mixture of nitroglycerine and Kieselguhr, a porous siliceous earth, formed a product, which was easy to use and safe to handle. He later named this product dynamite (from the Greek dynamics meaning “Power”). This particular invention gave him worldwide fame and prosperity. Soon after he gained patents from Great Britain in 1867 and from the US in 1868, the general composition of Dynamite No. 1 was 75 per cent nitroglycerine and 25 percent guhr. He saw that guhr was an inert gaseous substance and did not contribute much to the explosive power, but detected heat from the power, which would have otherwise improved the blasting action. Thus, he turned to active ingredients like wood pulp and sodium nitrate to improve efficiency in blasting and to vary its strength. Nobel patented the use of active ingredients of dynamite in 1869.


 Nobel next contributed by inventing gelatinous dynamites in 1875. There is a legend that he hurt a finger and used ‘collodion’, a solution of relatively low nitrogen content, nitrocellulose, in a mixture of ether and alcohol, to cover the wound. He was unable to sleep because of pain. On next day he went to the laboratory to check the effect of collodion and nitroglycerine. He was surprised to see that after evaporation of the solvent, there remained a tough, plastic material.


 He discovered that he could duplicate this by the direct addition of 7 to 8 per cent of collodion type nitro-cotton to nitroglycerine and that lesser quantities of nitro-cotton decreased the viscosity and enabled him to add other active ingredients. He called the original material – blasting gelatin and the dope mixture – gelatin dynamites. The principal advantages of these products were their high water resistance and greater blasting action power than the other comparable dynamites. This added power resulted from the combination of higher density and a degree of plasticity that allowed complete filling of the borehole (the hole that was bored in the wall seam or elsewhere for implantation of the explosive).


Alfred Nobel went on to be a successful businessman in the developing market of dynamite and detonating caps. In a very short period, he built factories and laboratories in 20 different countries. His factory in Krummel near Hamburg, Germany started exporting nitroglycerine explosive to countries in Europe, America and Australia. He also concentrated on other inventions such as synthetic rubber and leather, artificial silk, chemical and explosive technologies. He was granted patents for 355 items before his death.