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Father of India Chemical Science (Chemistry)

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray - Father of Indian Chemistry
Father of Indian Chemistry

How many of you have heard about Acharya Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray?

I recently found out that most of the people especially the students of Chemistry have no idea about who he is. Most Chemistry enthusiast always tries to keep themselves well informed about the advancement in chemistry. But for some reason forgot to read about the one person the mattered the most. And that is the reason why I am writing this blog today. I think as fellow chemistry enthusiasts, it is our responsibility to know about Acharya Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray and to remember him for his achievements.

Acharya Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray (2 August 1861 – 16 June 1944) was a Bengali chemist, educationist, historian, industrialist and philanthropist. A leading Bengali Nationalist, he established the first Indian Research School in Chemistry and is regarded as the Father of Chemical Science in India.

The Royal Society of Chemistry honored his life and work with the first-ever Chemical Landmark Plaque outside Europe. He was the founder of Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, India's first pharmaceutical company. He is the author of A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth Century (1902).

Scientific Research

1. Mercurous Nitrite

Around 1895 Prafulla Chandra started his work in the field of discovering Nitrite chemistry which turned out to be extremely effective. In 1896, he published a paper on the preparation of a new stable chemical compound: Mercurous Nitrite. This work made way for a large number of investigative papers on nitrites and hypo-nitrites of different metals, and on nitrites of ammonia and organic amines. He and his students had crumbled this field for several years, leading to a long discipline of research laboratories. Prafulla Chandra said that it was a new chapter in life that started with the unanticipated discovery of Mercurous Nitrite. Prafulla Chandra, in 1896, noticed the formation of a yellow crystalline solid with the reaction of Mercury and dilute Nitric Acid.

6 Hg + 8 HNO3 → 3 Hg2(NO3)2 + 2 NO + 4 H2O

This result was first published in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal. That was forthwith noticed by Nature magazine on May 28, 1896.

2. Ammonium and Alkyl-ammonium Nitrites

One of the notable contributions of P C Ray is the synthesis of Ammonium Nitrite in pure form through double displacement ammonium between chloride and silver nitrite. He proved that the pure ammonium nitrite is indeed stable by bring to pass a lot of experiments, and explained that it can be sublimed even at 60 °C without decomposition.

NH4Cl + AgNO2 → NH4NO2 + AgCl

On a conference of the Chemical Society in London, he submitted the result. Nobel laureate William Ramsay congratulated him for his achievement. On August 15, 1912, Nature magazine published the news. The Journal of Chemical Society, London published the experimental details in the same year.

He prepared a lot of such compounds by double displacement. After that he worked on mercury alkyl- and mercury alkyl aryl-ammonium nitrites.

RNH3Cl + AgNO2 → RNH3NO2 + AgCl

3. Other Works

In 1924 P C Ray started a new Indian School of Chemistry. Ray was president of the 1920 session of the Indian Science Congress.

Prafulla Chandra retired from the Presidency College in 1916, and joined the Calcutta University College of Science (also known as Rajabazar Science College) as its first "Palit Professor of Chemistry", a chair named after Taraknath Palit. Here also he got a dedicated team and he started working on compounds of gold, platinum, iridium etc. with mercaptyl radicals and organic sulphides. A number of papers were published on this work in the Journal of the Indian Chemical Society.

In 1936, at the age of 75, he retired from active service and became Professor Emeritus. Long before that, on the completion of his 60th year in 1921, he made a free gift of his entire salary to the Calcutta University from that date onward, to be spent for the furtherance of chemical research, and the development of the Department of Chemistry in the University College of Science.

He had written 107 papers in all branches of Chemistry by 1920.

Recognition and Honours

Medals and decorations

  • Faraday Gold Medal of the University of Edinburgh (1887)

  • Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE; 1912 Birthday Honours list)

  • Knight Bachelor (1919 New Year Honours list)

Academic fellowships and memberships

  • Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal (FRASB)

  • Fellow of the Chemical Society (FCS; 1902)

  • Honorary Member of the Deutsche Akademie, Munich (1919)

  • Foundation Fellow of the National Institute of Sciences of India (FNI; 1935)

  • Fellow of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (FIAS; 1943)

Honorary doctorates

  • Honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Calcutta (1908).

  • Honorary D.Sc. degree from Durham University (1912)

  • Honorary D.Sc. degree from Banaras Hindu University (1920)

  • Honorary D.Sc. degree from the University of Dhaka (1920 and 28 July 1936)

  • Honorary D. Sc. degree from the University of Allahabad (1937)


  • Felicitated by the Corporation of Calcutta on his 70th birthday (1932)

  • Autobiography, "Life and Experiences of Bengali Chemist", was published in 1932.

  • Felicitated by the Corporation of Karachi (1933)

  • Title of Jnanabaridi from Korotia College, Mymensingh (now the Government Saadat College) (1936)

  • Felicitated by the Corporation of Calcutta on his 80th birthday (1941)

  • Chemical Landmark Plaque of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the first to be situated outside Europe (2011).

Some contents in this blog are taken from Wikipedia, with the Original Link

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