The 19th century was a turning point in India's history, with many new technologies introduced by the British. Inspired, some Indians wished that our country too should be at the forefront of discovery. That's how India's oldest scientific research institute started.
Mahendra Lal Sircar
Dr. M.L. Sircar (born November 2nd, 1833) was a doctor in Calcutta. He was an eminent citizen, and wished to do something for his country. But rather than do something about the present, he thought about the future. He thought that for India to make progress in the coming centuries, it must take up science in a big way.
He was friendly with Father Eugene Lafont, who was also interested in promoting science. Together, they asked the people of Calcutta to contribute to creating a place just like Britain's Royal Institution, where young, scientifically-minded people could do research.
The people contributed enthusiastically. The Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) was inaugurated on July 29th, 1876 at 210, Bow Bazar Street, Calcutta. Dr. Sircar was the Secretary, and renowned persons like K.C. Sen and I.C. Vidyasagar were Trustees.
Initially, the IACS was able only to give free public lectures. Nevertheless, these were well-attended by the public. Scientists like J.C Bose & Fr. Lafont gave lectures. But M.L. Sircar was disappointed that young people did not come forward to do real research.
In 1907, a 19-year old officer in the Accountant General's department walked into the IACS premises, wanting to do some research in physics. A.L. Sircar, who was then the head there, enthusiastically accepted him. This was CV Raman, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1930.
Though Raman was appointed a professor in 1917 in the University of Calcutta, he preferred to do his research in IACS. And it was there; in 1928 that he discovered the famous Raman Effect.
In the beginning, CV Raman had no good instruments. He used sunlight as a source of light, and his own eyes as a detector. Yet he got his results published in Nature, the world's most prestigious scientific journal. Impressed, the industrialist GD Birla bought him a spectrograph.
Today, the IACS is one of India's leading scientific research institutions. It helps students conduct experiments in physics, materials science, all branches of chemistry and energy research. Many scientists like K.S. Krishnan (magnetism) and Meghnad Saha (astrophysics) have worked here. They later went on to establish other great institutes in the country.
If you ever go to Kolkata, do visit the IACS, where science took its first steps in India.