Dr Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar
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Indian Scientists> Dr Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar
Dr Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar
Indian Scientists

Dr Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar was born on February 21, 1894, in Behda village of Shahpur district in Punjab. This region is now in Pakistan. When Shantiswaroop was just eight months old, his father passed away. His mother took young Shand to her father’s place in Sikandrabad in Uttar Pradesh. Here the child grew up in a cultured environment. His maternal grandfather was an engineer. Influenced by his grandfather, Shantiswaroop developed a liking for architecture and vastu shastra. Besides, chemistry and physics were his favourite subjects.

Lala Raghunath of Lahore was his father’s close friend. He was the principal of Dayal High School in Lahore. He brought the young Shantiswaroop to Lahore and admitted him to Dayal High School. Lack of fatherly care since childhood, had instilled in Shantiswaroop. a sense of responsibility, seriousness and studiousness. This helped him in his studies. He became self-reliant and hard working.

In 1911, he passed his matriculation examination and Joined Dayal College. At that time he came Into contact with the famous Indian scientist Jagadlsh Chandra Bose and his Interest towards science became a passion. After graduation, he joined the Christian College in Lahore for his post-graduation. Meanwhile, In 1915, he married Lajwanti. It was the time of World War I, but India was not directly affected, hence his studies continued unaffected.

Passing his graduate and post-graduate examinations with good marks ensured that he could study further at London University. There he began research under the guidance of physical chemistry Prof Donan. His area of study was the physical and chemical problems of emulsions. He wrote a dissertation on this subject and got the Doctor of Science degree. For further studies he went to Germany and did research for some time at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. He then left for France for a year. He did research at the world famous Sorbonne University in Paris and in 1923 returned to India.

After his return to India, on an invitation from Pandit Madan Mohan Malavlya, the founder of Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi, he joined the university as professor of chemistry. After a year, in 1924, he joined the Punjab University in Lahore as professor. He served here for long. Meanwhile, near Rawalpindi, a British company was involved in drilling of oil fields. Drilling work suddenly came to a standstill one day. With drilling equipment, engineers and workers becoming idle, a lot of overheads (expenditure) started piling up. It so happened that the place where drilling was carried out was a wet wasteland. Pools and puddles were once part of the area. The water there was salty. When the water dried up, the ground became hard as stone. On drilling such a ground, there was a gush of soil mixture, which got mixed with the salty water and slowly turned hard and dried up, resulting in the drill coming to a standstill. This resulted In losses amounting to thousands of rupees dally. To come out of this impasse, the company tried every possible means: Inquiring with people, giving open Invitation through newspapers, besides luring people with huge rewards and payment to find a solution. Finally, someone suggested Bhatnagar’s name. He took up the challenge to find a solution.

Bhatnagar had done a lot of research on emulsions like the mixtures of oil and water and various oily substances termed as colloids. Milk can be termed as an example of this type of emulsion and gum as an example of colloids. Bhatnagar visited the place and after taking samples from there, started work in his laboratory. He at once came to realize that this situation arose when the mixture coming out during drilling mixed with the salty water. It was not possible to stop the mixture from mixing with the salty water, but if the salt content could be done away with, then there was a possibility of solving the problem. He suggested adding a country gum to the mixture that gushed out during drilling. The gum would make the mixture sticky and stop it from turning hard. The ploy was successful. The company officials were ecstatic. The company had been saved from losing lakhs of rupees. The company gave Bhatnagar one and a half lakh rupees as prize money and an offer to share a suitable amount from the production profit. But this Indian scientist had fulfilled this mission as a duty towards his country. He refused to accept the reward. “I have just done my duty,” he said.

Bhatnagar suggested the money be given to the Punjab University, to start a new department relating to petroleum research. Bhatnagar’s decision to give away the prize money was appreciated by people. He was a true researcher and science teacher.

He served for 16 years at Punjab University. During this time, he did research on important topics like photochemistry, magneto-chemistry, etc. With help from a co-worker he had designed the Magneto Interference Balance, an instrument to measure the magnetism of various objects. Besides, he had perfected methods to develop colourless and odourless wax, kerosene which can give a brighter light, high quality lubricant oil, etc.

The British government then had set up a board for scientific and Industrial research. Bhatnagar was chosen as its director. During World War 11, he had developed a cloth and varnish that could be used for protection against poisonous gas. Besides, he had also developed a bubbly frothy mixture to extinguish fire.

In 1947, when India attained independence, the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave priority to projects that encouraged science. Bhatnagar provided the necessary inputs and guidance. After independence, the Scientific and Industrial Research Department was rechristened as Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Under Bhatnagar’s guidance 12 high class and well-equipped national laboratories were set up, to provide all the facilities to the country’s budding scientists.

Bhatnagar had taken up the responsibility of various organizations: as director of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), secretary to the Government of India’s Scientific Research Department, secretary to Atomic Energy Commission, University Grants Commission chairman, etc. He contributed immensely by attracting financial aid for scientific research and developing facilities for them.

Many universities and research institutes in the country and abroad bestowed on him honorary doctorate degrees and honorary membership. Britain’s Royal Society made him an honorary member in 1943. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Vlbhushan.

On January 1, 1955, at the age of 61. this great sage and scientist died. The Dr Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar Award is given every year for excellence in any field of engineering, science and technology. This is the country's biggest and the most prestigious award in the field of science.