Today is Jayanti of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, founder of CSIR, in whose name awards are given out to aspiring scientists. And an equally good poet, composed the Kulgeet for Benaras Hindu University in Sanskrit, and wrote in Urdu under name of Seemab.
As a scientist, Bhatnagar played a major role in ensuring chemical industry is an important part of Indian economy, something he owed a lot to his teacher, the renowned P.C.Ray.
Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar was born on February 21, 1894 in Bhera, a small town now located in the Punjab province of Pakistan. His father Parameswar Sahai, was a Brahmo, driven by ideology, and a second master at Anglo-Sanskrit High School in Shahpur district.
With his father passing away when he was just 8 years old, Shanti was bought up by his maternal grandfather, Munshi Pyare Lal, one of the earliest graduates of Rorkee Engineering College.
Growing up in his grandfather’s rather large home at Sikandra in UP’s Bulandshahr district, Shanti spent time reading the books in the large private library he had. He would later pass over his grandfather’s entire collection to Lahore University in 1919.
He also inherited the passion for engineering and science from his grandfather, especially the instruments, geometry, algebra. His love for literature was more from his mother’s side, which had a rich tradition of poets and writers.
Shanti’s schooling was at the A.V.High School in Sikandarabad, and was quite a brilliant student. His father’s friend Lala Raghunath Sahai, persuaded his mother to send him to Lahore, where he was working as the headmaster at Dyal Singh High School.
It was at Lahore that he came into contact with Pandit Shiv Nath Shastry and Abinash Chandra Mazumdar, both of them Brahmos, which in a way influenced his ideology too.
In 1911, he joined the newly established Dyal Singh college in Lahore, where he was an active member of the Theater Society. Earning a good reputation as an actor, he also wrote a one act play in Urdu called Karamati, with active encouragement.
His interest in literature continued in life, when after the death of his wife, he wrote a collection of Urdu poems in her memory called Lajwanti. He joined Forman Christian College in 1913 for his BSc degree, where he took up a Honors course in Physics.
After graduation he worked for some time as a Demonstrator in the Physics and Chemistry department of Forman Christian College, and he would later complete his MSc in Chemistry from the same college in 1919.
The Dyal Singh College trust granted him a scholarship to pursue his studies abroad, and he left for London. He studied at the University College of London, under Professor F.G.Doonan, and was given the degree in 1921.
His main area of study in London was study of adhesion and cohesion in emulsions and his thesis was entitled ‘Solubilities of bi- and trivalent salts of higher fatty acids in oils and their effect on surface tension of oils.’
Returning to India, Shanti joined Benares Hindu University as Professor of Chemistry, and worked there for three years. During his stint at BHU, he created an active school of physical chemistry research, penned the University’s Kulgeet in Sanskrit.
From BHU he once again moved to Lahore, where he was appointed as Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of University Chemical Laboratories. He worked for 16 years at Punjab University, Lahore till 1940, where he produced some of his best work.
In 1928 he invented the Bhatnagar-Mathur Magnetic Interference Balance along with K.N.Mathur, a very sensitive instrument for measuring magnetic properties.
He also did considerable work in industrial and applied chemistry, one of his first projects was to convert bagasse( sugarcane peelings) into cattle fodder, which he did for Ganga Ram, one of the prominent Punjabi industrialists.
Another achievement of his was for Attock Oil Company at Rawalpindi, where they had an issue while drilling for oil. The mud used for their drilling operation would come in contact with saline water and get further solidified, making further work impossible.
He added an Indian gum, which lowered the viscosity of mud suspension, and increased it’s stability too against the electrolytes flocculating action. Ms. Steel Brothers the parent company of Attock Oil, offered him a grant of Rs 1.5 lakhs for research on petroleum.
Bhatnagar used the grant to establish a Department of Petroleum Research at the University, and this later carried out many studies on petroleum and it’s products. Some of them included deodorization of waxes, utilization of waste products in vegetable oil.
The company later increased the grant amount and extended the period to ten years, impressed by the work that was going on. He never used any of the grants he receieved for his personal purposes, and utilized it only for strenghtening the research facilities at University.
Along with K.N.Mathur he wrote a book “Physical Principles and Applications of Magneto chemistry” which is regarded as a standard work on the subject.
In 1933, Sir Richard Gregory, editor of Nature, while visiting the universities in India, drew attention to lack of an appropriate central research organization for development of natural resources and new industries.
It was not just him, even others like Sir C.V.Raman, Dr.J.C.Ghosh, had proposed for an Advisory Board for Scientific Research, on the lines of DSIR in Britian. Indian scientists initiated schemes to launch National Institute of Sciences.
The then Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare, advised the Viceroy Lord Willingdon, to support the idea, who rejected it saying, it was not ncessary. In 1934, the Govt however made a small concession to create an Indian Intelligence and Research Bureau.
This meant the institute could only do testing and quality control, but not undertake any industrial activity. When the Bureau was proposed to be abolished during WWII, Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar, proposed the creation of a Board of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Thanks to Mudaliar’s persistent efforts, the Board was created on April 1, 1940 for a period of two years and Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar was asked to take charge as the first Director, while Mudaliar became the first Chairman.
Allocated an annual budget of Rs 50,000, placed under Commerce Department, by the end of 1940, BSIR had about 80 researchers engaged, of whom around 20 were directly employed.
By 1942, the Institution came up with a number of processes, some of which included purification of Baluchistan sulphur, development of vegetable oil blends as fuel, development of plastic packing cases for army boots and uniforms.
Bhatnagar persuaded the Government in 1941, to set up an Industrial Research Utilization Committee( IRUC) to transform research findings into action. The Central Assembly in Delhi accepted the reccomendations to constitute an Industrial Research Fund for five years
And the efforts of Mudaliar and Bhatnagar came to fruit when the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research was founded on September 28, 1942 as an Autonomous body.
In 1943, CSIR Governing body approved proposal to set up 5 national laboratories-the National Chemical Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory, the Fuel Research Station, and the Glass and Ceramics Research Institute.
CSIR got a grant of Rs 10 million to establish these laboratories, while Tata Group donated Rs 2 million for the Chemical, Mettalurgical labs.
Post independence, Bhatnagar played a major role along with Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, P.C. Mahalanobis to build up the science and technology infrastructure, as well as policies.
As Director General of CSIR, Bhatnagar, also established the Central Food Technology Processing Institute at Mysore, National Mettalurgical Lab at Jamshedpur, Central Fuel Institute at Dhanbad.
He also mentored other scientists like Syamdas Chatterjee, Asutosh Mukherjee, Shantilal Banereej at Kolkata, apart from being the Secretary of Ministry of Education. He played a major role in drafting the Scientifc Manpower Comittee Report of 1948.
He was also instrumental in establishing the National Research Development Corporation( NDRC), and negotiated with oil companies for setting up refineries in different parts of the country.
On January 1, 1955 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar passed away at just 60, but not before leaving a very rich legacy in terms of establishing the scientific infrastructure needed for the development of the country.

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