Book-release: Morris Travers-Scientist and Pioneer, An Autobiography.

Location: Faculty Hall


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ROHINI KRISHNAMURTHY*

The autobiography of IISc’s first Director Morris W Travers, published by IIScPress, was released on 20 February 2017 by the eminent historian Ramachandra Guha and P Balaram, IISc’s former Director. The current Director, Anurag Kumar, was also present on the occasion.

A student of Nobel Laureate Sir William Ramsay, Travers was a British chemist, who discovered three missing elements in the periodic table during his stint at the University College London. The discovery of these three missing elements ̶ krypton, xenon and neon ̶ also earned him the name ‘Rare Gas Travers’. Eight years later, Travers was appointed the first Director of the newly set-up institute of scientific research, first-of-its-kind in India, now called the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

Release of Travers’ autobiography (Courtesy: IIScPress)

Travers arrived in India in 1906, and assumed charge as the Director of the Institute at the young age of 34. His journey from London to India ̶ from being a chemist to the role of an administrator and an institution builder at the University of Bristol, UK ̶ is succinctly chronicled in his autobiography Morris W Travers: Scientist and Pioneer. The book was released in the building, whose construction Travers oversaw.

Besides carrying a detailed account of Travers’ early life in England, his stay in India, and life after IISc, this book also incorporates letters that Travers wrote and received, giving us a peek into his life. The book also has a section dedicated to his work on borohydrates at the Institute which paved way for future research in this field.

The autobiography has been edited by Travers’ grandsons David MW Travers and John R Ainslie who visited IISc during its centenary celebrations in 2009. Based on suggestions made by Balaram, they obtained Travers’s handwritten manuscript from the University College London Library. Later, GK Ananthasuresh (then Chair, IIScPress and Professor, Mechanical Engineering) was instrumental in bringing the book to life as an edited autobiography.

During his talk, Guha said that he found the book visually attractive, readable and accessible, and congratulated IIScPress for its efforts, but he also believed that Scottish biologist and town-planner Patrick Geddes and Swami Vivekananda, who, he said, played prominent roles in the prehistory of IISc, should have found a mention in the book. According to him, Geddes laid the first blueprint of the Institute and Swami Vivekananda instilled the idea of establishing an institute of scientific research into JN Tata’s mind, the founder of the Institute.

Adding to Guha’s comments, Balaram felt that the gestation period of the Institute was missing in his autobiographical account as Travers arrived on the scene much later. “This part of Institute’s history is still unexplored and needs further investigation,” he said.