Sikh Scientist (1886-1960)
A direct descendant of Guru Amar Das and a scientist of repute, was born at Vairoval in Amritsar district on 17 April 1886, the son of Bawa Jivan Singh, who was a member of the Indian Medical Service and was posted to Burma. Kartar Singh had his early education at D.A.V. School, Lahore, and Collegiate School, Rangoon. He passed the Entrance Examination of Calcutta University in 1903, standing seventh in order of merit. He proceeded to England in 1904 and studied at the Downing College of the Cambridge University, where he distinguished himself as a Prizeman of the College in 1905 and obtained a Tripos in Natural Sciences in 1906. He continued his postgraduate studies at the universities of Cambridge, London and Dublin. He was awarded Sc.D. degree by the Dublin University in 1921 for his researches in Stereochemistry. Cambridge University also awarded him Sc.D. degree in 1941 for his outstanding research work.
On his return to India, Bawa Kartar Singh joined as Professor of Chemistry at Government College, Dacca. There he came in contact with Dr E.R. Watson, the reputed dye chemist of India. He left Dacca College in 1918 to join Government College, Lahore, as the Head of the Department of Chemistry. In 1921, he was selected for appointment to Indian Education Service (I.E.S.) and was posted at the Patna Government College (now Patna University). Soon he was transferred to the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, where he worked as Head of the Department of Chemistry till 1936. There he carried on with his research and published many papers in scientific journals of repute in India and abroad.
During 1925-26 Bawa Kartar Singh went to England and France on study leave and worked at the universities of Cambridge, St. Andrews, and Paris. In 1936, he returned to Patna and joined as Head of the Chemistry Department in Science College under Patna University and as Chemical Adviser to Government of Bihar. After his retirement from Government service in 1940, he joined as Professor and Head of the Department of Chemistry at Allahabad University. After retirement from there in 1946, he was appointed Professor Emeritus by the University.
He decided to settle at Lahore where he was appointed Honorary Professor of Chemistry and Associate Director of Punjab Institute of Chemistry, but after the partition of the country in 1947, he joined the Hindu University, Vardnasi, which offered him research facilities. He worked there in an honorary capacity till March 1960. He shifted to Chandigarh in 1960 and intended to continue his research at the Panjab University but a sudden attack of paralysis cut short his long research career of nearly half a century
and he died on 16 June 1960 at Chandigarh.
Bawa Kartar Singh’s devotion to science earned him widespread reputation in India and abroad. In 1920, he was elected President of the Chemistry Section of the Indian Science Congress. He was Founder Fellow of the Indian Chemical Society and a member of its Council for a number of years. He served the Society as its Vice-President and President and as honorary editor of its journal. He was the vice-president of the Indian Academy of Sciences from 1934 to 1938 and vice-president of the National Institute of Sciences of India for two terms. He was Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences during 1944-46. He was awarded fellowship of the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland in 1921. His research was mostly in the field of Stereochemistry. He prepared several compounds containing an asymmetric nitrogen atom and brought out the relation between optical activity and chemical constitution of compounds. The nature of racemic modification also attracted his attention and he developed a biochemical method to distinguish between a racemic mixture and a racemic compound. He was deeply interested in the nature of optically active compounds and accumulated a vast mass of data which would help those who work in elucidating the laws governing Optical Rotation. He is known as father of Stereochemistry in India.
Bawa Kartar Singh came of a deeply religious family and was himself a devout Sikh of the Guru. At Patna, he as President of the Takht Harimandar Patna Sahib supervised the construction of the main gateway, the Deodhi Sahib, and during his stay at Cuttock he had got the building of Gurdwara Datan Sahib, an old shrine in memory of Guru Nanak’s visit, reconstructed.