In the 1890s, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, a successful industrialist, decided to set up a world class university in India using his personal wealth. He strongly believed in the role of scientific research and higher education in social and economic transformation.
Tata’s dream of establishing what eventually came to be known as the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) became a reality with the support of the Mysore State, whose rulers also shared his commitment towards education and research. The Regent Queen Maharani Kempananjammani Vani Vilasa Sannidhana – her son Krishnaraja Wadiyar was a minor then – provided 371 acres and 16 guntas of land in Bangalore, funds for capital expenditure, and an annual contribution for Tata’s ambitious project. The remaining money to set up IISc came from the colonial government of India.
After overcoming several hurdles, including those resulting from Tata’s untimely death in the summer of 1904, IISc finally came into existence on 27 May 1909 in Bangalore following a vesting order and resolution passed by the government of India to establish the Institute. Its first Director was the English chemist Morris Travers. Twenty-four students joined when the Institute opened its doors to students in 1911.
The Institute started with just two academic departments: General and Applied Chemistry, and Electrical Technology. During those early years, urged by Sir M Visvesvaraya, the Dewan of Mysore who was nominated to IISc’s Council, researchers carried out studies that were of immediate importance to the country. This research even led to the establishment of six factories in less than five years. The most successful of these were the soap and sandalwood oil factories in Bangalore and Mysore. The Institute also grew to include departments such as those of Biochemistry and Physics. The latter was set up under Sir CV Raman, a Nobel Laureate who also became the first Indian Director of IISc in 1933.
During World War II, IISc contributed towards the war effort by training personnel, manufacturing military and industrial goods, and collaborating with Hindustan Aircraft Limited to repair and maintain British and American war planes. This period saw an expansion of research in engineering, and new departments such as those of Aeronautical Engineering, Metallurgy, and Mechanical Engineering were added in the 1940s.
In the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, under the stewardship of Director Satish Dhawan (an eminent aerospace engineer who also led ISRO), the Institute grew further to include a diverse range of research areas from materials science, computer science and automation, and molecular biophysics, to interdisciplinary work under the Centre for Theoretical Studies, which eventually led to the formation of other centres in ecology, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and more. The social impact of advancements in science was also a key focus during this period, particularly under the Cell for Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas (ASTRA), which continues today as the Centre for Sustainable Technologies.
Moving into the twenty-first century, IISc has set up an undergraduate programme, several new departments and centres in the areas of brain research, nanoscience and engineering, hypersonics and more, strengthened ties with industry, and incubated several start-ups. It has also expanded to include a 1500-acre campus at Challakere in Chitradurga district, Karnataka.
IISc counts among its former students and faculty several eminent scientists such as Homi J Bhabha, the founder of India’s nuclear program, Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of India’s space programme, the meteorologist Anna Mani, the biochemist and nutrition expert Kamala Sohonie, and solid state and materials scientist CNR Rao, to name just a few. The Institute also played a key role in establishing other academic institutions and organisations.
IISc has welcomed a number of distinguished guests, from Mohandas K. Gandhi and members of the Mysore royal family to Queen Elizabeth and officials of the British Raj, heads of state such as Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam and Nikita Khrushchev of the USSR, Nobel Laureates such as James Watson and Brian Schmidt, academicians such as the Tanzanian minister and diplomat WK Chagula, and Indian Prime Ministers such as Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, HD Deve Gowda, Manmohan Singh, and Narendra Modi.
|M W Travers||Nov 1906 – June 1914||Morris Travers was IISc’s first Director in 1909. In addition to setting up the departments of chemistry and electro-technology, the main building was also commissioned during his time as Director.|
|Alfred Bourne||Oct 1915 – Mar 1921||Sir Alfred G Bourne, a distinguished biologist, succeeded Travers in 1914.This was a challenging period for the fledgling Institute, compounded by the outbreak of World War I. He emphasised the value of research in basic sciences and is remembered as a researcher and teacher|
|Martin Onslow Forster||Nov 1922 – Mar 1933||Sir MO Forster took over the reins in 1922. During his directorship that spanned about a decade, several changes in terms of new courses and research programmes were initiated. He also ensured adequate funds for campus amenities for sports and physical fitness. After his retirement in 1933,he accepted an invitation fromthe Maharaja and settled down in the city of Mysore where he stayed until his death in 1945.|
|C V Raman||April 1933 – July 1937||Sir CV Raman was already a celebrated physicist and Nobel laureate when he became the first Indian Director of IISc in 1934. During his tenure, the Department of Physics blossomed into a leading department for teaching and research.|
|Jnan Chandra Ghosh||Aug 1939 – Dec 1948||Sir JC Ghosh was a pioneer in the growth of scientific research and technical education in India. He was the Director of IISc for nearly a decade (1939-1948), during which the Institute expanded its focus on engineering – the departments of aeronautics, power and high voltage, metallurgy and others came into existence during his tenure.|
|M S Thacker||Sept 1949 – Aug 1955||MS Thacker was the first IISc Director from an engineering field. He actively promoted engineering research in the Institute and later went on to hold other important positions in science and technology organisations – he became the Director-General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1955.|
|S Bhagavantam||Mar 1957 – Dec 1962||S Bhagavantam took over in1957. A distinguished physicist, he had started his research career as a member of CV Raman’s group in 1928.He was later appointed Scientific Advisor to the Minister of Defence in 1962,and played a crucial role in enhancing India’s military capabilities.|
|S Dhawan||Jan 1963 – July 1981||Satish Dhawan, a renowned aerospace scientist, became Director in 1962 and remained so for nearly two decades. For much of that period, he also served simultaneously as Director of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO),and apart from his immense contributions to the national space programme, he expanded IISc significantly in new directions, setting up new departments and centres of study such as the Centre for Theoretical Sciences and the Cell for Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas.|
|S Ramaseshan||Aug 1981 – July 1984||S Ramaseshan served as Joint Director from 1979, and Director from 1981-1984. Known for his work on crystallography and materials science, he is also remembered for his fostering of institutions and efforts to promote scientific journals.|
|C N R Rao||Aug 1984 – July 1994||CNR Rao, a renowned chemist took over as the Director in1984 and guided the institute over the next 10 years. He was conferred the Bharat Ratna in2013 for his lasting contributions to science. He currently serves as the Head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India.|
|G Padmanaban||Aug 1994 – July 1998||G Padmanabhan took charge in 1994. His primary research fields are biochemistry and biotechnology and he remains associated with the Institute as an Honorary Professor in the Department of Biochemistry. He is a recipient of both the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri.|
|Goverdhan Mehta||Aug 1998 – June 2005||Goverdhan Mehta, who was formerly Vice Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, was Director of the Institute from 1998-2005. An internationally acclaimed researcher in organic chemistry, he was also actively involved in science policy and education.|
|P Balaram||July 2005 – July 2014||P Balaram, a noted biochemist, became Director in 2005 and was in the position for nearly a decade. A number of interdisciplinary centres such as the Centre for Nano Science Engineering were established during his tenure|
|Anurag Kumar||Aug 2014 - July 2020||Anurag Kumar, who joined the IISc’s Department of Electrical Communication Engineering as a faculty member in 1988. He was the Director of IISc from 2014 - 2020.|
|Govindan Rangarajan||Since August 2020||He has been a faculty member of the Department of Mathematics, Indian Institute of Science (IISc)since 1992. He is currently the Director of IISc.|
|S Ramaseshan||Joint Director 1979–81|
|G Padmanaban||Deputy Director 1993–94|
|A Sridharan||Deputy Director 1994–97|
|M Vijayan||Associate Director 2000–04|
|N Balakrishnan||Associate Director 2005–14|
|Jayanth M Modak||Deputy Director Aug 2015 - July 2020|
|S Ramakrishnan||Deputy Director Aug 2015 - July 2018|
|Rudra Pratap||Deputy Director Aug 2018 - July 2020|
|Alfred Hay||Officiating Director June 1914–Oct 1915, Mar 1921–Nov 1922|
|B Venkateshachar||Director-In-Charge July 1937–July 1939|
|E V Ganapathi Iyer||Acting Director Nov 1947–Sep 1949|
|K Sreenivasan||Acting Director Aug 1955–Mar 1957|
|D K Banerjee||Acting Director April 1971–Mar 1972|