Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Homi Jehangir Bhabha


      Bhabha was a great scientist and an equally great institution builder.Religion He played a decisive role in putting India on the atomic energy map ofthe world.   
         Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born in Bombay on 10 October 1909,in a Parsi family. His father, Jehangir Hormusji Bhabha, hadbeen educated at Oxford and later qualified as a lawyer. On his returningto India, he joined the judicial service in Mysore. But after his marriage to Meherbai Framji Panday (granddaughter of Sir Dinshaw Maneckji Petit), he moved to Bombay, where he was associated with the Tata industrial house. The Bhabha family came close to the Tata family when Jehangir Hormusji’s sister Meherbai married Sir Dorab Tata, son of jamshedji Tata. The Tata connection proved very useful to Homi Bhabha in his later life.
Homi Jehangir Bhabha
      Homi started his education at the Cathedral and john Cannon HighSchool in Bombay, from where he passed the Senior Cambridge examination with honours. Later, he joined Elphinstone College and subsequently, the Royal Institute of Science, Bombay. Homi was notreally interested in sports, though he did take part in rowing and playedtennis while studying at Cambridge. From the very beginning, he was inclined academically and won several prizes in school as Well as in college. He supplemented his formal education by reading a wide variety of books on art, music, literature and science, which were available in the personal collections of his grandfather and father. At an early age, he developed a great interest in science and his parents bought hundreds of books on science to satisfy their son’s urge for scientific study. It is said that by the age of sixteen, Homi Bhabha had studied and understood the special theory of relativity. Homi had not even completed his eighteenth year when his parents decided to send him to England for higher studies. Bhabha joined the Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1927, courtesy Dorab Tata, who had studied in the same college and had created a trust by donating twenty-five thousand pounds to the college. Homi studied engineering, conceding to the wishes of his father, and obtained a first class in the Mechanical Science Tripos in June 1930. After that he worked as a research student in theoretical physics, the subject which was more to his liking. After completing the Mathematics Tripos, Bhabha won the Rouse Ball Travelling Fellowship in 1932, which enabled him to travel to other places and work there. Thus he was able to work with some of the leading physicists in Europe: Wolfgang Pauli in Zurich and Fermi in Rome. His own research work had come to the notice of the scientistsand as a result he was awarded the Isaac Newton Studentship, which he held for three years. He worked mainly at Cambridge with a short spell in Bohr’s Institute. Copenhagen. By 1935, Bhabha had completed the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in 1937; he was awarded the Exhibition Scholarship, which enabled him to continue his research work at Cambridge.
ln 1939, Bhabha was in India on a holiday. In the meanwhile, the Second World War broke out and England became a dangerous place to live. He had to abandon his plans to return to England to continue his research work. By now, he had lived and studied in England for thirteen years. Now, Bhabha had to opt for a career in India. He accepted the post of a Reader, Department of Physics, in the Institute of Science, Bangalore, which had been established by jamshedji Tata way back in 1911 and was a premium science institute in the country. An added attraction for Bhabha was the presence of CV. Raman in the Institute, as the head of the Department of Physics. Bhabha became a professor in 1944. Homi Bhabha specialized early in quantum theory and cosmic radiation. The Dorab Tata Trust gave him a small grant with which he established the Cosmic Ray Research Unit in the department. He had published his first scientific paper in October 1933, in which he had described the part played by electrons in the absorption of cosmic rays. He wanted to continue research in the newly established Cosmi Ray Research Unit. His contribution in the field of cosmic ray research was recognized by the world and he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Britain in 1941. In 1943, he was awarded the Adams Prize by the University of Cambridge for his work on cosmic rays. He was also noted for being the first person to calculate the cross-section for electron/positron scattering, which is known as the Bhabha Scattering. He discovered cosmic particles, with a hundred times greater energy than any other previously known. He announced his discovery at the International Technical Conference at Stockholm in September 1952.
By now, Bhabha had made ambitious plans in his mind and for that, the Institute at Bangalore seemed inadequate to him. Bhabha approached the Dorab Tata Trust once again, with plans for an institute fully devoted to nuclear sciences, and which could play a leading role in offering world class research facilities for Indian scientists. As a result the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay, came into being in 1944. Bhabha now moved to Bombay, after spending ‘six very happy and fruitful years' in Bangalore. After the Second World War, it became clear to Bhabha that Indian industry and economy on the whole would require a tremendous amount of energy, which was not possible to procure from the conventional sources of energy. The answer lay in using nuclear power, derived from fuels developed from India’s vast resources of uranium and thorium. He devoted his time and energy toward that end. From a research scientist he became an institution builder and almost retired from research in physics. His institution building career had essentially one aim in his mind to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was the first step in that direction. The research done there had to be translated into concrete form. To make that possible, assistance from the Government of India in various forms was necessary. It must go to the credit of Jawaharlal Nehru that he assured full support of his government to Homi Bhabha. Through Bhabha’s efforts, the Indian Atomic Act was passed in 1948 by the Parliament and the same year the Atomic Energy Commission was constituted, which was essentially a policy-making body. A full-fledged atomic energy programme obviously could not be carried out and overseen on day-to-day basis by it. For that, a regular department of the government was necessary. The prime minister agreed to Bhabha’s proposal and the Department of Atomic Energy was created in 1954, with Bhabha as secretary. The department ‘would fund, create and operate all the facilities needed for the atomic energy programme’. Bhabha was also the director of TIFR. So far, the atomic energy programme was being executed with the help of TIFR and its scientists. As TIFR was conducting multiphasic research in its laboratories besides atomic research, at the suggestion of Bhabha, a new laboratory was created at Trombay, near Bombay, for the exclusive purpose of atomic research. It was called the Atomic Energy Establishment. The name was later changed to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), which started functioning in 1954. At the suggestion of Bhabha, the Department of Atomic Energy was shifted to Bombay, so that work at the Department, TIFR and BARC could be coordinated expeditiously. In 1954, Bhabha decided that Atomic Energy Establishment` Trombay (AEET) should have a Swimming Pool Reactor to conduct atomic research. The assembly of the systems commenced sometime in 1955 and the reactor itself went into operation in August 1956. Nehru dedicated the reactor to the nation and gave it the name APSARA, which is still functioning. APSARA was a major milestone for the generation of atomic power because the reactor had been designed and built in India. The fuel element alone came from England. It was made clear by the Government of India that atomic power will be used for peaceful purposes only.
Bhabha attended the first ‘Atoms for Peace’ conference in Geneva, under the auspices of the United Nations and was elected its president. After the Geneva Conference, an International Atomic Energy Agency was created, with its headquarters at Vienna. Bhabha became a member of its Scientific Advisory Committee and remained so till his death.
Under the expert guidance of Bhabha, two more reactors, Cyrus and Zerlina, were built. Construction of the country’s first atomic power station began at Tarapore in 1963. Unfortunately Bhabha did not live to see its commissioning, which was done a year after his death. Bhabha also played a pivotal role in conceiving and planning the Indian space programme and helped in setting up the Indian National Committee for Space Research, under Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. Bhabha was also chairman of the Government Electronic Committee. He also promoted research in radio astronomy and microbiology. The radio telescope at Ootacamund is one of his creations in this direction.
Bhabha died in a plane crash on 24 January 1966 at the age of fifty seven. He died a bachelor.
Bhabha was a great lover of music, especially western classical. He was also drawn t0 painting, literature, architecture and landscaping. His paintings and drawings are of considerable merit and some of them are preserved in British art galleries. He was a born artist and had acquired refined tastes. The flower beds, the landscaping, the architecture of the building of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, all bear witness to the keenness of Homi Bhabha’s perception of colour, form and design. However, he will be remembered most as the chief architect of Indian atomic energy establishment, on which the future of our country largely depends.

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