1909 - 1966

Life and work of the great Visionary, Homi J. Bhabha 

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

Homi J. Bhabha

Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born in Bombay on October 30, 1909 to Jehangir and Meherbai Bhabha. Jehangir Bhabha had grown up in Bangalore and was educated at Oxford. After receiving his training as a lawyer in England, Jehangir started working in Mysore where he joined the judicial service of the state. He married Meherbai, daughter of Bhikaji Framji Pandey and granddaughter of the renowned philanthropist, Dinshaw Petit of Bombay. After marriage, the couple moved to Bombay, the first commercial city of British India where young Bhabha spent his childhood.

Homi with his parents, Meherbai Bhabha and Jehangir Bhabha

Homi was named after his paternal grandfather, Hormusji Bhabha, Inspector General of Education in Mysore.

Homi with his parents, grandfather and Aunt Meherbai Tata
Hormusji Bhabha, grandfather of Homi Bhabha

Homi’s paternal aunt, also Meherbai, was married to Dorab Tata, the elder son of the pioneer of Indian industry, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. Here, at the Tatas’ ancestral home, the commercial world of his industrialist uncle revealed itself to the young Homi. 

But he also observed the deep bonds that the Tatas had forged with institutions of learning notably the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, of which, Sir Dorab had taken charge of, following the death of Jamsetji Tata.

Homi and Jamshed Bhabha with their parents

Homi had his schooling at the Cathedral and John Connon School, Bombay, which, he would observe years later, did much to foster his love for science.

After attending Elphinstone College and the Royal Institute of Science, both in Bombay, Homi was sent to England in 1927, to the Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge and was a Scholar of the College till 1929-1930.

Bhabha enrolled for Mechanical Tripos in Cambridge since his father and his uncle, Sir Dorab wanted him to become an engineer and join the Tata Industries.

 At Cambridge, Homi’s interests soon shifted to theoretical physics and mathematics. He described this passion in a letter to his father in 1928:

 “I seriously say to you that business or a job as an engineer is not the thing for me. It is totally foreign to my nature and radically opposed to my temperament and opinions. Physics is my line. I know I shall do great things here. For, each man can do best and excel in only that thing of which he is passionately fond, in which he believes, as I do, that he has the ability to do it, that he is in fact born and destined to do it...Besides India is not a land where science cannot be carried on.”

Homi Bhabha

In another letter, Homi writes to his father-

 “I am burning with a desire to do physics. I will and must do it sometime. It is my only ambition. I have no desire to be a ‘successful’ man or the head of a big firm. There are intelligent people who like that and let them do it... It is no use saying to Beethoven, ‘You must be a scientist, for it is a great thing’ when he did not care two hoots for science; or to Socrates, ‘Be an engineer: it is the work of an intelligent man.’ It is not in the nature of things. I therefore earnestly implore you to let me do physics.”

His fathers agreed to let him pursue theoretical physics, enroll for the mathematical tripos, provided he devoted himself first to his mechanical tripos and got a first class. 

Bhabha achieved that in June 1930 and was free to devote himself to his interest in theoretical physics. His initial interests were mainly in positron theory and cosmic rays physics.

At Cambridge, Bhabha joined the Cavendish Laboratory, from where he obtained his PhD with R.H. Fowler as his thesis supervisor.

Bhabha’s important contributions during the Cambridge period include the explanation of relativistic exchange scattering (Bhabha Scattering); the theory of production of electron and positron showers in cosmic rays (Bhabha-Heitler theory); speculation about the Yukawa particle related to which was his suggestion of the name meson; and prediction of relativistic time dilatation effects in the decay of the meson.

Bhabha was the first to do a proper quantum theoretic calculation of the process of electron-positron annihilation and creation – one of the basic processes in quantum electro dynamics using Dirac’s theory. This process, known as the Bhabha Scattering, is even today used as a luminosity monitor in electron-positron collider physics experiments.

Homi Bhabha  and Paul Dirac
Bhabha Scattering

Jointly with the German scientist W. Heitler, then at Cambridge, Bhabha explained the cosmic-ray shower formation in a paper published in 1937.

It had been discovered by 1918 that there is a strong level of radiation in the upper atmosphere. Robert Millikan, who was the first to identify that the origin of the radiation was from outside the Earth, called it cosmic radiation.

During the 1930s, it was discovered that extensive but short-lived patches of high-intensity radiation develop in the sky, and then die out. Bhabha and Heitler developed a theory of this process by the cascade production of gamma rays and electron-positron pairs.

A high-energy particle from the Sun, or from some remote source like a star, a galaxy, or a quasar, hits the atoms of the upper atmosphere. This hard hit causes the nuclei of these atoms to disintegrate, creating a number of high-energy fragments and new particles. These fragments fly off with enough energy to hit neighboring atoms and cause their nuclei in turn to disintegrate and fly off.

This process continues, over miles, with ever-diminishing energy, till the last fragments in the chain have no more energy to cause nuclear reactions. The shower of fast-moving charged particles thus created gets detected as cosmic radiation. Not all the experimental facts about cosmic ray showers, however, were accounted for by the Bhabha-Heitler theory.

To explain the penetrating component, Bhabha made the far-reaching hypothesis that there must exist a new particle with the same characteristics as the electron but approximately 100 times heavier.

This was an original deduction and Bhabha’s prediction was soon corroborated by the discovery of Neddermeyer and Anderson. These particles were then given the name “meson”. 

 Today this particle is called the ‘muon’. It is approximately 200 times heavier than the electron.

The Bhabha-Heitler picture of a shower produced by a cascadde of electromagnetic processes

Bhabha was also the first to point out that cosmic rays, moving at speeds close to that of light, are the best place to verify the conclusions of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. For example, mesons, which normally decay within a distance of half a kilometer, can travel more than 10 km down to the Earth’s surface because relativistic time dilation increases their decay lifetime.

Bhabha proposed vector mesons as particles, in addition to Yukawa’s scalar mesons, that would play a role in the nuclear interaction. These vector mesons were massive, had spin one and odd parity. Thus he explained the fact that the triplet state of the deuteron (a heavy isotope of hydrogen whose nucleus has one proton and one neutron) was the lowest stable state.

Production of secondary cosmic ray particles in terrestial atmosphere

Bhabha held the Rouse Ball Travelling studentship from 1932-34 during which he visited Enrico Fermi at the Institute of Physics in Rome.

During 1934-36, Bhabha held the Issac Newton studentship.

 In 1936, he was awarded a Senior Studentship of the Exhibition of 1851.

Bhabha came to India for a holiday in 1939, but the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 made him change his plans.

He joined the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore, where a Readership in Theoretical Science was specially created for him. 

Prof. C.V. Raman, who was at IISc at that time, was highly impressed by Homi Bhabha.

Bhabha's sketch of C.V. Raman

In 1941, Bhabha was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

He was awarded the Adams prize in 1942 for his thesis on “The theory of elementary physical particles and their interactions”.

During his five-year period in Bangalore, Bhabha realized the difficulty of carrying out research activities in India. He understood that none of the existing research institutions in the country had facilities for original work in nuclear physics, cosmic ray physics, high energy physics and other frontiers of physics.

In a letter to his friend, J.R.D Tata, Bhabha wrote “The lack of proper conditions and intelligent financial support hampers the development of science in India at the pace the talent in the country would warrant”. 

J.R.D realized the need of a world class research Institute for India and suggested to Bhabha that he should write to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust for funds to set up a new institute.

Homi Bhabha and J.R.D. Tata

In March 1944, Bhabha sent a proposal to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. In a letter to Sir Sorab Saklatvala he wrote:

“ I have for some time past nurtured the idea of founding a first class school of research in the most advanced branches of physics in Bombay...”

“ ....There is at the moment in India no big school of research in the fundamental problems of physics, both theoretical and experimental.... It is absolutely in the interest of India to have a vigorous school of research in fundamental physics, for such a school forms the spearhead of research not only in less advanced branches of physics but also in problems of immediate practical application in industry.”

In the same letter he writes : “ When nuclear energy has been successfully applied for power production in, say, a couple of decades from now , India will not have to look abroad for its experts but will find them ready at hand.”

" The scheme I am now submitting to you is but an embryo from  which I hope to build up in the course of time a school of physics comparable with the best anywhere."

The Trustees of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust accepted Bhabha’s proposal.

In May 1945, the Trustees decided to sponsor an Institute for Fundamental Research, in co-operation with the Government of Bombay. It was decided to incorporate the Cosmic Ray Unit of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in this Institute and to name the new Institute- “The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research”

 The Provisional Council consisting of,

 Sir S.D. Saklatvala (Chairman) Representative of the Sir Dorab Tata Trust 

 Mr S.N. Moos                                Representative of the Government of Bombay

 Dr John Mathai                            Representative of the Sir Dorab Tata Trust

 Dr H.J. Bhabha                             Director of the Institute

 held its first meeting on May 18, 1945.  

In this meeting, a tentative proposal for the budget of Rs.80, 000 was passed for the year 1945-46.

The income available was-  Rs 45,000 from the Sir Dorab Tata Trust,  Rs 25,000 from the Government of Bombay , Rs 10,000 from the Council of Scientific and  Industrial Research

 

Sir Dorab Tata Trust also provided a special grant of Rs.50, 000 for buying the equipment of the Cosmic Ray Research Unit of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Homi Bhabha
D.D. Kosambi

Dr H.J. Bhabha was appointed as Director of the Institute from June 1, 1945.  Prof. D.D. Kosambi was appointed as the Professor of Mathematics from June 16, 1945.

Dr Bhabha and Prof. Kosambi were recognized as University teachers for the course of studies leading to a PhD  degree of the University of Bombay.

The Institute may be considered to have commenced its work on June 1, 1945 at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
Kenilworth- the bungalow from where TIFR functioned during 1945-1949

The Institute was shifted to Bombay and formally inaugurated by Sir John Colville, Governor of Bombay, on December 19, 1945.

In a memorable inaugural lecture about the state of research in the world, Bhabha also discussed the philosophical aspects of science:

“Science has at last opened up the possibility of freedom for all from long hours of manual drudgery and today we stand at the beginning of an age when every person will have the opportunity to develop himself spiritually to his fullest stature. With the mastery of atomic energy and the accelerating progress of science in other fields, the world in a hundred years time will look as different from today as today is different from the Middle Ages.”

Bhabha with John Colville and Sorab Saklatvala at the inauguration of TIFR in 1945
Bhabha at the inauguration of TIFR at Kenilworth. John Colville and Sorab Saklatvala are seen sitting.

The new institute grew rapidly. As brilliant individuals joined TIFR to set up and lead research groups, the institute’s departments grew steadily around them. The first research areas to be taken up were theoretical physics, experimental work in cosmic rays and high-energy physics, and mathematics. For Bhabha, research in modern experimental areas was of critical importance, not only for its own sake and to  provide the right balance for the theoretical studies, but  also for the consequent confidence that it generated  in the design, fabrication and use of equipment. For similar reasons, Bhabha understood the importance of developing mathematics at TIFR.

The first departments were led by scientists like R.R Daniel, B. V Sreekantan and D.D. Kosambi.

R.R Daniel
B. V Sreekantan

The mathematician K. Chandrasekharan, joined the Institute on 1st July,1949

K. Chandrasekharan

Later in September 1949, the Institute moved from its 6000 square feet old premises on Pedder Road to 35,000 square feet at the Old Yacht Club near the Gateway of India.

Old Yacht Club, which continues to be the location of the Department of Atomic Energy

Bernard Peters joined TIFR in 1951 as a Professor in Experimental Physics and stayed on till 1958, directing research work on cosmic rays and nuclear emulsions.

Under scientists like M.G.K. Menon, B.M. Udgaonkar, K.S. Singhvi and R. Narasimhan, TIFR’s activities expanded to include nuclear physics, condensed matter physics and computer science.

S.S. Dharmatti, who joined TIFR in 1953, developed an interdisciplinary programme in which both physicists and chemists were involved in using phenomenon of nuclear magnetic resonance.

 

The central workshop had its beginning in mid-1946 when the institute was still housed in Kenilworth. From that time the workshop played a critical role in the institute’s experimental activities.

From the outset, Bhabha was aware of the need to plan for the growing energy requirements of a developing nation. In his proposal for the new institute in 1944, he emphasized the need for research into nuclear physics:

“When nuclear energy has been successfully applied for power production in, say, a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts but will find them ready at hand.”

Around the time of India’s independence an advisory Board of Research on Atomic Energy, chaired by Bhabha, functioned as a part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

The Atomic Research Committee, appointed by the CSIR recommended that TIFR should be the centre of all large-scale research activity in nuclear physics in India. The Committee recommended that a high-energy accelerator capable of producing particles of energy above 200 MeV and sufficient to create mesons, should be set up in TIFR . A Committee was set up to appoint a team of ten scientists and train them in techniques of Nuclear Physics. 

Mr  R.P. Thatte, Mr A.B. Sahiar, Mr P.C. Vaidya, Mr G.H. Vaze, Mr G.S. Gokhale, Mr R.R. Daniel, Dr Pritam Sen and Mr R.V.S. Sitaram were appointed.

Dr Bhabha was personally in charge of the team.

This was soon followed by a plan for the country’s nuclear power policy which Bhabha set out in a note entitled “Oraganisation of Atomic Research in India” addressed to Prime Minister Nehru on April 26, 1948. In his note Bhabha proposed the creation of an Atomic Energy Commission.

The government soon accepted the proposal and passed a legislation creating the Atomic energy Commission .The first commission was chaired by Bhabha with S.S  Bhatnagar and K.S. Krishnan as the other members.

Research in nuclear physics began at TIFR in the early 1950s. The one million-volt Cockroft -Walton accelerator (Cascade Generator) was installed in the Institute in 1953. It was used extensively by scientist of TIFR as well as from various other scientific institutes.

Bhabha in front of the Cascade Generator in TIFR
International Conference on Elementary Particles hosted by TIFR in 1950
Bhabha at Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay

In the 1950s, with TIFR growing rapidly, it was again time to change to a permanent location. 

Bhabha selected a spacious plot in Colaba on the sea front that belonged to the Ministry of Defence. With the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru acceding to Bhabha’s request, work on the new site was begun in 1954.

Proposed site of TIFR at Colaba
Architect's drawing of the Institute Building

“The Institute appointed for its architect a well-known American firm, Holabird, Root & Burgee because till today they have designed several laboratories, including one for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.... The designing of the buildings was done with great care. There was constant talk between the architects and the scientists in the designing and at the last stage  the architects actually asked the scientific workers to mark on the plans every piece of major equipment and even the furniture that was going into each place so that the areas and the rooms and the buildings should be very intimately correlated.”- Bhabha during the stone laying ceremony in 1954.

The Colaba campus, overlooking the Arabian sea spread itself out over 256,000 square feet of built-up area on a fifteen-acre campus. An important reason for choosing Colaba was the proximity to the University of Bombay.

On January 1, 1954, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone of the TIFR campus at Colaba.

Pandit Nehru laying the foundation stone of the institute building

During the stone laying ceremony Bhabha observed “The foundation stone is being laid today 8 years after the Institute was founded… I remember  when the Institute was opened, the Chairman of the Council in his speech said, “We have not in the usual way waited for the completion of new buildings before commencing our research activities, but have, so to speak, plunged in medias res….”

Bhabha speaking during the foundation stone laying ceremony
Bhabha discussing the layout of the TIFR's Colaba Campus

Initially, experimental research at TIFR was devoted largely to cosmic rays with first Bhabha and later Bernard Peters leading the balloon-based experiments. The experimental groups started working from the Colaba campus from 1954, even before construction began on the site, with the World War II barracks becoming their temporary laboratories. Under Peters, TIFR developed the technique of using stripped emulsions for the first time in the world in 1951-52, which led to the discovery of K-mesons in 1953.

 In another pioneering experiment in 1950-52, B.V. Sreekantan took a cosmic ray telescope down the Kolar Gold mines to measure the intensity of muons at a depth of 300 meters.

 In 1954, the Geophysics Research Group was formed and within five years, under Devendra Lal, it had discovered five new isotopes produced by cosmic rays.

 

The thrust on experimental research enabled TIFR to build expertise in designing and fabricating equipment. Under the guidance of M.G.K. Menon and G.S. Gokhale, technique of manufacturing plastic balloons was perfected. In its early days, the Institute also built large multi-plate cloud chambers and through the 1950s, it developed a series of accelerators to facilitate research in nuclear physics.

Prof. M.G.K. Menon during the balloon flight experiment

TIFR became the birthplace of the nation’s atomic energy programme.  It was here that the early work of the Atomic Energy Commission began.

 Early figures  of the programme who came from TIFR included Raja Ramanna and A.S. Rao.  The joint teams of scientists from TIFR and from AEC , who worked from TIFR’s premises, began to undertake some of the first atomic energy projects in the country.

Identifying the need for electronics instruments for atomic energy projects, TIFR set up a small electronics group for the AEC under A.S. Rao.  Groups working in related fields like accelerators, software technology and semiconductor technology also gradually came up at TIFR.

 AEC , soon after its formation initiated a survey of India’s natural resources, especially  atomic minerals like uranium and thorium-bearing minerals, with a view to achieving eventual self-sufficiency in the fuel-cycle operation.

 Bhabha’s close relationship with Nehru naturally played a crucial role in the atomic energy programme.   As work on atomic energy gathered momentum, Bhabha realized that the AEC, essentially a policy-making body, would not be enough: the programme required a full-fledged Department of the Government to implement it.

 In 1954, Bhabha proposed to Nehru that the Government of India establish a Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to fund , create and operate all the facilities required for the nation’s atomic energy programme.

The Department was set up in the same year, with Bhabha as Secretary to the Government of India. Based in Bombay instead of New Delhi, the DAE functioned directly under the Prime Minister, a model that is still followed today.

 

The decision to build the first Swimming Pool (or light-water) Reactor was taken by the Atomic Energy Commission at its meeting on March 15, 1955.

 

Various different designs for the shape of the pool and the experimental facilities were discussed by a Committee consisting of Mr. Prasad, Dr. Ramanna, Mr. Rao and Dr. Singwi and the basic design was finally frozen in July 1955. The Reactor Control Division, under Mr. A.S. Rao, had designed and built the entire control system, while engineering drawings for the reactor were prepared by the Engineering division under Mr. N.B. Prasad, who also supervised its construction.

Bhabha discussing the construction of the APSARA reactor in 1955

The reactor is the result of joint effort of some fifty scientists and engineers of the Atomic Energy Establishment. The fuels for the reactor were provided by the United Kingdom.

It took about a year to design and build the Swimming Pool Reactor.Apsara attained criticality on August 4, 1956.

APSARA

The reactor released atomic energy for the first time through a self-sustaining chain reaction.

Initially all the nuclear research activities were carried out in Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, but soon the need for a new laboratory entirely devoted to this purpose was realized.

A site of some 1200 acres was chosen by Bhabha which is bounded on one side by the Trombay hill and on the other by the waters of the Bombay Harbour, for the Atomic Energy Establishment.

Atomic Energy Establishment , Trombay

The Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET) was formally dedicated to the nation by the Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru on January 20, 1957.

Bhabha with Pandit Nehru at Trombay
Bhabha briefing Pandit Nehru during his visit to Trombay

“No man can prophesy the future. But I should like to say on behalf of my Government and myself-and I think that I can say with some assurance on behalf of any future Government of India- that whatever might happen, whatever the circumstances, we shall never use this atomic energy for evil purposes. There is no condition attached to circumstances, because once we attach any condition, nobody knows what the condition might be and the value of such an assurance does not take us very far.”- Jawaharlal Nehru  at the opening of the Atomic Energy Establishment on January 20, 1957.

Bhabha and Brahm Prakash with Prime Minister Shastri
Bhabha with Dr. Rajendra Prasad at Trombay

In 1954, on President Eisenhower’s initiative,  the United Nations decided to convene a conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy at Geneva. The then Secretary General of UN, Dag Hammarskjöld, formed a Scientific Advisory Committee. Homi Bhabha represented India and he was unanimously proposed as Chairman of the first conference. The first international conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy was held in Geneva in 1955. 

 In a memorable Presidential address Bhabha mentioned “In a broad view of human history, it is possible to discern three great epochs. The first is marked by the emergence of the early civilizations in the valleys of the Euphrates, the Indus and the Nile; the second by the industrial revolution, leading to the civilization in which we live; and the third by the discovery of atomic energy and the dawn of the atomic age, which we are just entering. Each epoch marks a change in the energy pattern of society”.

Bhabha presiding over the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva 1955

He predicted the emergence of nuclear power as a solution to the world’s energy needs.

 “Those who have the good fortune to participate in this Conference are privileged to be in the vanguard of the march of history… I hope this conference will play its part in helping the progress of mankind towards the ever-widening dawn of the atomic age, with the promise of a life, fuller and happier than anything we can visualize today”

Bhabha with Dag Hammarskjold, Walter Whitman and others at the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva 1955

In 1955, the Government of India, on account of its great interest and support of the Institute, signed a new tripartite agreement with the Government of Bombay Presidency and the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. As a result, TIFR acquired its present official designation as the National Centre of the Government of India for Advanced Study and Fundamental Research in Nuclear Science and Mathematics.

TIFR was almost fully functional in its new 15-acre campus in Colaba when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru formally inaugurated the buildings on 15 January 1962. Bhabha had taken an active role in the design, architecture and high construction standards of the new buildings, especially insisting that the new campus be built almost entirely with indigenous materials.

Pandit Nehru speaking at the inauguration of the new buildings of TIFR
Pandit Nehru, Homi Bhabha and J.R.D. Tata in TIFR

By this time TIFR had already been the birthplace of several initiatives of national significance, including electronics, computer science and the atomic energy programme.

Bhabha and Pandit Nehru at the Glass Blowing Section of TIFR
Bhabha shows the labs of TIFR  to Pandit Nehru 
Bhabha  and K. Chandrasekharan with Pandit Nehru

Over the years, activities at TIFR steadily expanded to include fields such as theoretical physics, nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, computer science, and later molecular biology and radio astronomy. 

 Bhabha’s philosophy of institution building had precedence in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and the Kaiser Wilhem Institutes (now called the Max Planck Institutes) in Germany: ‘The K. W. Society shall not first build an institute for research and then seek out the suitable man but shall first pick up an outstanding man, and then build an institute for him’. Thus, the early team of eminent scientists at TIFR include K. Chandrasekharan (mathematics), R. R. Daniel, M. G. K. Menon, Bernard Peters, Devendra Lal (elementary particles and cosmic rays), R. Narasimhan (computer science), K. G. Ramanathan (mathematics), K. S. Singhvi (solid state physics), and B. M. Udgaonkar (nuclear and theoretical physics).

TIFRAC

The first full-scale electronic digital computer designed and built in India, the TIFR Automatic Calculator or TIFRAC, was commissioned in February 1960 by R. Narasimhan and his team.

Bhabha and R. Narasimhan during the visit of John Cockroft to TIFR

In the early 1960s, Obaid Siddiqi and Govind Swarup joined the institute to set up and lead the molecular biology and radio astronomy groups respectively.

Under Govind Swarup the Kalyan interferometer was put into operation by June 1965. Work on the Ooty Radio Telescope also began by late 1965

Obaid Siddiqi in the molecular biology laboratory at TIFR
Govind Swarup describing the Ooty telescope 
Kalyan Radio Telescope
Ooty Radio Telescope

TIFR was itself a hub of activity in modern science. Many distinguished scientists visited the institute, including Paul Dirac, Niels Bohr, Laurent Schwartz, Murray Gell-Mann, T. D. Lee, Carl Ludwig Siegel, Henri Cartan, P. M. S. Blackett, Cecil Powell, John Cockcroft, George Gamov, Bruno Rossi, S. Chandrasekhar, Hargobind Khorana, Harish Chandra and others. Important international conferences and schools were held in mathematics and high-energy physics. 

The first Summer School in Theoretical Physics, held in 1961 at Bangalore, had M.Gell-Mann and R.H. Dalitz as lecturers. The School of Mathematics began to host an International Colloquium every four years, beginning with one on Zeta Functions (1956), followed by Function Theory (1960), Differential Analysis (1964) and so on. TIFR soon became a flourishing hub of modern science. 

International Conference on Cosmic Rays was hosted in Jaipur in 1963.

Bhabha with Cecil Powell, Patrick Blackett and Vikram Sarabhai
International Conference on Cosmic Rays  in Jaipur
First Summer School in Theoretical Physics held in 1961 at Bangalore
Niels Bohr with Homi Bhabha, J.R.D. Tata and Jamshed Bhabha

The Apsara reactor was followed by a series of developments at Trombay. Canada offered assistance for the design and construction of a reactor similar to an NRX at Chalk River. Half of the cost of the reactor was borne by India and the other half was met by Canada under the Colombo plan. Mr. N. B. Prasad was appointed as the Project Manager (India) for construction and later for the commissioning of this facility.  The Canadian- Indian Reactor (CIR) duly became critical in July 1960.

With Prime Minister Nehru in Trombay

A plant was built in the Trombay Centre to process the crude thorium hydroxide, and uranium fluoride was obtained as a by-product.  In addition, a small uranium metal processing plant was built at Trombay with an initial throughput of 30 tonnes of metal per annum.

The Fuel Element Fabrication Plant was added initially to produce half the charge for C.I.R., the capacity of which was improved substantially later. Dr Homi Sethna took up the responsibility of the design and construction of a Plutonium Plant.  This plant would separate plutonium from the fission products and other materials in irradiated fuel.

Bhabha was appointed as President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics 1960-63. 

Bhabha also became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency Scientific Advisory Committee and remained a member till his death.

Queen Elizabeth conferring the honorary degree of Dr. of science on Homi Bhabha,  July1960

Bhabha’s dream was to ‘build up in time an intellectual atmosphere approaching what we know in Cambridge and Paris’, which would have ‘an electrifying effect on the development of science in India’. True to this founding vision, TIFR continued to grow in the scope of its research activities during more than two decades of Bhabha’s leadership.

Nature was his other great passion. Bhabha’s love for trees and gardens was part of his love for natural beauty. According to S.D. Vaidya, who was in charge of the parks and gardens in TIFR and AEET, Bhabha wanted the gardens to refresh the spirit of those who worked inside the buildings.

Vaidya worked closely with Bhabha’s idea of the garden for the new buildings at TIFR, adapting a French model for the West Lawn.

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

For the landscape of Trombay, Bhabha took equally great care and interest.

In an account of his visit to Bhabha’s home in 1954, Rudi von Leyden wrote:

 

“Near his desk stood an enormous drawing board with huge printed plans pinned to it. It appeared that they were the first layout for the afforestation scheme and suggested gardens at Trombay. He spent many hours at night poring over these plans, trying to visualize in his mind’s eye the setting of this new city which he had founded and built mostly below the tree-grown flanks of Trombay Hill… It was typical of him that he could visualize the final shape of ‘his’ city only in its complete harmonious integration into the surrounding landscape.”

“On Monday, 24th January 1966, I was in my office at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay. There was a phone call from Air India to say that their flight that was to land in Geneva had not done so. It was on the aircraft, Kanchenjunga that Homi Bhabha was travelling to Geneva on his way to Vienna. Geneva airport had apparently lost contact with the aircraft. I was told that Air India would keep us in touch with further developments.” – recalls Prof. M.G.K. Menon who took over as Director of TIFR after Homi Bhabha.

Air India’s Boeing 707 crashed on the Mont Blanc in the Alps, killing everyone on board. Homi Bhabha was on his way to Vienna to attend a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

 

It was a great loss for India as well as for the entire scientific community of the world. India lost one of its dedicated heroes and inspiring visionaries, who had always worked to harness the advancements of science and technology for the development of the country.

Uthamna ceremony at TIFR
Condolence meeting at BARC

HONOURS AND RECOGNITIONS for Homi J. Bhabha

 • Fellow of the Royal Society, 1941

• Adams Prize, Cambridge, for a thesis on “The theory of the elementary physical particles and their interactions,” 1942

• Hopkins Prize of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 1948

• Padma Bhushan, 1954

• President, First International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held under the auspices of the UN, 1955

• Honorary fellowship of the Gonville andCaius College (1957), Royal Society of Edinburgh (1957), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1959), National  Academy of Sciences of the UnitedStates (1963)

• Honorary Doctoral degrees in science: Patna (1944), Lucknow (1949), Banaras (1950), Agra (1952), Perth (1954), Allahabad (1958), Cambridge (1959), London (1960), Padova (1961)

• President, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, 1960-63 

• Melchett Medal of the Fuel Institute, 1964

J.R.D. Tata paid tribute to Bhabha's extraordinary vision:

“ Homi was one of those who made me believe that some men in human history are born with the stamp of predestination on them which leads them to accomplishments beyond ordinary human capabilities. Some of them- and Homi, alas, was one- are also predestined to die young, an unconscious premonition which drives them to superhuman effort to complete their task in the short time allowed to them...”

Within two decades, Bhabha had transformed the scientific landscape of the nation. His leadership had inspired the generations of scientists and engineers who worked with him at TIFR and at the Atomic Energy Establishment and soon they, too, had embraced his vision of a new India, developing a new sense of optimism  and confidence in their abilities that had never been seen in the country before.

Credits: Story

Archival Images — TIFR Archives 
Reference — The Visionary and the Vision published by TIFR, 2009, Mumbai
Reference — Annual Reports of TIFR
Finance — Tata Education Trust

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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