India's First Digital Computer

The story of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Automatic Calculator (TIFRAC) - the first mainframe general-purpose computer in India, developed by scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

Homi J. Bhabha by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Given Homi J Bhabha's legacy as a builder of national institutions of international repute, it is easy to forget that he was first and foremost a physicist.

And it was his thirst for knowledge of the physical world that led him to found the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

Bhabha in front of one of his paintings by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

"It is the duty of people like us to stay in our own country and build up outstanding schools of research such as some other countries are fortunate to possess."

This was Bhabha's vision for TIFR.

TIFR buildingTata Institute of Fundamental Research

As brilliant individuals joined TIFR to set up and lead research groups, the institute's departments grew steadily around them.

For Bhabha, modern experimental research was critical, not only for its own sake, and to complement theoretical studies, but also to build confidence in the design, fabrication and use of new equipment and technology.

TIFR Automatic Calculator or TIFRAC by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Research into computer science and technology was one focus of TIFR's Instrumentation Group.

And in 1954, the group called for the design of a full-scale, general-purpose, electronic digital computer...

The initial team comprised six people with an M.Sc. in physics, with specialization in electronics.

But none of them had experience using or operating computers - let alone building one!

Jawahar Lal Nehru, Homi Bhabha, and D Y Phadke with the TIFRACTata Institute of Fundamental Research

In 1955, they set out to design a pilot machine. By late 1956, it was operational. The following year, they designed a full-scale version and by 1959 it was complete.

The machine was formally commissioned in February 1960 and later named TIFRAC (TIFR Automatic Calculator) in 1962 when the new TIFR buildings were inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

TIFRAC, India's First ComputerTata Institute of Fundamental Research

This general purpose digital computer designed by the Computer Group of TIFR was the first digital electronic computer to be designed and built in India.

TIFRAC, India's First ComputerTata Institute of Fundamental Research

The magnetic core memory of TIFRAC had a capacity of 1024 words, and was later expanded to 2048 words.

A Comparison Table Between 4 First Generation ComputersTata Institute of Fundamental Research

This comparison with first-generation computers gives a sense of what the TIFRAC project achieved in computer technology.

TIFRAC, India's First ComputerTata Institute of Fundamental Research

TIFRAC was used from 1960 until early 1964.

It was in such high demand that it was operated in two shifts each day, to cope with the computational requirements of the organisation.

Indian Scientist M.G. Bidnamukov (1964-05-10)Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

Operating and maintaining TIFRAC created opportunities to train a group of technical personnel, advancing their computer science skills.

The group acquired expertise in the maintenance of this complex electronic system, and the hundreds of inter-connected parts inside it.

Indian Script on CDC Computer System (1964-05-10)Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

Between 1959 and 1962, some of the scientists who had helped design and build TIFRAC travelled to universities in the USA on visiting appointments.

On-Line Data Acquisition and Processing (OLDAP) System (1964-05-10)Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

On their return, TIFR set up a committee to oversee more research into large-scale computing.

This led to further experimentation - using systems called CDC and OLDAP - and helped cement TIFR's reputation as an invaluable national treasure of computing excellence.

Credits: Story

This online narrative compiled by Bhavya Ramakrishnan, with material available at the TIFR Archives.

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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