Dec 6, 2010

Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Born: October 30, 1909
Died: January 24, 1966


Founded  The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research; Was the first chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission; Was chairman of the first United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in Geneva in 1955.


Dr. Homi Jahangir Bhabha

Homi Bhabha, whose full name was Homi Jehangir Bhabha, was a famous Indian atomic scientist. In Independent India, Homi Jehangir Bhabha, with the support of Jawaharlal Nehru, laid the foundation of a scientific establishment and was responsible for the creation of two premier institutions, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. Homi Bhabha was the first chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission.

Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born on October 30, 1909, in Bombay in a rich Parsi family. After graduating from Elphinstone College and the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay, he went to Cambridge University. He received his doctorate in 1934. During this period he worked with Niels Bohr on the studies that led to quantum theory. Homi Jehnagir Bhabha also worked with Walter Heitler on the cascade theory of electron showers, which was of great importance for the understanding of cosmic radiation. He did significant work in identifying the meson.

Due to outbreak of Second World War, Homi Jehangir Bhabha, returned to India in 1939. He set up the Cosmic Ray Research Unit at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore under C. V. Raman in 1939. With the help of J.R.D. Tata, he established the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research at Mumbai. In 1945, he became director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. 

Apart from being a great scientist, Homi Bhabha, was also a skilled administrator. After independence he received the blessings of Jawaharlal Nehru for peaceful development of atomic energy. He established the Atomic Energy Commission of India in 1948. Under his guidance Indian scientists worked on the development of atomic energy, and the first atomic reactor in Asia went into operation at Trombay, near Bombay, in 1956.

Dr.Homi Bhabha with Nehruji-1952
[Excellent rapport: Dr. Homi Bhabha with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during the inauguration of the Rare Earths factory in Mumbai on December 12, 1952. Indira Gandhi and her two children are also seen in the picture]

Homi Bhabha was chairman of the first United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in Geneva in 1955. He advocated international control of nuclear energy and the outlawing of atomic bombs by all countries. He wanted nuclear energy to be used for alleviating poverty and misery of people. 

Homi Bhabha received many honorary degrees from Indian and foreign universities and was a member of numerous scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. He also authored many articles on quantum theory and cosmic rays. Homi Bhabha died in an aeroplane crash in Switzerland on January 24, 1966.  

Death and Legacy  

He died when Air India Flight 101 crashed near Mont Blanc on January 24, 1966.  Many possible theories have been advanced for the aircrash, including a conspiracy theory in which CIA is involved in order to paralyze Indian Nuclear Weapon Programme.  

Dr. Homi J Bhabha addressing a meeting at the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay on the death of late Lal Bahadur Shashtri].
The Atomic Energy Centre in Trombay was renamed as the "Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his honour.  In addition to being a famous scientist, Bhabha was also a painter and a classical music and opera enthusiast, besides being an amateur botanist.  

After his death, the Atomic Energy Establishment was renamed as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his honour. Bhabha also encouraged research in Electronics,  Space, Science, Radio, Astronomy and Microbiology.  The famed radio telescope in Ooty, India, was his initiative, and it became a reality in 1970.  Bhabha has since become known as the "Father of India's Atomic Energy Programme".  The Homi Bhabha Fellowship Council has been giving the Homi Bhabha Fellowships since 1967.  Other noted institutions in his name are the Homi Bhabha National Institute, an Indian deemed University and the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai, India.  

Remembering Homi Bhabha:

“In the very recent past there lived a person amongst many of us here, who in all moments of time available to him, thought of science on ideas which revealed the structure of matter, its grand form and beauty, and last but not the least, how he could make India which had just then become free from foreign control, a powerful country which derived its strength from the knowledge of science”
— Prof. Devendra Lal [excerpt from "Remembering Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, F. R. S"] 

Homi Bhabha inaugurates the 1st atomic reactor-1956
For further Reading:
  • 2.  A Masterful Spirit—Homi Bhabha by Indira Chowdhury and Ananya Dasgupta; Published by Penguin - Pages 240/- [Price Rs 1299/-]
The above Book  is profusely illustrated with rare photographs of Bhabha, his family, his great acquaintances, his sketches of eminent scientists, his paintings and correspondence. Also there are delightful doodles by him.

Homi Bhabha's Leadership

An Eminent Scientist
Dr. Bhabha's leadership of the atomic energy programme spanned 22 years. It began in 1944 with a letter he wrote to the Sir Dorabji Trust proposing the establishment of an institute devoted to fundamental research. He continued his work with passion and commitment right till his untimely death in an air accident in 1966.

Since the setting up of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in December 1945, India has come a long way. This has been possible because of the strong foundations laid by Dr Bhabha during his lifetime.

In August 1955, Dr. Homi Bhabha said "For the full industrialization of the under-developed countries, for the continuation of our civilization and its further development, atomic energy is not merely an aid, it is an absolute necessity. The acquisition by man of the knowledge of how to release and use atomic energy must be recognized as the third epoch of human history."

TIFR: A brief history

JRD Tata
Institutions of higher learning in a society are distinct indicators of its intellectual traditions. With strong traditions of learning, seats of higher education have played a crucial role in the history of India. Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha conceived an institute devoted to basic science, one that would provide the atmosphere for fundamental research to flourish while contributing to the nascent project of nation building. Dr. Bhabha described his vision in a letter to Shri J. R. D. Tata in 1943, and then, with the latter's encouragement, made a formal proposal to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. The soundness and the need for such a centre of excellence was immediately perceived by the Industry and the Government. Support came from the Trust and from the Government of Bombay Province. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research [TIFR] started functioning on June 1, 1945. Dr. Bhabha was also encouraged by the University of Bombay which recognised the Institute for awarding Master and Doctoral degrees.

TIFR Endowment Fund [TEF]

To promote flexible funding of new initiatives at the Institute in research activities at the forefront of Science, Technology and Mathematics, there is a pressing need to create a substantial corpus.  The TIFR Council of Management approved the establishment of a general purpose Endowment Fund for this purpose in 1997.  Such a Fund could serve to promote extended visits of young and distinguished scientists in different institutions in the country and abroad for collaborative research.  The Endowment fund collected will also be able to strengthen the other activities of promoting academic excellence at the Institute which includes financial support in the form of augmented research scholarships and additional funding to exceptionally talented and highly motivated young students and scientists who would wish to join the Institute for their doctoral and post doctoral research.

Sir Dorarbji Tata Trust made a firm beginning towards the creation of Endowment Fund by donating rupees one crore towards Chair Professorships and Archives, during the Golden Jubilee celebrations [1995-96] of the Institute.

Dr. Homi Bhabha spent his whole life in pursuit of this grand vision. He inspired a generation of scientists with his bold dreams and ambitions for the nation and his selfless service. He was indeed a great scientific pioneer and a great builder of modern India. 
Science management
Bhabha will also be remembered for his innovations in science management. He modified the administrative practices of a colonial form of government, in which most of the power rested with the officialdom. He utilised the help of retired ICS officers, and borrowed officers of the IAS cadre to help him deal with the government. But the final say was his. There are several instances of how he overruled suggestions and markings of those from the pure administrative service.

Dr Homi Bhabha -Scientist, Social Reformer& Diplomat

The  Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education is another example of how basic scientists could expand their creative talent to areas of social concern. This part of the social responsibility was unique in Bhabha. In this respect he was not only a scientific administrator but also a social reformer and a diplomat

About Dr. Homi Bhabha
  • Click here for Memories of Dr. Homi Bhabha.
  • Click here for some of the Scientific Contributions by Dr. Homi Bhabha.
  • Click here for some more photographs of Dr. Homi Bhabha. 

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