Indian nuclear physicist Homi Jehangir Bhabha, popularly known as the ‘Father of the Indian Nuclear Programme’, was the founding director of two research institutions Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Both institutes played a major role in India’s development of nuclear weapons. He was born to a rich aristocratic family on October 30, in the year 1909, in Bombay. The nuclear physicist was felicitated with many honorary degrees from Indian and foreign universities and has penned many articles on quantum theory and cosmic rays. Today on his 108th birth anniversary, here are 10 interesting facts about Homi J Bhabha, the principal architect of India’s nuclear energy programme
Homi Bhabha graduated from Elphinstone College and the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay. In 1933, he received his doctorate in nuclear physics with his paper ‘The Absorption of Cosmic Radiation’, winning him the Isaac Newton Studentship in 1934.
Letter to father
Homi Bhabha’s father and uncle wanted him to become an engineer, so he could eventually join the Tata Iron and Steel Company in Jamshedpur. However, at Cambridge, his interest shifted to theoretical physics and he expressed his love for Physics in a letter to his father. He wrote, “I seriously say to you that business or 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… 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.”
Love for art and culture
Homi Bhabha was an avid lover of classical music and opera and he was heavily into arts and culture. After his death, his brother became the custodian of the Bhabha property. Jamshed willed the property at Malabar Hills including paintings, jewellery, furniture and artefacts to the NCPA, which he had established. However, the property of an estimated value of over Rs 257 crore was sold to the Godrej family for Rs 372 crore in June 2014 by the NCPA.
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From ‘reader’ to ‘chairman’
In 1939, when the World War II broke out, Bhabha was in India for a vacation. Due to the war, he could not go back to complete his research at Cambridge. He was approached by Nobel Laureate CV Raman to join Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru as a reader in Physics. He joined IISc as a reader and was soon promoted to professor of cosmic ray research. Five years later, he became the Chairman of the newly established Atomic Energy Reseach Committee and later the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.
Establishment of TIFR
Bhabha wrote a letter to Sir Dorabji Tata Trust to convince the requirement of facilities for working with cosmic rays, nuclear physics and high energy physics. The trust along with the Government of Mumbai extended their help for establishing the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in June 1945. Later, Bhabha realised a new laboratory for conducting research on atomic energy was required as the existing space was not big enough and also not well-equipped. Taking this into consideration a new facility in Trombay named Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay was established in 1954.
Letter to Nehru
While he was working with IISc as a reader in Physics he got in touch with the Congres Party and later with Jawaharlal Nehru. He managed to convince Nehru India’s need for a nuclear programme. On April 26, 1948, he prepared a note titled ‘Organisation of Atomic Research in India’. In the note, he wrote, “The development of atomic research should be entrusted to a very small and high powered body composed of say, three people with executive power, and answerable directly to the Prime Minister without any intervening link. For brevity, this body may be referred to as the Atomic Energy Commission.”
Offered post in Indian cabinet
He was offered a post in the Indian cabinet but he rejected that. However, he acted as scientific adviser to former Prime Ministers of India Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Donned many hats
Bhabha represented India in the International Atomic Energy Agency conferences in the 1950s. In 1955, he was appointed the President of the United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, Switzerland. He was also the member of the Indian Cabinet’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
Homi Bhabha was felicitated with the Adams Prize (1942), Padma Bhushan (1954) and the Fellow of the Royal Society.
On January 24, 1966, while he was on his way to Vienna for a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee he died in a mysterious air crash near Mount Blanc. Conspiracy theorists believe that he was killed by CIA with an aim to paralyse India’s nuclear programme of India. Exactly 14 days before Homi Bhabha’s death Lal Bahadur Shastri, Former Prime Minister of India died a mysterious death in Tashkent. Reportedly, he died of a cardiac arrest but his family claimed that he was poisoned but there was no medical inquiry conducted.