• Homi Jehangir Bhabha had an outstanding impact on our country. Through his brilliant work and efforts in developing India’s nuclear power, he became a renowned and revered individual. He was a nuclear physicist, engineer, architect and philanthropist, all in one.
  • JRD Tata described Dr Bhabha as a “Scientist, engineer, master-builder and administrator, steeped in humanities, in art and music, Homi was truly a complete man.”
  • His countless contributions have been written down in history pages as important and undebatable, throughout generations.
  • Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha is widely regarded as the father of India’s nuclear program
  • He was the founding director and professor of physics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), as well as the founding director of the Atomic Energy.
  • Establishment, Trombay (AEET) which was renamed the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his honour.
Homi Jehangir Bhabha
Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Early life and Education of Homi Jehangir Bhabha

  • Dr. Home Bhabha was born in Mumbai on October 30, 1909, to a prominent Parsi family.
  • His father, Jehangir Bhabha was brought up in Bangalore and he studied law at Oxford. Once he received his training as a lawyer, he started working in Mysore. It was at Mysore that he joined the judicial service of the state.
    • He attended Cathedral School and later joined Elphinstone College.
    • His tutor in sketching and painting was the artist Jehangir Lalkala. At seventeen, Bhabha’s self-portrait won second place at the prestigious Bombay Art Society’s exhibition.
    • He continued his education at the Royal Institute of Science, Bombay, and later enrolled at Cambridge University in 1927 to study mechanical engineering.
    • Under the influence of Paul Dirac, Bhabha developed a passion for theoretical physics and switched his focus to theoretical physics at Cambridge.
    • He achieved a first-class grade in mathematics at Tripos in 1932 and later graduated with a doctorate in nuclear physics from Cambridge in 1934.
  • In one of his letters to his father in the year 1928, he wrote: “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.”

Career of Dr Homi Bhabha

  • Cosmic Rays: Dr Homi Bhabha conducted studies on cosmic rays through the ballon experiment, in which clusters of rubber weather balloons are used to study the impact of cosmic rays on Earth’s atmosphere.
  • IISc: Bhabha had returned to India for his annual vacation before the start of World War II in September 1939. War prompted him to remain in India, where he accepted a post of reader in physics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru headed by Nobel laureate C.V. Raman.
  • TIFR: Dr. Bhabha established the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) for carrying out nuclear science research in 1945, with support from the Tata Trust and the government of India.
  • India’s nuclear energy programme
    • AEC: In 1948, Bhabha was instrumental in creating the Atomic Energy Commission, serving as its inaugural chairman.
    • Three-stage plan: Bhabha is credited with formulating a strategy of focusing on extracting power from the country’s vast thorium reserves rather than its meagre uranium reserves.
  • AEET: He was the primary catalyst for the development of crucial nuclear research infrastructures in India, such as the Atomic Energy Establishment in Trombay, which, after Bhabha’s death, was renamed “the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre” (BARC).
  • IAEA: At the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr. Homi Bhabha stood as India’s representative, strongly promoting the non-aggressive utilization of nuclear energy.

Contribution of Dr Homi Bhabha

  • The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) was established in June 1945 in the Indian Institute of Science with Homi Bhabha as the founding director and professor of physics. It used to receive financial support from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Ministry of Natural Research and Scientific Research. Today, it is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Atomic Energy.
  • Homi Bhabha also convinced the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, of the urgent requirement to build India’s nuclear programme. In one of the letters to Nehru in 1948, Bhabha wrote, “The development of atomic energy 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.”
  • In 1948, Nehru appointed Bhabha as the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. This commission evolved and developed into the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay (AEET). This has been renamed to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his honour.
  • In an earlier interview, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr P.K. Iyengar said that Bhabha wanted to make India a Nuclear Weapons State from the beginning. He emphasised self-reliance because he wanted India to be prepared for war.
  • For all his work and contribution in the field of nuclear physics and science, Bhabha was awarded the Padma Bhushan (1954), and Adams Award (1942) and was also nominated for the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Scientific contribution

  • Some of the major scientific contributions of Dr Homi Bhabha are listed below
Concept Description 
Bhabha ScatteringIt refers to the electromagnetic scattering between an electron and a positron, which are antiparticles of each other.- It provides valuable insights into the cross-section (probability) of the scattering, which is pivotal in experiments at electron-positron colliders.- It is used in calibrating electron-positron colliders due to its relatively large cross-section.- It is a vital testbed for QED (Quantum Electrodynamics), the quantum theory of electromagnetic interactions.
Bhabha-Heitler theoryIt addresses the production of electron-positron pairs (pair production) and the subsequent electromagnetic cascades produced when high-energy gamma rays (photons) or charged particles interact with matter.- It has been extensively used to analyse cosmic ray showers, calculate the number of secondary particles produced at varying depths in the atmosphere, and estimate the energy of primary cosmic rays based on the observed properties of the cascades they produce.
Work on Yukawa Particle He investigated the theoretical scattering of these particles by electrons, a process analogous to the Compton scattering of photons.- Bhabha’s work in this area provided important insights into the behaviour and properties of the Yukawa particle.
Work on MesonsHe provided a detailed theoretical explanation for the showers of particles produced when high-energy cosmic rays collide with the Earth’s atmosphere.- His work on mesons played a crucial role in understanding cosmic ray showers and the behaviour of mesons in various conditions. This process involves mesons, which are an integral part of the showers.

Contribution to India’s Nuclear Program

  • Dr. Homi Bhabha played an indispensable role in laying the foundation and charting the course for India’s nuclear ambitions. His major contributions are listed below
  • Three-Stage Nuclear Power Program
    • Bhabha proposed a visionary three-stage nuclear power program to utilize India’s vast thorium reserves.
      • To harness energy from thorium via a series of reactors, starting with pressurized heavy water reactors
      • Fast breeder reactors
      • Thorium-based reactors
  • APSARA (India’s first research reactor)
    • He laid out a blueprint for the development of nuclear reactors for research and power generation.
    • It was indigenously designed at the TIFR.
    • Bhabha ensured collaboration with international entities for specific components.
      • For instance, the initial fuel for APSARA was sourced from the United Kingdom.
    • APSARA was a pool-type reactor that had a capacity of 1 MWt (megawatt thermal).
      • It was primarily used for research in nuclear physics, material testing, and radiography.
      • It played a pivotal role in training nuclear scientists and engineers in the early stages of India’s nuclear program.
  • Atomic Energy Act, 1948
    • Dr. Bhabha played a vital role in drafting the Atomic Energy Act of 1948.
      • Dr. Bhabha’s influence ensured that the Act struck a balance between promoting research and ensuring safety.
    • Through the act, he emphasised the importance of India retaining sovereignty over its atomic program, ensuring that it was free from undue foreign influence or interference.
  • Representation of India at IAEA
    • Dr. Bhabha consistently advocated for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, emphasising its potential in power generation, medicine, and agriculture, among other areas.
    • Dr. Bhabha effectively voiced the concerns and interests of developing nations in global nuclear forums.

Space and Electronics 

  • Space
    • Bhabha played a significant role in the early days of India’s space programme.
    • Under his guidance, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was entrusted with the responsibility for the Space Programme in 1961.
    • He emphasised the importance of space research for India’s technological advancement and warned against depending on foreign know-how.
    • He equated the early stage of space research in India to the stage of atomic energy work from a decade prior.
    • He was pivotal in establishing the Indian National Committee for Space Research, with Vikram Sarabhai as its chairman.
  • Electronics
    • He initiated plans for an Indian Space Science and Technology Centre.
    • Bhabha recognized the interconnection between atomic energy and electronics, emphasizing the need for indigenous development in nuclear electronics, computers, and control systems.
    • Based on his recommendations, the Electronics Committee was established in 1963, with Bhabha as its chairman.
    • He stressed the significance of electronics as a vital branch of modern technology, beyond just the entertainment industry.
    • The Electronics Committee’s report was finalized in 1965, aiming for India’s self-reliance in electronics.

Tragic Death

  • On 24 January 1966, Homi Bhabha died when his aeroplane Air India Flight 101 crashed into Mont Blanc.
  • Bhabha died 18 days after claiming that he could build an atomic bomb in 3 months. This sparked the interest of controversies and theories among the common people.
  • Some claim the CIA killed Homi Bhabha in an attempt to stop his nuclear pursuit.
  • He left his legacy behind in the form of Vikram Sarabhai, APJ Abdul Kalam and numerous institutions of strength and resilience. In his honour, countless of them were renamed with Homi Bhabha in their newly christened names.
  • Despite the controversies regarding Bhabha, he was indubitably the renaissance man when it came to the nuclear power of India. His contributions have been countless, India-wide and worldwide.
  • He will be forever remembered through his institutions and the history pages named after him.

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