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Homi Bhabha’s IISc stint and science research in India

On 24 January, 1966, the day Indira Gandhi was first sworn in as the Prime Minister of India, Air India flight 101 crashed into the snow-covered slopes of Mont Blanc. Recently, several newspapers from that doomed flight were discovered under the melting snows of the mountain, their headlines announcing Mrs Gandhi’s big win.

All people on board the flight were killed. Among them was Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the man hailed as the father of India’s nuclear programme. He had been on his way to Vienna to attend a meeting of the scientific advisory committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Homi Bhabha was born in Mumbai in 1909. His father was an Oxford-educated lawyer, his grandfather a distinguished educationist. Bhabha’s aunt was married to Sir Dorabji Tata, elder son of JN Tata. As a child, Homi skipped across the street to lunch with the Tatas every day. His growing years were thus filled with music, books, art, and conversations about industry, iron & steel, Mahatma Gandhi and more.

At 17, Homi went to Cambridge where he studied engineering. His father and his uncle intended for him to eventually join the Tata Iron and Steel Company in Jamshedpur. But within a year, Homi was writing passionate letters home about physics being his ‘only ambition’: “I have no desire to be a ‘successful’ man or the head of a big firm. I earnestly implore you to let me do physics.” His father agreed, provided Homi first obtained a first class in engineering, which he did.

Bhabha then studied physics, a field in which he coruscated. He made several original contributions, including Bhabha Scattering, Bhabha-Heitler theory and predictions about muons.

In 1939, Bhabha was in India on a holiday when the Second World War broke out. Unable to return to his job in England, Bhabha joined the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), then headed by Nobel Laureate C V Raman. 

Bhabha was appointed Special Reader in Physics and set up the Cosmic Ray Research Unit with funds from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. According to scientist M G K Menon, it was during his five years at IISc that Homi Bhabha found his mission in life. It was here that he ruminated on scientific research in India. 

It was here that the idea of an institute devoted to pure and fundamental research in physics was born. In 1944, Bhabha wrote to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, “In the last two years, I have come more and more to the view that, provided proper appreciation and financial support are forthcoming, it is one’s duty to stay in one’s own country and build up schools comparable with those that other countries are fortunate in possessing.”

Thus was born the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) which actually began functioning in IISc on June 1, 1945 with Bhabha as Director. TIFR moved to Mumbai over the course of the following year.

Bhabha was an excellent administrator. With Jawaharlal Nehru’s unstinting support, Bhabha nurtured TIFR, spearheaded research into nuclear power and was also instrumental in formulating the seminal Scientific Policy Resolution of 1958, which emphasised the need for a sound education in science. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize five times.

Bhabha was also a gifted painter and deeply interested in music, literature and arts. The visionary’s death in the 1966 crash was indeed a great blow to India.

The senior Bhabha  

Homi Bhabha was named after his grandfather, Hormusji Jehangir Bhabha, who went by the name Homi. Interestingly, the senior Bhabha too was involved in education and had a very close association with the state. It began in 1876, when he was appointed vice principal of Central College in Bengaluru. (Decades later, his grandson gave occasional lectures on physics at Central College)

Eight years later, he became the headmaster of Maharaja’s College in Mysore. In 1890, he was appointed Secretary in the Education Department, and then from 1895 to 1909, Homi Bhabha served as the first Indian Inspector General of Education in the state of Mysore. 

During his years in the department, Bhabha helped implement the Maharaja’s vision for education reform in the state. For example, under him, the number of primary schools for girls increased from 55 to 214. In recognition of his services, the Mysore government awarded Hormusji Jehangir Bhabha with the title Munir-ul-Taleem in 1909.

Dr. HOMI Baba. He was RCB president in 1944-45.

Article courtesy by: Deccanherald

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