Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Homi Jehangir Bhabha: Father Of Indian Nuclear Program

Padma Bhushan Homi Jehangir Bhabha was an Indian nuclear physicist and is often considered as the ‘father of the Indian nuclear program’. 

Early Life

Bhabha was born on 30th October 1909 into a very wealthy and polished Parsi family in Bombay (now Mumbai).

He was the son of Jehangir Hormusji Bhabha, a well known Parsi lawyer. Hormusji studied at Oxford University, England. After completing his studies as a lawyer he joined the Judicial Service of the state of Mysore. 

Homi Bhabha’s father married Meherbai, daughter of Bhikaji Framji Pandey and granddaughter of the famous philanthropist, Dinshaw Petit of Mumbai. 

(L to R) Homi Bhabha, Jehangir Bhabha, Meherbai Bhabha and Jamshed Bhabha (sitting on the floor).
(L to R) Homi Bhabha, Jehangir Bhabha, Meherbai Bhabha and Jamshed Bhabha (sitting on the floor). Credit: TIFR Archives

Homi Bhabha was named after his paternal grandfather, Hormusji Bhabha who served as an Inspector General of Education in Mysore. 

Education

He completed his early schooling at Bombay’s Cathedral and John Connon School and completed his graduation from Elphinstone College after passing his Senior Cambridge Examination with Honours. 

He also studied at the Royal Institute of Science in 1927. Later he joined Cambridge University, England as per the wishes of his father and his uncle Dorabji Tata and later he earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering and joined Tata Industries. 

Since Bhaba started studying Engineering as per the wishes of his father and his uncle Dorabji Tata therefore soon he felt that Engineering no longer interests him so turn towards Physics.

  “I seriously say to you that business or job as an engineer is not the thing for me,” wrote Bhabha to his father in 1928.

“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.” 

 In another letter, Bhabha expressed to his father how much he loves Physics and his passion for this subject can be felt. 

“ 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… It is no use saying to Beethoven, ‘You must be a scientist, for it is a great thing’ when he did not care two hoots for science; or to Socrates, ‘Be an engineer: it is the work of an intelligent man.’ It is not in the nature of things.

I therefore earnestly implore you to let me do physics.” 
-Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Later Bhabha with the first-class received his PhD in nuclear physics from the University of Cambridge in 1934. 

 Contributions

  • In 1933, he was awarded a doctorate in nuclear physics. His doctoral thesis was titled ‘The Absorption of Cosmic radiation’ which won him the Newton studentship for three years. He completed his thesis under the mentorship of Ralph Fowler
  • Homi J. Bhabha was the discoverer of ‘Bhabha Scattering’. In 1935 he published a paper on electron-positron scattering that was very much appreciated by the scientific community and this phenomenon was later renamed as Bhabha Scattering
  • Homi Bhabha was the first who performed a proper calculation of the process of electron-positron annihilation and the creation of the basic processes in quantum electrodynamics using Dirac’s theory. 
  • When he returned to India in 1939, he became the Reader in the Physics Department at the Indian Institute of Science. Eminent scientist and Nobel laureate Dr C. V. Raman was the Head of the Department of Physics at that time. 
  • Bhabha played a very significant role in the development of the Cosmic Research Unit at IISC and the establishment of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai. 
  • Bhabha was the first person to understand the upcoming significance of Nuclear Power so he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru to convey that the possession of few bombs will make no military significance and Nuclear Testing is absolutely necessary for India and requested him to start the Nuclear Programme in India. 
  • After requesting the Prime Minister to start a Nuclear Programme in India. He started his research on nuclear weapons to improve our country’s military strength in 1944. 
  • Bhabha set up the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945 and also set up the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948. He was also the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. 
Bhabha (right) at the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva
Bhabha (right) at the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva (Credits: Wikipedia)
  • In 1955, Homi J Bhabha represented India in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)as the President of the United Nation Conference on the peaceful uses of the Atomic Energy in Geneva, Switzerland.  
  • He was an aggressive promoter and significant researcher of nuclear weapons for the country’s defence.
  • He was a pioneer in the use of Thorium and he started extracting Uranium from Thorium rather than relying on the limited reserves of Uranium in India. 
    Bhabha was the one behind India’s three-stage nuclear powered programme. 
  • Numerous educational institutes have been named after this eminent physicist such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Homi Bhabha National Institute and the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education.
    BARC (formerly known as the Atomic Energy Establishment) is India’s leading nuclear research facility located in Bombay.
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre

Awards and Recognitions  

In 1942 he received the Adams Prize, of Cambridge for a thesis on “The theory of the elementary physical particles and their interactions.”

In 1948 he received the Hopkins Prize of Cambridge Philosophical society. 

It was in 1954 when he received the prestigious Padma Bhushan award for his contributions in the field of science. 

He was elected as the President of the first International Conference on peaceful uses of Atomic Energy, held under the United nation organisation in 1955. 

He was also the President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics from 1960 till 1963. 

Homi Bhabha received honorary fellowship of the from various Colleges names are as follows :

  • Gonville and Caius College in 1957 
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh in the same year 1957 
  • American Academy of Arts and science in 1959 
  • National Academy of Science of the United States in 1963. 

He also received honorary doctoral degrees in science from    Patna in 1944, Lucknow in 1949, Banaras in 1950, Agra in 1952, Perth in 1954, Allahabad in 1958, Cambridge in 1959, London in 1960, Padova in 1961. 

Demise

Homi Jehangir Bhabha passed away in a plane crash on monday, 24th january 1966. Air India’s Boeing 707 crashes on the mountains of Mont Blanc in the Alps, unfortunately no one could survive the crash. Homi was on his way to attend a meeting of the scientific advisory committee of the international atomic energy agency in Vienna. 

It was a great loss for the scientific community of the world and our nation lost a pure gem. 

Soon after his demise legendary businessman J.R.D. Tata paid tribute to this visionary by writing, 

“Homi was one of those who made me believe that some men in human history are born with the stamp of predestination on them which leads them to accomplishments beyond ordinary human capabilities. Some of them and Homi, alas, was one are also predestined to die young, an unconscious premonition which drives them to the superhuman effort to complete their task in the short time allowed to them.” 
—J.R.D. Tata 

Homi J. Bhabha within two decades time he transformed the scientific landscape of our nation. His great leadership and innovation will keep inspiring the young minds of this nation generations after generations. He embraced the vision of a new India. 

Today our nation is one of the few nations around the world which is capable of handling Nuclear Power and surely this would have been impossible without Homi Jehangir Bhabha

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