Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born on 30th October 1909 in Bombay. He was born into a wealthy and prominent industrial Parsi family. He was related to Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Dorabji Tata. He received his early education in Bombay’s Cathedral Grammar School and entered Elphinstone College when he was 15 years old after passing his Senior Cambridge Examination.
After that, he attended the Royal Institute of Science until the year 1927 before joining Caius College of Cambridge University. This was due to the insistence of his father and his uncle Dorab Tata, who planned for Bhabha to obtain a degree in mechanical engineering from Cambridge and then return to India where he would join the Tata Steel Mills in Jamshedpur as a metallurgist.
Career Homi Bhabha:
During his stay in Cambridge, Homi Bhabha benefited with great minds of physics and interacted with many physicists who played a pivotal role in the development of physics. In Cambridge, Bhabha closely interacted and befriended with his fellow countrymen and influential theoretical physicist Raziuddin Siddiqui. With Siddiqui as his friend, his interests gradually shifted to theoretical physicists and in the year 1928, he directed a letter to his father and uncle about his interest. Bhabha’s father understood his son’s predicament and agreed to finance his studies in mathematics provided that he obtains first class on his Mechanical Sciences Tripos exam. Bhabha appeared for the Tripos exam in June 1930 and passed with first class.
Later, he pursued his mathematical studies under Paul Dirac to complete the Mathematics Tripos. During that time, he also worked in the Cavendish Laboratory while working for his doctorate in theoretical physics. At that time, there were many scientific breakthroughs which were occurring in the laboratory.
During the academic year of 1931-32, Homi Bhabha was awarded the Salomons Studentship in Engineering. In the year 1932, he obtained first class in his Mathematical Tripos and was awarded the Rouse Ball traveling studentship in mathematics. However, with Siddiqui shifting to Germany, Bhabha lost his interest in theoretical physics and moved towards nuclear physics. During that time, he found himself conducting atomic experiments involving the subatomic energetic rays directly. His experiments and researches brought laurels and great contributions to the field of physics at that time.
During January 1933, Bhabha received his doctorate in nuclear physics after publishing his first scientific paper titled ‘The Absorption of Cosmic Radiation’. In this publication, he offered an explanation of the absorption features and electron shower production in cosmic rays. The paper helped him to win the Isaac Newton Studentship in the year 1934 which he held for three years. He then completed his doctoral studies in theoretical physics under Ralph H. Fowler in the next year. During his studentship, he split his time working in Cambridge and with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen.
Scientific Contributions of Homi Bhabha:
In the year 1935, he published a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series A, in which he performed the first calculation to determine the cross section of electron positron scattering. This scattering was later renamed as Bhabha scattering in honor of his contributions to the field. In the year 1936, they published a paper ‘The Passage of Fast Electrons and the Theory of Cosmic Showers’. In the year 1937, Homi Bhabha was awarded the Senior Studentship of the 1851 Exhibition which helped him to continue his work in Cambridge until the outbreak of World War II in the year 1939.
On September 1939, he was in India for a brief holiday when the World War II broke out and he decided not to return to England for some time. He then accepted an offer to serve as the reader in the Physics department of the Indian Institute of Science which was then headed by physicist C. V. Raman. He received a special research grant from Sir Dorab Tata trust which he used to establish the Cosmic Ray Research Unit at the institute. Later on 20th March 1941, he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society. With the help of J. R. D. Tata, Bhabha played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay.
During the time when Bhabha was working in the Indian Institute of Science, there was no institute in India which had the necessary facilities for original work in nuclear physics, cosmic rays and other frontiers of knowledge in physics. As such, he sent a proposal to Sir Dorabji Jamsetji Tata in March 1944 for establishing ‘a vigorous school of research in fundamental physics’.
The trustees accepted his proposal and provided the financial responsibility for building up the institute. The location was chosen in Bombay and the institute names Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was inaugurated in the year 1945. There was also the Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay was established and started function in the year 1954. In the same year, the Department of Atomic Energy was also established. Bhabha represented India in the International Atomic Energy Forums and also as a President of the United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva in Switzerland in the year 1955. He was also elected as a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the year 1958.
Homi Bhabha played a key role in convincing the Congress Party’s leaders, most notably Jawaharlal Nehru to start the ambitious nuclear programme. In the year 1948, Nehru appointed Bhabha as the director of the nuclear programme and asked him to develop nuclear weapons soon after.
During the Conference in Switzerland in the year 1955, he intensified his lobbying for developing nuclear weapons and soon after the Sino Indian War, he aggressively and publicly began to call for the nuclear weapons. His major contributions include the Compton scattering and R-process among others for the advancement of nuclear physics. Bhabha also served as the member of the Indian Cabinet’s Scientific Advisory Committee and provided the pivotal role to Vikram Sarabhai to set up the Indian national Committee for Space research.
Homi J. Bhabha died when Air India Flight 101 crashed neat Mount Blanc on 24th January 1956. Many possible theories have been advanced for the air crash, including a conspiracy theory in which CIA was involved in order to paralyze India’s nuclear program.
Legacy of Homi Bhabha:
Homi Bhabha is regarded as the father of Indian nuclear power. He is credited with formulating the country’s strategy in the field of nuclear power to focus on extracting power from the country’s vast thorium reserves rather than its meager uranium reserves. The approach proposed by Bhabha to achieve this strategic objective became the India’s three stage nuclear power programme.
After Bhabha’s death, the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay was renamed as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his honor. Bhabha was also a painter and a classical music and an opera enthusiast, besides being an amateur botanist. He encourages research in electronics, space science, radio astronomy and microbiology. The famed radio telescope in Ooty was his initiative and became a reality in the year 1970.
The Homi Bhabha Fellowship Council has been giving the Homi Bhabha Fellowships since the year 1967. Apart from these other institutions in his name include the Homi Bhabha National Institute and the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in Mumbai. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in the year 1954 by the Indian Government.
(FAN OF Dr. HOMI JEHANGIR BHABHA)
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