Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born in Bombay on October 30, 1909. In his childhood Bhabha used to sleep very little. The worried parents took him to several qualified doctors. But for sometime the reason for his sleeplessness could not be found out. At last doctors assured the parents that Bhabha was in excellent health. He did not sleep as long as other children of his age, because of his super- active brain and the continuous, rapid flow of thoughts.
His parents took interest in shaping Bhabha’s love of science. He was also provided with a small library. The library contained many science books.
Education and Research
At the age of 15, Bhabha passed the Senior Cambridge Examination.
Later he entered Elphinstone College and the Royal Institute of Science, Bombay. He continued his studies here for two years.
Bhabha loved Physics. Mathematics was also his favorite subject. But his father wanted him to become an engineer. Bhabha respected the wishes of his father. He left India for Cambridge to study Engineering. Bhabha passed the Mechanical Engineering Tripos in the first class in 1930. He then pursued his studies in Theoretical Physics as a Research Scholar.
The Study of Cosmic Rays
Bhabha’s orginal contributions to Physics lie in the fields of cosmic radiation, theory of elementary particles and quantum theory.
Bhabha returned to India for a holiday in 1939. That was the time of the Second World War. Bhabha did not return to England and this was indeed fortunate for India.
Bhabha could have got lucrative posts in any developed country. But he did not think of them. The material pleasures of foreign countries did not attract him. Bhabha decided to devote his life to the service of his motherland.
In those days the equipment and facilities needed for research in Atomic Physics were not available in India. Realizing this, Bhabha formulated a plan to meet this need.
Bhabha was invited to join the staff of Oxford University. But he did not accept the invitation. He expressed his desire to build an excellent institution of research in India.
Bhabha wrote a letter to the Dorabji Tata Trust on March 13, 1944. In the course of the letter he said:
‘When nuclear energy has been success- fully applied to power production in, say, a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts, but will find them ready at hand.’
Bhabha wrote this letter almost a year before the atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki! This letter clearly illustrates his far-sightedness and patriotism. Bhabha’s plan was an embryo from which a school of physics was born.
New Climate Created
The Tata Trust founded the – ‘Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’ in 1945. The establishment of the Institute was mainly due to the initiative of Bhabha
The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is an outcome of the discussion that Bhabha had with the industrialist J. R. D. Tata, and the far-sighted decision of the Tata Trust to support Bhabha’s Project.
‘Apsara’, ‘Cirus’ and ‘Zerlina’ are the three reactors built by the Trombay scientists and engineers, with foreign assistance. The credit for establishing these reactors goes to Bhabha.
Having acquired these reactors, Bhabha planned to take up the actual construction of atomic power plants. The atomic power plant of Tarapur in Maharashtra is now producing electricity. The other two plants are situated at Rana Pratap Sagar in Rajasthan and Kalpakam in Tamil Nadu. These power plants will appreciably contribute to the production of electricity in India. These achievements are the living symbols of Bhabha’s imagination and dynamism.
Building Up A Team of Scientists
The early atomic age of India was a period of transition. At that time Bhabha gave a clarion call to all young scientists who were staying abroad; “Return to Trombay; return to the motherland.” Many young scientists listened to his call and came to Trombay. They are today among the reputed scientists in the country. Bhabha took personal care to provide necessary amenities to them.
Bhabha selected scientists with care. He placed them in positions of responsibility. He thus succeeded in building up a team of excellent workers around him. He created a suitable scientific atmosphere for his colleagues. Necessary materials and equipment were provided. He inspired the staff and gave them the freedom they needed to pursue their work. He gave them every opportunity to grow. Spotting scientific talent was his passion.
Discipline in all walks of life and a challenging attitude to accomplish the targets were his special characteristics. He instilled a sense of confidence in his fellow-workers so that project could be successfully completed.
On May 18, 1974, India conducted its first nuclear explosion for peaceful purposes, at Pokran in, Rajasthan and joined the galaxy of nations with atomic energy. The success of this achievement is due mainly to Bhabha who put India on the world map of nuclear science.
When Bhabha was invited to become the Minister of Atomic Energy in the Union Cabinet, he declined. Science was dearer to Bhabha than the charm of ministership.
Life is for Living
In 1938 Bhabha wrote in one of his letters: ‘You can give a new direction to everything in life-except death.’ These words show clearly the degree of his self-confidence.
Bhabha often said: “A scientist does not belong to a particular nation. He belongs to the whole world. The doors of science should be kept open to all those who work for the welfare of humanity.”
Bhabha foresaw that a time might come when production of power may suffer because of the shortage of coal and oil. He firmly believed that the standard of living of our people could be improved only through fuller utilization of nuclear energy.
Bhabha opened up new vistas of atomic glory. Nuclear Physics attained a new dignity and a new status on account of his personality. India stepped right out of the bullock-cart age into the Atomic age. This ‘Atom Man’ diverted the atom from the path of destruction to that of construction.
Bridging two Cultures
Bhabha did not want any friction between scientific culture and artistic Culture. He always tried to bridge the gap between these two cultures. He believed that both science and art should enrich human life. These thoughts made Bhabha a great humanist of his age.
Bhabha could have become a great musician or expert artist or a renowned writer, but he served the nation as a scientist. What is science for if not for research, truth and beauty?
Bhabha was a great patron of art and music. He once dreamt of a career as a composer. He gave encouragement to modern painters, purchased their works and displayed them on the walls of the buildings of Trombay Establishment. He was a lover of South Indian music and never missed any good performance of leading artists. A man of many talents, he had a wonderful collection of paintings. He was also a great collector of works of art. He could talk with authority on painting and music and on trees and plants and flowers, which he loved. He was a versatile genius.
He had a great love for trees and flowers. At his instance a number of trees were transplanted to the new premises of the Tata Institute. He saved many a tree from the clutches of death. He was indeed a ‘Friend of Trees.’
When the construction work at Trombay was in progress, Bhabha spent many sleepless nights and finalized the layout for the campus. Today it is a home of loveliness, with vast lawns, shady trees and multi-colored flowers. The Trombay Center faces the sea on one side and a tall hill on the other. Nature is at her loveliest at Trombay. Trombay is undoubtedly a living example of Bhabha’s taste for good things and love of the beauty of Nature.
The Tragic End
Bhabha had disliked the, practice of stopping work when some one passed away. He considered that the best homage was hard work. When the members of the staff at Trombay heard the news of Dr. Bhabha’s death, they worked as usual and thus paid their respect to their departed leader.
As a tribute to Dr. Bhabha, the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay, was renamed as the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, on January 12, 1967.