Homi Jehangir Bhabha (30 October 1909 – 24 January 1966) was an
Indian nuclear physicist, founding director, and professor of physics
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Colloquially
known as "father of the Indian nuclear programme", Bhabha was also
the founding director of the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay
(AEET) which is now named the
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his
honor. TIFR and AEET were the cornerstone of Indian development of
nuclear weapons which Bhabha also supervised as director.
1 Early life
2 Studies and research at University of Cambridge
2.1 Work in nuclear physics
3 Return to India
5 Atomic Energy in India
6 Visionary behind India's Three Stage Nuclear Power Programme
7.1 Assassination theories
10 See also
12 External links
Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born into a wealthy and prominent industrial
Parsi family, through which he was related to businessmen Dinshaw
Maneckji Petit, and Dorabji Tata. He was born on 30 October 1909, in
an illustrious family with a long tradition of learning and service to
the country. His father was Jehangir Hormusji Bhabha, a well known
lawyer and his mother was Meheren. He received his early studies at
Cathedral and John Connon School
Cathedral and John Connon School and entered Elphinstone
College at age 15 after passing his
Senior Cambridge Examination with
He then attended the Royal Institute of Science until 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 or Tata Steel
Mills in Jamshedpur as a metallurgist.
Studies and research at University of Cambridge
Bhabha's father understood his son's predicament, and he agreed to
finance his studies in mathematics provided that he obtain first class
on his Mechanical Sciences
Tripos exam. Bhabha took the
Tripos exam in
June 1930 and passed with first class. Afterwards, he excelled in his
mathematical studies under
Paul Dirac to complete the Mathematics
Tripos. Meanwhile, he worked at the
Cavendish Laboratory while working
towards his doctorate in theoretical physics. At the time, the
laboratory was the center of a number of scientific breakthroughs.
James Chadwick had discovered the neutron,
John Cockcroft and Ernest
Walton transmuted lithium with high-energy protons, and Patrick
Giuseppe Occhialini used cloud chambers to demonstrate
the production of electron pairs and showers by gamma radiation.
During the 1931–1932 academic year, Bhabha was awarded the Salomons
Studentship in Engineering. In 1932, he obtained first class on his
Tripos and was awarded the Rouse Ball traveling
studentship in mathematics. During this time, nuclear physics was
attracting the greatest minds and it was one of the most significantly
emerging fields as compared to theoretical physics, the opposition
towards theoretical physics attacked the field because it was lenient
towards theories rather than proving natural phenomenon through
experiments. Conducting experiments on particles which also released
enormous amounts of radiation, was a lifelong passion of Bhabha, and
his leading edge research and experiments brought great laurels to
Indian physicists who particularly switched their fields to nuclear
physics, one of the most notable being Piara Singh Gill.
Work in nuclear physics
In January 1933, Bhabha received his doctorate in nuclear physics
after publishing his first scientific paper, "The Absorption of Cosmic
radiation". In the publication, Bhabha offered an explanation of the
absorption features and electron shower production in cosmic rays. The
paper helped him win the Isaac Newton Studentship in 1934, which he
held for the next three years. The following year, he completed his
doctoral studies in theoretical physics under Ralph H. Fowler. During
his studentship, he split his time working at Cambridge and with Niels
Bohr in Copenhagen. In 1935, Bhabha 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. Electron-positron scattering was later named Bhabha
scattering, in honor of his contributions in the field.
In 1936, with Walter Heitler, he co-authored a paper, "The Passage of
Fast Electrons and the Theory of Cosmic Showers" in the Proceedings
of the Royal Society, Series A, in which they used their theory to
describe how primary cosmic rays from outer space interact with the
upper atmosphere to produce particles observed at the ground level.
Bhabha and Heitler then made numerical estimates of the number of
electrons in the cascade process at different altitudes for different
electron initiation energies. The calculations agreed with the
experimental observations of cosmic ray showers made by Bruno Rossi
Pierre Victor Auger
Pierre Victor Auger a few years before. Bhabha later concluded
that observations of the properties of such particles would lead to
the straightforward experimental verification of Albert Einstein's
theory of relativity. In 1937, Bhabha was awarded the Senior
Studentship of the 1851 exhibition, which helped him continue his work
at Cambridge until the outbreak of
World War II
World War II in 1939.
Return to India
In September 1939, Bhabha was in India for a brief holiday when World
War II started, and he decided not to return to England for the time
being. He accepted an offer to serve as the Reader in the Physics
Department of the Indian Institute of Science, then headed by renowned
physicist C. V. Raman. He received a special research grant from the
Dorab Tata Trust, which he used to establish the Cosmic Ray
Research Unit at the Institute. Bhabha selected a few students,
including Harish-Chandra, to work with him. Later, on 20 March 1941,
he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. With the help of J. R.
D. Tata, he played an instrumental role in the establishment of the
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai.
Starting his nuclear physics career in Britain, Bhabha had returned to
India for his annual vacation before the start of
World War II
World War II in
September 1939. War prompted him to remain in India and accepted a
post of reader in physics at the
Indian Institute of Science
Indian Institute of Science in
Bengaluru, headed by Nobel laureate C.V. Raman. During this time,
Bhabha played a key role in convincing the Congress Party's senior
leaders, most notably
Jawaharlal Nehru who later served as India's
first Prime Minister, to start the ambitious nuclear programme. As
part of this vision, Bhabha established the Cosmic Ray Research Unit
at the Institute, began to work on the theory of point particles
movement, while independently conducting research on nuclear weapons
in 1944. In 1945, he established the Tata Institute of Fundamental
Research in Bombay, and the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948, serving
as its first chairman. In 1948, Nehru led the appointment of Bhabha
as the director of the nuclear program and tasked Bhabha to develop
the nuclear weapons soon after. In the 1950s, Bhabha represented
India in IAEA conferences, and served as President of the United
Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva,
Switzerland in 1955. During this time, he intensified his lobbying for
the development of nuclear weapons. Soon after the Sino-Indo war,
Bhabha aggressively and publicly began to call for the nuclear
Bhabha gained international prominence after deriving a correct
expression for the probability of scattering positrons by electrons, a
process now known as Bhabha scattering. His major contribution
included his work on Compton scattering, R-process, and furthermore
the advancement of nuclear physics. He was awarded
Padma Bhushan by
Government of India in 1954. He later 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. In January 1966, Bhabha died in a plane
crash near Mont Blanc, while heading to Vienna, Austria to attend a
meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Scientific
Atomic Energy in India
Bhabha (right) at the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of
Atomic Energy in Geneva, Switzerland, 20 August 1955
When Homi Jehangir Bhabha was working at the India Institute of
Science, there was no institute in India which had the necessary
facilities for original work in nuclear physics, cosmic rays, high
energy physics, and other frontiers of knowledge in physics. This
prompted him to send a proposal in March 1944 to the Sir Dorabji Tata
Trust for establishing 'a vigorous school of research in fundamental
physics'. In his proposal he wrote :
There is at the moment in India no big school of research in the
fundamental problems of physics, both theoretical and experimental.
There are, however, scattered all over India competent workers who are
not doing as good work as they would do if brought together in one
place under proper direction. It is absolutely in the interest of
India to have a vigorous school of research in fundamental physics,
for such a school forms the spearhead of research not only in less
advanced branches of physics but also in problems of immediate
practical application in industry. If much of the applied research
done in India today is disappointing or of very inferior quality it is
entirely due to the absence of sufficient number of outstanding pure
research workers who would set the standard of good research and act
on the directing boards in an advisory capacity ... Moreover,
when nuclear energy has been successfully applied for 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. I do not think that anyone
acquainted with scientific development in other countries would deny
the need in India for such a school as I propose. The subjects on
which research and advanced teaching would be done would be
theoretical physics, especially on fundamental problems and with
special reference to cosmic rays and nuclear physics, and experimental
research on cosmic rays. It is neither possible nor desirable to
separate nuclear physics from cosmic rays since the two are closely
The trustees of Sir Dorabji Jamsetji. Tata Trust decided to accept
Bhabha's proposal and financial responsibility for starting the
Institute in April 1944.
Bombay was chosen as the location for the
prosed Institute as the Government of
Bombay showed interest in
becoming a joint founder of the proposed institute. The institute,
named Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, was inaugurated in 1945
in 540 square meters of hired space in an existing building. In 1948
the Institute was moved into the old buildings of the Royal Yacht
club. When Bhabha realized that technology development for the atomic
energy programme could no longer be carried out within TIFR he
proposed to the government to build a new laboratory entirely devoted
to this purpose. For this purpose, 1200 acres of land was
acquired at Trombay from the
Bombay Government. Thus the Atomic Energy
Establishment Trombay (AEET) started functioning in 1954. The same
year the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was also established. He
represented India in International Atomic Energy Forums, and as
President of the
United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of
Atomic Energy, in
Geneva, Switzerland in 1955. He was elected a
Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Visionary behind India's Three Stage Nuclear Power Programme
Bhabha is generally acknowledged as the father of Indian nuclear
power. Moreover, he is credited with formulating a strategy of
focussing on extracting power from the country's vast thorium reserves
rather than its meagre uranium reserves. This thorium focused
strategy was in marked contrast to all other countries in the world.
The approach proposed by Bhabha to achieve this strategic objective
became India's three stage nuclear power programme.
Bhabha paraphrased the three-stage approach as follows:
The total reserves of thorium in India amount to over 500,000 tons in
the readily extractable form, while the known reserves of uranium are
less than a tenth of this. The aim of long range atomic power
programme in India must therefore be to base the nuclear power
generation as soon as possible on thorium rather than uranium... The
first generation of atomic power stations based on natural uranium can
only be used to start off an atomic power programme... The plutonium
produced by the first generation power stations can be used in a
second generation of power stations designed to produce electric power
and convert thorium into U-233, or depleted uranium into more
plutonium with breeding gain... The second generation of power
stations may be regarded as an intermediate step for the breeder power
stations of the third generation all of which would produce more U-238
than they burn in the course of producing power.
Homi J. Bhabha
Homi J. Bhabha died when
Air India Flight 101
Air India Flight 101 crashed near Mont Blanc
on 24 January 1966. Misunderstanding between
Geneva Airport and
the pilot about the aircraft position near the mountain is the
official reason of the crash.
Many possible theories have been advanced for the air crash, including
a conspiracy theory in which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is
involved in order to paralyze India's nuclear program. When an
Indian diplomatic bag containing newspapers, calendars and a personal
letter was recovered near the crash site in 2012, it was a "Type C"
diplomatic bag containing no important documents.
Bust of Homi Bhabha which is placed in the garden of Birla Industrial
& Technological Museum, Kolkata
After his death, the Atomic Energy Establishment at
Bombay was renamed
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his honour.
In addition to being an able scientist and administrator, Bhabha was
also a painter and a classical music and opera enthusiast, besides
being an amateur botanist.He is one of the most
prominent scientists that India has ever had. Bhabha also encouraged
research in electronics, space science, radio astronomy and
microbiology. The famed radio telescope at Ooty,
India was his initiative, and it became a reality in 1970. The Homi
Bhabha Fellowship Council has been giving the Homi Bhabha Fellowships
since 1967 Other noted institutions in his name are the Homi Bhabha
National Institute, an Indian deemed university and the Homi Bhabha
Centre for Science Education, Mumbai, India.
On 13 March 2014,
The Times of India
The Times of India reported that The National Centre
for the Performing Arts (NCPA) had issued a public notice inviting
developers and investors interested in purchasing Mehrangir, the
sprawling colonial bungalow at
Malabar Hill where Bhabha, spent most
of his life. The bungalow has a builtup area of 13,963 sq feet and a
plot measuring 17,150 sq feet.
After Bhabha died in 1966, his brother Jamshed became the custodian of
the Bhabha estate. Being an avid patron of arts and culture, Jamshed
Bhabha, who died in 2007, aged 93, had willed the property along with
paintings, jewellery, artefacts and furniture to the NCPA, which he
had established. Located at a stone's throw from Hanging Gardens, the
property is estimated to be valued at over Rs 250 crore (as of March
2014) and was sold to
Godrej family for Rs 372 crore by the
NCPA on 18 June 2014.
The employees and scientists working for Department of Atomic Energy
and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which Bhabha founded, have
protested against the sale of the bungalow to private developers as
they believe that the bungalow should be preserved as a memorial.
However NCPA chairman K N Suntook said that such sentiments "were
misplaced". He said that Homi Bhabha, the architect of India’s
nuclear power programme, was only a part owner of the property and
after his demise, the property "devolved solely upon his brother
Jamshed, who bequeathed it absolutely to the NCPA by his will, which
has since been probated".
Suntook said he was sad that eminent scientists were supporting this
movement and that BARC has lot of funds and they could have used to
bid for the bungalow. While there were eight bidders originally, three
turned up for the auction. Suntook added that Homi Bhabha was a great
lover of culture himself and both brothers would have been
disappointed with the opposition to the auction.
The present owner of Mehrangir (Smita-Crishna Godrej, Godrej family)
who had purchased the home, had it demolished during the first week of
June 2016. As per eminent scientists opposed to auction, the central
or state governments could have saved Mehrangir by compensating the
NCPA with a reasonable amount. However, this did not happen. The
bungalow was auctioned off in 2014 and demolished in June 2016,
bringing much dismay to those who wanted it declared a heritage
India's three stage nuclear power programme
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Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences. 159
(898): 432–458. Bibcode:1937RSPSA.159..432B.
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Ruins of Mehrangir, Homi Bhabha's Home". Retrieved 2016-06-26.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Homi Jehangir Bhabha.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Homi J. Bhabha
Annotated Bibliography for
Homi J. Bhabha
Homi J. Bhabha from the Alsos Digital
Library for Nuclear Issues.
The Woodrow Wilson Center's Nuclear Proliferation International
History Project. NPIHP has a series of primary source documents about
and by Homi Bhabha.
Padma Bhushan award recipients (1954–1959)
Homi J. Bhabha
Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar
Mahadeva Iyer Ganapati
Jnan Chandra Ghosh
Maithili Sharan Gupt
Ajudhiya Nath Khosla
Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan
Husain Ahmad Madani
Vallathol Narayana Menon
A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar
Palden Thondup Namgyal
V. Narahari Rao
M. S. Subbulakshmi
Kodandera Subayya Thimayya
Fateh Chand Badhwar
Lalit Mohan Banerjee
Suniti Kumar Chatterji
V. R. Khanolkar
Sunder Das Khungar
Prana Krushna Parija
Madapati Hanumantha Rao
Maneklal Sankalchand Thacker
Rukmini Devi Arundale
Nawab Alam yar jung Bahadur
C. K. Nayudu
Bhikhan Lal Atreya
Hazari Prasad Dwivedi
Mushtaq Hussain Khan
Lakshmi N. Menon
Radha Kumud Mukherjee
Andal Venkatasubba Rao
Shrikrishna Narayan Ratanjankar
Shyam Nandan Sahay
Govind Sakharam Sardesai
K. A. Nilakanta Sastri
D. P. Roy Choudhury
N. S. Hardikar
Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar
K. P. S. Menon
A. C. N. Nambiar
Poola Tirupati Raju
Rao Raja Hanut Singh
Rustom Jal Vakil
Surya Narayan Vyas
Darashaw Nosherwan Wadia
Ramdhari Singh Dinkar
Ali Yavar Jung
Hansa Jivraj Mehta
Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar
Tiruppattur R. Venkatachala Murthi
Dhanvanthi Rama Rau
Nirmal Kumar Sidhanta
Bhargavaram Viththal Varerkar
# Posthumous conferral
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BNF: cb10843263j (data)