Homi Jehangir Bhabha, a multi-faceted personality, who is popularly known as the ‘father of the Indian nuclear programme’. He set up two pre-eminent institutions which are instrumental in the development of nuclear weapons in India namely Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born on 30 October, 1909 in Mumbai in a wealthy Parsi family to the parents J.H. Bhabha, a leading barrister of Mumbai and Meherbai Bhabha, a beautiful lady who had a strong influence on young Homi.
Homi never slept enough as he had extremely active brain. He was also related to Dinshaw Maneckji Petit and Dorabji Tata. Lady Tata, the aunt of Homi wanted him to receive a well-rounded education. At the age of fifteen, Homi studied at the Cathedral Grammar School in Mumbai and passed his Senior Cambridge Examinations. J.H. Bhabha, the father of Homi wanted his son to imbibe Indian culture, customs, and lifestyle. Two of Homi’s noteworthy feasts at the age of fifteen are – his comprehension of Einstein’s theory of relativity and having familiarity with the works of classical European painters.
Homi’s parents maintained a wonderful library at home and his maternal aunt, Cooma Panday had a stock of gramophone records of Beethoven, Bach and other greats of Western classical music which was very fond of Homi. By spending a large amount of time in his aunt Lady Tata’s home Homi got an opportunity to see the great national leaders. As Homi grew up he developed a very good understanding of science, trade, mega projects and factories and industry.
Homi went on to study at Elphinstone College in Bombay, after which he attended the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay till 1927. In the same year he set off for England to study and to take a degree in Mechanical engineering. He had a close interaction with Raziuddin Siddiqui, an influential theoretical physicist, at Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge University. After staying for a while Homi changed his mind and wrote a letter to his father stating that he wanted to study mathematics and physics for which has father denied. After much convincing finally his father agreed on one condition if Homi could obtain a first class in mechanical sciences exam.
Bhabha took the exam and got a first class and then continued his mathematical studies under Paul Dirac, aiming to complete his major in mathematics. He then plunged into research in physics. He was working at the famous Cavendish Laboratory towards his doctorate in theoretical physics. It was a great time to be in Cambridge. Under the leadership of Lord Rutherford, the laboratory was flourishing very well in the nuclear and atomic structure of matter. This included the use of cloud chambers to demonstrate the production of electron pairs and showers by gamma radiation, the transmutation of lithium with high-energy protons and the discovery of the neutron. In theoretical physics, big developments were taking place in quantum mechanics.
Bhabha received various awards and grants such as the Salomons Studentship in Engineering and Rouse Ball travelling studentship in mathematics during the 1931-32 which allowed Homi to visit the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. He received his doctorate in nuclear physics after publishing his paper entitled “The Absorption of Cosmic Radiation” and this particular paper won him the Isaac Newton Studentship. In 1939, he also obtained a Royal Society Grant to work at Manchester in the laboratory of P.M.S. Blackett. During the World War II Bhabha was in India and published some works in a journal commissioned by C.V. Raman and established rapport with him. In 1941, Bhabha was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, London that was a very big honour then. Soon after this, he was invited to lecture in many universities in India and offered permanent positions at Allahabad, Calcutta, and Mumbai but were turned them down by Bhabha.
Bhabha wished to start a new centre for fundamental research without having interference from anybody. He wrote a letter with the famous proposal to Sir Sorab Sakalatvala, Chairman of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust stating that a big Institute needed to be established for doing research work in the fundamental problems of Physics. In 1944 this proposal was accepted and as a result of this, TIFR was formed in Bombay with the Government of Bombay as the joint founder. Bhabha acquired numerous paintings from the great artists of the time to adorn the walls of the institute - M.F. Husain was a one among such great artists. The institute went on to do tremendously well and Bhabha attracted various eminent foreign and domestic scientists to stay and lecture for short spells.