Foundation system

Homi Bhabha’s visionary foresight laid the foundation for India’s nuclear program

New Delhi, February 25 (IANS): Setting the record straight amid controversy over ‘Rocket Boys’ TV series which has been slammed, as one reviewer put it, as a ‘fuzzy document of an intriguing period in Indian history’ comes a monograph that sheds light on the life and times of Homi Jahangir Bhabha, who laid the foundations for India’s nuclear program.

“Bhabha left a rich legacy in Indian science that still enriches us today. He recognized what India needed to gain a foothold in global science in its post-independence era and was determined to push his ideas. The rare combination of caliber and confidence in Bhabha made him the icon he was, and it is what makes us look back on his life and work even after half a century of his death.” says author Biman Nath, an astrophysicist at the Raman Research Institute of ‘Homi J Bhabha – A Renaissance Man Among Scientists’ (Niyogi Books).

Bhabha’s foresight and entrepreneurship shaped the development of modern science in India. Understanding the need to achieve autonomy, he laid the foundation for nuclear research in India by founding the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET), later renamed Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in his honor. Bhabha gained international prominence for his pioneering studies in the field of atomic energy, while his role as a scientist-diplomat, managed with aplomb, gained global recognition on the world stage.

This compelling monograph describes his life story, his early work on cosmic rays, which remained a lifelong obsession, his struggles to translate theories into experiments, and his accomplishments.

A deeply evocative work, it depicts Bhabha’s visionary foresight in anticipating the urgent need for high quality facilities in India to pursue nuclear energy research. He also talks about his passionate interest in art and architecture, drawing and painting, and his love for classical music, which made him stand out as a renaissance man among scientists.

Comprehensive and thoughtful, this monograph summarizes Bhabha’s vision for India and highlights his rich heritage. His legendary leadership in organizing scientific research in India, his drive and his passion continue to inspire generations of students in India.

Take, for example, his work on cosmic rays.

Since India is located near the magnetic equator, most of the low-energy particles were reflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, leaving the high-energy particles to enter detectors placed on balloons. There were other reasons that made India an ideal place for cosmic ray studies.

India also had the highest mountain range in the world, which provided an ideal location for studying cosmic rays at high altitudes. In hot air balloon flights, there is a time during which the data can be collected, while on the top of the mountains, these studies can be extended for longer. India also had many mines, and instruments could be placed at the bottom of these mines for the study of cosmic rays.

This configuration would remove many particles absorbed by the upper crust, leaving other particles to be detected by instruments below, which allowed physicists to have a simple filtering system for different types of particles. Bhabha realized that this line of research was ideal for the Indian situation, as it required relatively modest financial means, with which the frontline research could be carried out.

Furthermore, such activities would enable India to learn the techniques of modern experimental physics and would also instill confidence in young Indian scientists that they could achieve scientific results despite the obstacles.

Such was the dynamism that took Bhabha to heights that few scientists have hitherto reached.