Homi J. Bhabha was the “Father of the Indian nuclear programme.” He was an Indian nuclear physicist who was the founder-director of the crucial nuclear weapon developing institutes of India – Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai and the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay (AEET) which was later renamed ‘the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.’ He was the recipient of the Fellow of the Royal Society, the Adams Prize in 1942, Padma Bhushan in 1954, and was also nominated for the Physics Nobel Prize in 1951 and from 1953 to 1956. Homi died in 1966 in Air India Flight 101 Crash near Mont Blanc.
Homi J. Bhabha was born on Saturday, 30 October 1909 (age 56 years; at the time of death) in Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Mumbai, Maharashtra, India). His zodiac sign was Scorpio. Homi J. Bhabha attended Bombay’s Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai for school education. At the age of fifteen, he passed the Senior Cambridge Examination with Honours from Elphinstone College. He attended the Royal Institute of Science in 1927. Later, he went to Caius College of Cambridge University to pursue a bachelors degree in Science.
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
His father’s name was Jehangir Hormusji Bhabha, and he was a lawyer. His mother’s name was Meherbai Bhabha, and she was the granddaughter of renowned philanthropist Sir Dinshaw Maneckji Petit.
His brother’s name was Jamshed Jahangir Bhabha.
Wife & Children
Homi J. Bhabha’s father, Jahangir Bhabha, was born and brought up in Bangalore. He went to England for higher studies and came back to India with a degree in Law. He started practising law under the judicial service of Mysore. Meanwhile, Jahangir Bhabha married Meherbai, and they moved to Bombay. Homi and his brother Jamshed Bhabha were born and raised in Bombay. The name of Homi’s paternal grandfather was Hormusji Bhabha, and he was the inspector general of education in Mysore. Homi was named after his paternal grandfather. The name of Homi’s paternal aunt was Meherbai who was married to Dorab Tata. Dorab Tata was the elder son of the founder of Tata industries “Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata.’
Homi Bhabha loved science and physics since his school days. He topped the Mechanical Sciences Tripos exam in 1930, and for the academic year 1931 to 1932, Bhabha received the Salomons Studentship in Engineering. In 1932, he was honoured with the Rouse Ball travelling studentship in mathematics after getting the first class in his Mathematical Tripos. Homi Bhabha began working at Cavendish Laboratory along with pursuing his doctorate in theoretical physics in 1933. Cavendish Laboratory was famous for the distinguished discoveries of James Chadwick. The first scientific research thesis titled “The Absorption of Cosmic radiation” was submitted by Homi Bhabha in January 1933 and attained his doctorate degree in nuclear physics. During his research studies, he experimented on particles that released radiations.
After attaining a doctorate degree, Bhabha was honoured with the Isaac Newton Studentship for three years for his submission of a distinguished scientific paper in physics in 1934. Ralph H. Fowler was Homi J. Bhabha’s guide and supervisor during his doctorate studies when he was also working at Cambridge and with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen.
Another scientific paper titled ‘the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series A’ was published by Homi Bhabha in 1935 in which he did the calculations to find out the cross-section of ‘Electron-positron Scattering’ which was later renamed ‘Bhabha Scattering’ to honour him for his contributions to the science and engineering. “The Passage of Fast Electrons and the Theory of Cosmic Showers” was a paper published by Homi Bhabha in 1936 which was co-authored by him with Walter Heitler. This paper was a continued part of his previous paper titled ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series A.’ The excerpts from various calculations and estimates done together by Homi Bhabha and Walter Heitler are:
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 and Pierre Victor Auger a few years before.”
The particles on which Homi J. Bhabha was working were the experimental verification of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, and this fact was discovered by Homi Bhabha later through his scientific experiments and studies. The Senior Studentship of the 1851 exhibition was honoured to Homi J. Bhabha in 1937. Till World War II started in 1939, Bhabha worked at the University of Cambridge with the help of this studentship. Soon after the flaming of World War II, Homi J. Bhabha came back to India, and soon, received the opportunity to work as a Reader at the Indian Institute of Science in its Physics Department on the call of the notable physicist of India, C. V. Raman. It was Homi J. Bhabha who wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was also a prominent Indian Congress Pary leader and explained to him the need of establishing nuclear programmes in India through his letter. Bhabha wrote in the letter about a nuclear power station in India. He penned,
The development of atomic energy should be entrusted to a very small and high powered body composed of say, three people with executive power, and answerable directly to the Prime Minister without any intervening link. For brevity, this body may be referred as the Atomic Energy Commission.”
On 20 March 1942, Homi J. Bhabha was chosen as the Fellow of the Royal Society. Soon after his letter to the Prime Minister of India, he received a special grant from the Sir Dorab Tata Trust to establish a Cosmic Ray Research Unit in 1944. In this research centre, Homi Bhabha worked independently on nuclear weapons and the point particles theories. Bhabha chose Harish-Chandra as his assistant student at the Indian Institute of Science. In March 1944, Homi J. Bhabha requested Sir Dorabji Tata Trust through a letter to amend the facilities available in the fields such as nuclear physics, cosmic rays, high energy physics, and other branches of physics at the Indian Institute of Science and urged for a specific institute for fundamental research in physics. Soon after his request, Tata Trust took the financial responsibility to set up a nuclear physics institute in 1944 in Bombay, and the government of Bombay became the joint founder of the new institute and named the new institute as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in the same building of the Indian Institute of Science.
Homi Bhabha was the founder-director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai in 1945 which was established with the help of J. R. D. Tata. In 1948, Homi J. Bhabha founded the Atomic Energy Commission and became its first chairperson.
Homi J. Bhabha was appointed as the head of the Indian nuclear program by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948. Bhabha was also allowed to develop nuclear weapons by the government of India. During the same time, Homi J. Bhabha represented India at the International IAEA conferences which were held in Geneva in the 1950s and at various International Atomic Energy Forums. He was appointed as the president of the United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, Switzerland in 1955.
In 1948, the TIFR was shifted to the Royal Yacht club and its old buildings. Later, Bhabha requested the government of India to establish a specific building for testing the nuclear experiments as he realised that this building was too small for this purpose. Consequently, in Trombay Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay (AEET) and its department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was established in 1954.
The government of India honoured Bhabha with the Padma Bhushan in 1954. Homi J. Bhabha was appointed as the Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958. During the same time, he paraphrased India’s three stages nuclear power programme. This programme was:
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 got the vision to develop nuclear weapons in India after the India – China war in 1962. Simultaneously, Bhabha received international recognition for his ‘Bhabha Scattering’ calculations and contribution to the Compton scattering and R-process. In 1962, Homi J. Bhabha helped Vikram Sarabhai in establishing the Indian National Committee for Space Research when he was working as a member of the Indian Cabinet’s Scientific Advisory Committee. Homi J. Bhabha was the first one who predicted the ‘meson’ particles which were later discovered by Neddermeyer and Anderson. Later, these particles were named ‘muon.’
Awards and Honours
- 1942: The Adams Prize
- 1954: Padma Bhushan.
- 1953 to 1956: Nominated for the Physics Nobel Prize
- Recipient of the Fellow of the Royal Society
Homi J. Bhabha died in 1966 in a plane crash in Mont Blanc. He was going to attend a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Scientific Advisory Committee in Vienna, Austria. It was in news that time that there was a misunderstanding between the pilot and the Geneva airport officials about the position of the plane and that ultimately led to the crash of the plane after striking a mountain. He died along with the 117 passengers who boarded the plane. It was in the news that the plane was crashed intentionally to paralyse the Indian nuclear programme by killing Homi J. Bhabha. In 2012, an Indian diplomatic bag was discovered near the plane crash site that pointed to the involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the plane crash. News 18 BBC Gregory Douglas claimed in his book titled ‘Conversations with the Crow’ that the CIA was involved in the aeroplane crash that ultimately targeted the killing of Homi J. Bhabha by placing a bomb in the cargo section of the plane. The Times of India
A telephonic conversation tape was released in July 2008 by a media house named TBRNews.org. that outlined the conspiracy behind the plane crash. The conversation was:
We had trouble, you know, with India back in the 60’s when they got uppity and started work on an atomic bomb…the thing is, they were getting into bed with the Russians.’’
Referring to Homi J. Bhabha, one in the audiotape said,
That one was dangerous, believe me. He had an unfortunate accident. He was flying to Vienna to stir up more trouble when his Boeing 707 had a bomb go off in the cargo hold….’’
The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai was named after Homi J. Bhabha to honour his contributions in the fields of science and engineering. This institute was earlier known as The Atomic energy Establishment at Mumbai.
At Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, Kolkata, a statue of Homi J. Bhabha was placed in his loving memory after his death by the government of India. The research in electronics, space science, radio astronomy, and microbiology was first advocated by Homi J. Bhabha in India.
A stamp of 15 Paise was released in honour of Homi J. Bhabha by the government of India in 1966. In 1970, a radio telescope was established by the government of India in Ooty which was the dream project of Bhabha.
Homi Bhabha Fellowship was started in 1976 to be granted to the students and scholars of physics and science. The Homi Bhabha National Institute, an Indian deemed university, and the Homi J. Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai, India were named after him to honour his contributions in the field of science and engineering. Mehrangir, a bungalow at Malabar Hill, was built by Bhabha in which he spent most of his life. This bungalow was inherited by his brother Jamshed Bhabha after the death of Homi J. Bhabha. In 2014, this property was sold to the National Centre for the Performing Arts for Rs. 372 crores and the money received from it was spent to maintain and develop the existing nuclear centre of India.
- The experiments and scientific researches conducted by HomiJ. Bhabha in physics attracted great Indian minds to switch their fields to nuclear physics and renowned Indian physicists like Piara Singh Gill brought great laurels to India.
- Homi J. Bhabha was a great painter, classical music and opera lover. His paintings were exhibited for auction after his death. Apart from being an exceptional nuclear scientist and physicist, he was also a great botanist.
- Homi was sent to Cambridge University, by his father and uncle, for his higher studies in engineering. However, Homi inclined towards theoretical physics at Cambridge. Soon after developing an interest in physics, Homi wrote a letter to his father in which he narrated his passion for physics. He wrote,
I seriously say to you that business or job as an engineer is not the thing for me. It is totally foreign to my nature and radically opposed to my temperament and opinions. Physics is my line. I know I shall do great things here. For, each man can do best and excel in only that thing of which he is passionately fond, in which he believes, as I do, that he has the ability to do it, that he is in fact born and destined to do it… I am burning with a desire to do physics. I will and must do it sometime. It is my only ambition.”
Homi J. Bhabha further continued that he was burning with the desire to pursue physics. He said,
I am burning with a desire to do physics. I will and must do it some time. It is my only ambition. I have no desire to be a successful man or the head of a big firm. There are intelligent people who like that and let them do it.”
- The first Indian Rocket station at Thumba in Thiruvananthapuram was established by Vikram Sarabhai in 1963 which was named Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS). Homi Bhabha assisted Vikram with the project and launched its first rocket flight with a sodium vapour payload on 21 November 1963. Thereafter, Homi J. Bhabha was also helped by Vikram Sarabhai to set up a scientific centre at IIM Ahmedabad.
- In 1965, Homi J. Bhabha shocked the whole world when he made an announcement on All India Radio that if he was exempted, he could develop a peaceful nuclear bomb in eighteen months that could improve the areas of energy, agriculture, and medicine in India.
- A web series titled ‘Rocket Boys’ based on the exemplary lives of Homi J. Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai was released in 2021 on the Sony Liv Channel in which Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh portrayed the two characters.
“Bhabha is a great lover of music, a gifted artist, a bril-liant engineer and an outstanding scientist. He is the modern equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci.”
— Sir C V Raman at the Annual Meeting of the Indian Academy of Science, Nagpur, 1941