This is how one man authored India’s great nuclear programme
   Date :15-Aug-2021

loud thinking_1 &nbs
By Vijay Phanshikar :
HE WAS only on a brief holiday to India from his research in advanced nuclear physics in Europe, dividing his time between England and Copenhagen when World War II broke out. Constrained to stay in India, the young Dr. Homi Bhabha took that as a divine signal and went straight to the Indian Institute of Science, then headed by the legendary Nobel laureate Sir C. V. Raman. The moment he stood face to face with the grand old man of Indian science, Dr. Bhabha found his destination of life: India. That was a great moment in India’s contemporary history, so to say. For, that moment led to establishment of the famed Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). That moment also led to the subsequent launch of India’s nuclear programme.
That moment also led to the subsequent decision of the Indian leadership to start preparing for nuclear weapons. That moment also became a starting point of India’s space programme spearheaded by the legendary Dr. Vikram Sarabhai -- who never forgot the tremendous contribution of his “good, old friend Homi” for being instrumental in creating Indian Space Research Organisation. One moment. So many off-shoots. So much impact on one nation’s scientific endeavour in a wide spectrum of areas -- from atomic energy to space to oceanography ...! Having been born in a wealthy Parsi family of Mumbai, the young Homi Bhabha convinced his parents to send him to England for advanced studies, following which he promised to return to India and work for Tata Steel. What followed is nothing short of a good story material for a novel or movie. The young Homi Bhabha passed the Tripos exam in June 1930 with first class, two doctorates followed -- one in theoretical physics, and the other in nuclear physics.
Destiny, however, had assigned Homi Bhabha to become a legend in nuclear science. He left behind all the work he did in company of masters like Ralph H. Fowler in Cambridge and the iconic Niels Bohr in Copenhagen. But then history took another unexpected turn. Homi Bhabha joined the Indian Institute of Science as Reader in the Physics Department. A special research grant from the Sir Dorab Tata Trust helped him to establish the Cosmic Ray Research Unit at the Institute. Later, in 1941, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. With the help of J. R. D. Tata, he was instrumental in the establishment of TIFR. India was in a political tumult then. Homi Bhabha had a great friend in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whom he convinced about the tremendous utility of nuclear energy.
What followed in subsequent years was India’s great nuclear science programme for peaceful purposes as well as for strategic weapons usage. On one side, the “little atom” attracted him and on the other hand the “unfathomable universe held a special space and place” in his thought, as he later described. Internationally, too, he became an iconic personality, having been considered for the Nobel Prize. He travelled internationally very frequently to fulfill global assignments. And then came that fateful day when this terrific son of India met with a premature death. He was killed when Air India Flight 101 crashed near Mont Blanc on January 24, 1966, unfortunately resulting from a misunderstanding between Geneva Airport and the pilot about the aircraft position near the mountain, giving rise to some assassination theories. Dr. Bhabha was not just a great scientist but also the Father of India’sts nuclear programme and an iconic inspirer of thousands of scientists. However, we rarely tell ourselves this story.