In 1928, the old dream of an eighteen-year-old boy clashed with the traditional thinking of his father. The father—a lawyer by profession, wanted his son to become an engineer—a traditional dream of every father. But his son wanted to study physics. “But you are not Socrates or Einstein”, his father had taunted him without knowing the destiny of his son. The clash of two divergent wills was between H.J. Bhabha who later became the architect of nuclear India and his father J.H. Bhabha. Homi Jehangir was born hi an aristocratic Parsi family in Bombay in 1909. He passed the senior Cambridge Examination when he was 16 and went to Cambridge to study mechanical engineering. He was influenced by his Mathematics teacher Paul Dirac, who initiated him into the field of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. He soon decided that his true interest was in nuclear physics, a discipline, then flowering with Cambridge as one of its centres. Bhabha received a Ph. D in physics from Cambridge University in 1935, studying the physics of cosmic rays. While in Europe, he met many of the great physicists of the day, who would later play major roles hi the US-UK wartime atomic weapon programmes, among them were Niels Bohr, James Franck, and Enrico Fermi. Bhabha was well respected within the international physics community, and has left his name associated with the phenomenon of Bhabha electron scattering. At Cambridge, he completed Mechanical Engineering with flying colours and worked with eminent physicists of the era such as W. Pauli in Zurich and with Enrico Fermi in Rome. Bhabha learnt off the discovery of fission while abroad. He returned to India after a distinguished academic career. In 1939, the World War II broke out and he could not return to England.
In 1940, at the behest of Sir C.V. Raman, the then director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Bhabha joined the Institute as a reader in Physics. When Bhabha began the study of cosmic rays, he realized the need for an institute devoted to the fundamental research. He was helped with funds from J.R.D. Tata in this venture and he estabbihed the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research hi Bombay hi 1945.
In April 1948, Nehru agreed to legislate at Bhabha’s request, the Atomic Energy Act in the Constitute Assembly, creating the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEEI), later to become on August 3, 1954, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) with Dr Bhabha as its Secretary. Dr Bhabha disliked outdated government rules and procedures. While erecting Apsara, the First atomic reactor in India, he provided care for the scientists on a 24-hour basis; he arranged lunch and dinner in the reactor building from “Trichur Mess” for vegetarians and from Taj Hotel for others. Work continued round the clock. Once Dr Bhabha returned after a visit to England. Bhabha convinced Nehru that government regulations, which did not support these provisions, are not really suited for executive work, which is to be done at speed, and under pressure. Nehru agreed. Snakes often slithered down the bushes while the construction of the reactor was hi progress. But nothing could now stop the great scientist from realizing his dream for his country, forget about the snakes. Moreover, Dr Bhabha demanded absolute secrecy with respect to any secret information given to us by a foreign atomic energy agency. Pandit Nehru wholeheartedly defended the policy. The core competence in many fields helped BARC to develop strategic technologies. Bhabha personally recruited and sponsored many of the principal players in the successful efforts to develop and test nuclear weapons such as Homi Sethana, P.K. lyengar (hired, 1952), Vasudev lyer, and Raja Ramanna hired by Bhabha in 1949 and given a J.N. Tata scholarship at King’s College in London. Ramanna confirms that Bhabha planned from the very outset to establish an Indian nuclear weapons capability.
Bhabha was soon a force to reckon within international science circles. His research in atomic energy is of great importance and he is considered as the founder and architect of India’s atomic energy programme. He served as the president of the UN conference on peaceful uses of atomic energy in 1955 and as the President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics from 1960 to 63. From the outset Bhabha’s plans for India were extraordinary and ambitious. January 24,1966 was one of the saddest days for the Indian scientific community. An Air India plane crashed near Mont Blanc peak. None survived and Dr Bhabha was one of its passengers. The news shocked the entire scientific community of India. Next day all units of the Department of Atomic Energy were open. That was the best way to honour Dr Bhabha. An eerie silence pervaded everywhere. The scientists and the whole scientific vision of the country suddenly felt orphaned with the sudden and unexpected demise of its creator and originator.
On 12th January 1967, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi renamed the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in memory of this great man who pioneered to lead India into nuclear self-sufficiency. The credit for the establishment of India’s nuclear research programme, and its nuclear weapons’ programme, goes to the vision of this great man. The younger generation has only heard about him yet his memory continues to inspire every one of us. The most fitting tribute to him is to work tirelessly in all areas of science and technology in India to improve the condition and quality of life of millions of our compatriots. Bhabha had once said, “We must have the capability. We should first prove ourselves and then talk of Gandhiji, non-violence and to be a nation without nuclear weapons”.