24 Jan 2020

Homi.J.Bhabha3 min read

  • Homi Jehangir Bhabha, born in 1909 was a nuclear physicist who made important contributions to quantum theory and cosmic radiation. 
  • Initially Bhabha attended Cathedral School and he then enrolled for studies at Elphinstone College at the age of fifteen.
  • This was followed by further studies at the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay.
  • In 1927, Bhabha began studying mechanical engineering at Cambridge University.
  • Being influenced by physicist Paul Dirac, after passing the Mechanical Engineering he began studying theoretical physics.
  • He received his doctorate degree in nuclear physics from the University of Cambridge in 1934.

His works and achievements:

  • Bhabha’s first paper “The Absorption of Cosmic radiation” in 1933 earned him a three year Isaac Newton Studentship in 1934.
  • He worked alongside Neil Bohr in Copenhagen in addition to his research work at Cambridge.
  • He performed the first calculation to determine the cross section of electron-positron scattering in 1935.
  • He along with Walter Heitler in 1936 made a breakthrough in the cosmic radiation’s understanding by working on the cascade theory of electron showers.
  • With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Bhabha returned to India accepting a position of reader of physics and establishing the Cosmic Ray Research Institute at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) in Bangalore.
  • In 1941, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society.
  • He established the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, becoming its director in 1945.
  • He became the first chairperson of India’s Atomic Energy Commission in 1948.
  • The Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay (AEET) of which he was the founding director (now named the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) started functioning in 1954. 
  • The same year the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was also established.
  • In the 1950s, he represented India in IAEA conferences and led the first UN Conference held for the purpose of Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, 1955. 
  • It was under his direction that the scientists of India made their way into making an atomic bomb and the first atomic reactor was operated in Mumbai in 1956.
  • He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958.
  • He promoted nuclear energy control and prohibition of atomic bombs worldwide. 
  • He is known as the “Father of the Indian nuclear programme”.
  • He served as a scientific advisor to Prime Ministers Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
  • He gained international prominence after deriving a correct expression for the probability of scattering positrons by electrons.
  • His major contribution included his work on Compton scattering, R-process, the furthermore advancement of nuclear physics.
  • In January 1966, Bhabha died in a plane crash near Mont Blanc, Switzerland.

Three-stage nuclear power programme:

  • In 1948, Nehru led the appointment of Bhabha as the director of the nuclear programme of India.
  • He formulated a strategy of focussing on extracting power from the country’s vast thorium reserves rather than its meagre uranium reserves. 
  • As Thorium itself is not a fissile material, it cannot undergo fission to produce energy.
  • Hence it must be transmuted to uranium-233 in a reactor fueled by other fissile materials.
  • The first two stages of the programme involves the natural uranium-fueled heavy water reactors and plutonium-fueled fast breeder reactors to generate sufficient fissile material from India’s limited uranium resources.
  • In the third stage the thorium reserves can be fully utilised in thermal breeder reactors.
  • In November 1954, Bhabha presented the three-stage plan for national development, at the conference on “Development of Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes”.
  • Four years later in 1958, the Indian government formally adopted the three-stage plan.

This thorium focused strategy was in marked contrast to all other countries in the world. The approach proposed by Bhabha to achieve this strategic objective became India’s official three stage nuclear power programme.

Honours:

  • He was an associate of various societies of science including the American National Academy of Sciences.
  • Bhabha was awarded the Adams Prize in 1942.
  • He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1954.
  • He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1951 and 1953–1956.
  • In quantum physics, the cross section of electron-positron scattering has been renamed “Bhabha scattering” in his honor.


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