Homi Jehangir Bhabha

The Indian atomic scientist Homi Jehangir Bhabha (1909-1966) made contributions of fundamental importance to quantum theory. He was the first chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission.

Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born on Oct. 30, 1909, in Bombay, where his family were wealthy Parsis, the tiny but influential Zoroastrian sect of western India. After graduating from Elphinstone College and the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay, he went to Cambridge University, receiving a doctorate in 1934. During this period he worked with Niels Bohr on the studies that led to quantum theory. Later, Bhabha worked with Walter Heitler on the cascade theory of electron showers, which was of great importance for the understanding of cosmic radiation, and he also did significant work in identifying the meson. Bhabha received early recognition for his work, being elected to the Royal Society in 1941.

Bhabha returned to India in 1940, doing research on cosmic rays at the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore. In 1945 he became director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay, which he had been instrumental in founding. He was a skilled administrator, and through his scientific eminence, wealth, and friendship with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he gained a dominant position in the allocation of India's scientific resources.

Bhabha became the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India in 1948. Under his guidance Indian scientists worked on the development of atomic energy, and the first atomic reactor in Asia went into operation at Trombay, Bombay, in 1956. Bhabha was chairman of the first United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in Geneva in 1955. At that time he predicted that man would find a way to limitless industrial power through the control of nuclear fusion. He advocated international control of nuclear energy and the outlawing of atomic bombs by all countries. Bhabha was strongly opposed to the production of an atomic bomb by India, even though the country had the resources to build one, arguing that nuclear energy should be used instead to relieve the poverty and misery of India's people. He refused a post in the Indian Cabinet but was scientific adviser to Nehru and to his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Bhabha received many honorary degrees from Indian and foreign universities and was a member of numerous scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. He was the author of many articles on quantum theory and cosmic rays. Bhabha was killed, at the height of his prestige in the Indian scientific and political world, in an airplane crash in Switzerland on Jan. 24, 1966.

Further Reading on Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Although there is no book-length biography of Bhabha, there is an excellent account of his life and work in Jagit Singh, Some Eminent Indian Scientists (1966). For readers interested in Indian science generally, the Press Institute of India, Science in India's Future (1969), is an anthology of articles.

Additional Biography Sources

Anderson, Robert S., Building scientific institutions in India: Saha and Bhabha, Montreal: Centre for Developing-Area Studies, McGill University, 1975.