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Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Homi Jehangir Bhabha



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Vigyan Prasar Science PortalFor anything and everything on sciencefrom India
Homi Jehangir Bhabha 
Dr Subodh Mahanti
"I know quite clearly what I want out of my life. Life and my emotions are the only things I am conscious of. I love the consciousness of life and I want as much of it as I can get.But the span of one's life is limited. What comes after death no one knows. Nor do I care. Since, therefore,I cannot increase the content of life by increasing its duration, I will increase it by increasing its intensity.Art, music, poetry and everything else that consciousness I do have this one purpose - increasing thintensity of my consciousness of life".
H.J. Bhabha 
Homi Jehangir Bhabha is mostly known as the chief architect of India's nuclear programme. However,his contribution to India's development goes far beyond the sphere of atomic energy. He hadestablished two great research institutions namely the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR),and the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay (which after Bhabha's death was renamed as theBhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). He played a crucial role in the development of electronics inIndia. Bhabha was an outstanding scientist and a brilliant engineer. He derived a correct expressionfor the probability of scattering positrons by electrons, a process now known as Bhabha scattering. Hisclassic paper, jointly with W. Heitler, published in 1937 described how primary cosmic rays from spaceinteract with the upper atmosphere to produce particles observed at the ground level. Bhabha andHeitler explained the cosmic ray shower formation by the cascade production of gamma rays andpositive and negative electron pairs. 'In 1938 Bhabha was the first to conclude that observations of the properties of such particles would lead to the straightforward experimental verification of AlbertEinstein's theory of relativity'. Bhabha possessed sensitive and trained artistic gifts of the highestorder. The environment in which he grew certainly helped him to develop all these fine qualities. Heloved music and dancing. He had considerable knowledge of both Indian and western music. Hepainted and sketched. He designed the settings of dramatic productions. He was an architect of nomean ability. Bhabha was a perfectionist. He was a true lover of trees and did everything under hispowers to protect them. In his tribute paid to Bhabha Lord Redcliffe-Maud has aptly described thedifferent facets of Bhabha's personality: "Affectionate and sensitive, elegant and humorous, dynamicand now dead. Homi was one of the very few people I have ever known (Maynard Keynes wasanother) who enhance life whatever the context of their living. In Homi's case this was because hewas fantastically talented but so fastidious about standards that he was never a dilettante. Whateverhe set himself to do, he did as a professional- but one who worked for love. He was relentlesslycreative, enhancing life because he loved all forms of it. So he became a living proof that scientificexcellence can go with excellence in arts and racial differences need be no bar to friendship. WhenIndian Art was last exhibited in London, the one picture chosen for reproduction on the poster outsideBurlington House was one of Homi's. He was as fond of music as he was of pictures, contriving to flyin from India as the first Edinburgh Festival began and, when the question of a late Beethoven quartetwas raised in conversation, knowing the opus number. At one UNESCO conference after another hestood out even among the other distinguished members of the Indian delegation, as a world citizenqualified in all three subjects - education, science and culture - as hardly another member of theconference was. He was in fact an obvious choice for the headship of the Organization if he had felt
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inclined that way. Those qualified must judge how grievous was his death for India and for science andfor civilization".Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born on 30 October 1909 in a wealthy Parsi family of Bombay (recentlyrenamed as Mumbai). Bhabha's family had a long tradition of learning and service in the field of education. His grandfather, also named as Homi Jehangir Bhabha, was the Inspector General of Education in the State of Mysore. Bhabha's father Jehangir Hormusji Bhabha was educated at Oxfordand later qualified as a lawyer. His mother Meheren was grand-daughter of Sir Dinshaw ManeckjiPetit, widely respected in Bombay for his philanthropic endowments. Hormusji's sister that is Bhabha'spaternal aunt Meherbai married Sir Dorab J. Tata (1859-1932) the eldest son of Jamshetji NusserwanjiTata (1839-1904).Bhabha attended the Cathedral and John Connon Schools in Bombay. After passing Senior CambridgeExamination at the age of 15 Bhabha entered the Elphinstone College in Bombay and later the RoyalInstitute of Science, also in Bombay. In 1927 Bhabha joined the Gonville and Caius College inCambridge, the same college where his uncle Sir Dorab J. Tata had studied and who made a donationof twenty-five thousand pounds to the college in 1920. He took the Mechanical Sciences Tripos in1930. It may be noted here that both his father and his uncle Sir Dorab J. Tata wanted Bhabha tobecome an engineer with the view that ultimately he would join the Tata Iron and Steel Company atJamshedpur. At Cambridge Bhabha's interests gradually shifted to theoretical physics. In 1928 Bhabhain a letter to his father wrote: "I seriously say to you that business or job as an engineer is not thething 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 onlythat thing of which he is passionately fond, in which he believes, as I do, that he has the ability to doit, that he is in fact born and destined to do it... I am burning with a desire to do physics. I will andmust do it sometime. 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... It is no use saying toBeethoven `You must be a scientist for it is great thing ' when he did not care two hoots for science;or to Socrates `Be an engineer; it is work of intelligent man'. It is not in the nature of things. Itherefore earnestly implore you to let me do physics." For doing physics he wanted to do theMathematics Tripos. Bhabha's father had to yield to his son's firm determination. But he put acondition. He told Homi that in case he could complete the Mechanical Tripos successfully he wouldallow him to stay in Cambridge to take up the Mathematics Tripos. So when Bhabha passed theMechanical Tripos with first class his father allowed his son to fulfill his wishes. Thus two years laterBhabha passed the Mathematics Tripos again with first class. Bhabha was taught by Paul AdrienMaurice Dirac (1902-84), who was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (1932-69) at Cambridge andawarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933 with Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961) for their work inquantum theory. Bhabha joined the Cavendish Laboratory, from where he obtained his Ph.D. intheoretical physics. During 1932 to 1934 he held the Rouse Ball Traveling Studentship in mathematics.He also held Salomons Studentship in Engineering during 1931-1932. He traveled in Europe andworked with Wolfgang Pauli (1900-58) in Zurich and Enrico Fermi (1901-54) in Rome. His firstresearch paper published in 1933 won him the Isaac Newton Studentship in 1934, which he held forthree years and mostly worked in Cambridge except for a short period when he worked with NielsHenrik David Bohr (1885-1962) at Copenhagen. When Bhabha was at Cavendish Laboratory manysensational discoveries were made. In 1932 James Chadwick (1891-1974) demonstrated the existenceof the neutron, John Douglas Cockroft (1897-1967) and Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton (1903-95)produced the transmutation or artificial disintegration of light elements by bombarding high speedprotons and Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett (1897-1974) and Giuseppe Paolo Stanislao Occhialini(1907-) demonstrated by cloud-chamber photographs the production of electron pairs and showers byGamma radiations.At Cambridge Bhabha's work centered around cosmic rays. It may be noted here that the existence of penetrating radiations coming from outer space was detected towards the close of the 19th century byCharles Thomson Rees Wilson (1869-1959) in simple experiments on electroscopes. Robert AndrewsMillikan (1868-1963), the US physicist and Nobel Prize winner, gave the name of cosmic rays to theseradiations consisting of highly energetic charged particles. The radiations reaching the top of theatmosphere from outer space are referred, to as primary cosmic rays. They consist of various types of nuclei but prominently of protons. Primary cosmic rays produced secondaries by interaction with theatmosphere.
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As mentioned earlier Bhabha jointly with W.Heitler explained the cosmic-ray shower formation in apaper published in 1937. Before this the mechanism responsible for shower formation was the subjectof much speculation.The important contributions made by Bhabha while working at Cambridge have been summarised byG. Venkataraman (in his book, Bhabha and His Magnificent Obsessions, Universities Press, Hyderabad,1994) as :The explanation of relativistic exchange scattering (Bhabha Scattering).
The theory of production of electron and positron showers in cosmic rays (Bhabha-Heitlertheory).
Speculation about the Yukawa particle related to which was his suggestion of the name meson.
Prediction of relativistic time dilatation effects in the decay of the meson.About the importance of Bhabha's research work Cecil Frank Powell (1903-1969) who was awardedthe 1950 Nobel Prize for physics wrote: "Homi Bhabha made decisive contributions to ourunderstanding of how they (the showers) developed in terms of electromagnetic processes. He wasalso well-known at this time for his attempts to account for those elementary particles then known toexist by a method using group theory. He was thus a very early exponent of those methods usedmany years later for a similar purpose by Gell-Mann and others. My friend, Leopold Infeld says that hewas a distinguished and elegant theorist and his papers were always written in the best of taste".It was Bhabha who suggested the name 'meson' now used for a class of elementary particles. WhenCarl David Anderson (1905-91) discovered a new particle in the cosmic radiation with a mass betweenthat of electron and the proton he named it 'mesoton' which was subsequently changed by him tomesotron presumably at the advice of Millikan. Bhabha in a short note to Nature (February 1939)proposed the name 'meson'. In this note he wrote: "The name 'mesotron' has been suggested byAnderson and Neddermeyer for the new particle found in cosmic radiation with a mass intermediatebetween that of the electron and the proton. It is felt that the 'tr' in this word is redundant, since itdoes not belong to the Greek root 'meso' for middle; the 'tr' in neutron and electron belong, of course,to the roots "neutr" and "electra".... It would therefore be more logical and also shorter to call the newparticle a meson instead of a mesotron." Anderson's particle (mu-meson) was first thought to be theparticle predicted by Hideki Yukawa (1907-81) that was thought to carry the strong nuclear force andhold the nucleus together. However, later when it was found that its interaction with nucleons was soinfrequent it became doubtful whether it could perform the role described by Yukawa, that is to act asnuclear 'glue'. This was finally resolved when in 1947 C.F. Powell discovered a particle again in cosmicradiation with a mass of 264 times that of the electron (pi-meson or pion). Pion interacted verystrongly with nucleons and thus filled precisely Yukawa's predicted role. Mu-meson or muon is thedecay product of pi-meson.In 1939 when the Second World War broke out, Bhabha was in India. He came for a short holiday.However, the war changed his plan. Most of the scientists in England had to take part in war activitiesand there was no scope for doing basic research. So Bhabha had to abandon his plan to return toEngland to resume his research work at Cambridge. It may be recalled here that Prasanta ChandraMahalanobis (1893-1972) who after completing the Physics Tripos made arrangement to work underC.T.R. Wilson, the inventor of the cloud chamber, at the Cavendish Laboratory came back to India fora short vacation. He also could not go back because the First World War broke out. In 1940 Bhabha joined the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore where a Readership in Theoretical Physics wasspecially created for him. Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (1888-1970) was then the Director of theInstitute. Bhabha was made a Professor in 1944. Vikram Sarabhai (1919-71) also spent a short periodat the Institute when Bhabha was there. At the Indian Institute of Science Bhabha guided research oncosmic rays. He organised a group of young researchers in experimental and theoretical aspects of cosmic ray research. After spending a few years in India Bhabha was no longer interested in goingback to England. Perhaps this was because of his growing sense of responsibility towards hismotherland. Gradually he became convinced that it was his duty to build up research groups in thefrontier of scientific knowledge. On April 20, 1944, Bhabha in a letter to SubrahmanyanChandrasekhar (1910-95) wrote: "...I have recently come to the view that provided properappreciation and financial support are forthcoming, 'it was one's duty to stay in one's country and
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