OF MEN AND MAT­TER

India Today - - STATES - —Moeena Halim

WAR FOOT­ING

In 1939, nu­clear physi­cist Homi J. Bhabha made a trip home to Mumbai just as the Sec­ond World War was be­gin­ning and found him­self un­able to re­turn to Cam­bridge. Af­ter serv­ing for a few years as Reader at IISc, he be­gan to won­der what it would take to cre­ate a school for physics that could be on a par with in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tutes in terms of re­search. At Cam­bridge, he had seen at close quar­ters how fast the world of physics was evolv­ing. In June 1945, just be­fore Amer­ica dropped the atomic bomb on Ja­pan, Bhabha, through a tri­par­tite agree­ment be­tween the Dorabji Tata Trust, Gov­ern­ment of Bom­bay and the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, set up the Tata In­sti­tute of Fun­da­men­tal Re­search (TIFR). Well-con­nected with the up­per crust of Bom­bay’s Parsi so­ci­ety, he was able to use it to push In­dia to­wards sci­en­tific re­search that would help the fledg­ling na­tion, fresh out of the clutches of colo­nial­ism, make a mark in the world.

HELP­ING BUILD IN­DIA

“TIFR stands for ex­cel­lence in sci­ence and re­search,” says cur­rent di­rec­tor Sandip Trivedi. “Our achieve­ments con­vey a larger point. Peo­ple need to see that we don’t have to de­pend on the West for so­lu­tions; we have the in­tel­lect and re­sources to deal with our own prob­lems. We’re an il­lus­tra­tion of that fact.” In­dia’s atomic en­ergy pro­gramme was spear­headed from here; the first digital com­puter in the coun­try, TIFRAC, was built here in the 1950s.

STER­LING CON­TRI­BU­TION

Apart from spear­head­ing atomic re­search in the coun­try, the in­sti­tute has played a key role in the area of math­e­mat­ics. The study of vector bun­dles has been an en­dur­ing con­tri­bu­tion. Ge­neti­cist Obaid Sid­diqui’s re­search at a time when the the­ory of DNA was new was ground­break­ing. He used fruit flies as a model sys­tem to un­der­stand ge­net­ics bet­ter.

BACK TO THE FU­TURE

TIFR will now also have a cam­pus in Hy­der­abad that plans to have a 200 mem­ber-strong fac­ulty. The idea is to have post-doc­toral fel­lows as well as five stu­dents in train­ing un­der each fac­ulty mem­ber. “In­dia is chang­ing and we have to change with the times,” says Trivedi. “One of our ma­jor as­sets is the de­mo­graphic div­i­dend; if we are to cap­i­talise on it, we must give the young some­thing to as­pire to. It is the job of in­sti­tutes like TIFR to of­fer role mod­els who can in­spire and show them that itis pos­si­ble to achieve great things even in In­dia.”

ALAMY

RIGHT CON­NEC­TION Homi Bhabha, left, at a TIFR lab

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