OF MEN AND MATTER
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.
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.”
RIGHT CONNECTION Homi Bhabha, left, at a TIFR lab