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Bhabha and The Magnificent Obsessions
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Preface

To the adult reader

This book and others in this series written by me are inspired by the memory of my son Suresh who left this world soon after completing school. Suresh and I often used to discuss physics. It was then that I introduced him to the celebrated Feynman Lectures. Hans Bethe has described Feynman as the mo t original scientist of this century. To that perhaps may be added the statement that Feynman was also the most scintillating teacher of physics in this century.

The Feynman Lectures are great but they are at the textbook level and meant for serious reading. Moreover, they are a bit expensive, at least for the average Indian student. It seemed to me that there was scope for small books on diverse topics in physics which would stimulate interest, making at least some of our young students take up later a serious study of physics and reach for the Feynman as well as the Landau classics.

Small books inevitably remind me of Gamow’s famous volumes. They were wonderful, and stimulated me to no small extent. Times have changed, physics has grown and we clearly need other books, though written in the same spirit.

In attempting these volumes, I have chosen a style of my own. I have come across many books on popular science where elaborate sentences often tend to obscure the scientific essence. I have there- fore opted for simple English, and I don’t make any apologies for it. If a simple style was good enough for the great Enrico Fermi, it is also good enough for me. I have also employed at times a chatty style. This is deliberate. Feynman uses this with consummate skill, and I have decided to follow in his footsteps (whether I have succeeded or not, is for readers to say). This book is meant to be read for fun and excitement. It is a book you can even lie down in bed and read. Without going to sleep I hope! Naturally I have some basic objectives, the most important of which is to stimulate the curiosity of the reader. Here and there the reader may fail to grasp some details, and in fact I have deliberately pitched things a bit high on occasions. But if the reader is able to experience at least in some small measure the excitement of science, then my purpose would have been achieved. Apart from excitement, I have also tried to convey that although we might draw boundaries and try to compartmentalise Nature into different subjects, she herself knows no such boundaries. So we can always start anywhere, take a random walk and catch a good glimpse of Nature’s glory. Where she is concerned, all topics are “fashionable”. There is today an unnecessary polarisation of the young towards subjects that are supposed to be fashionable. To my mind this is unhealthy, and I have tried to counter it.

This series is essentially meant for the curious. With humility, I would like to regard it as some sort of a “Junior Feynman Series”, if one might call it that. With much love, and sadness, it is dedicated to the memory of Suresh who inspired it.

To the young reader

This book is about a remarkable man, Homi Jehangir Bhabha. He went to Cambridge in the late twenties at the young age of eighteen, studied physics, and started his research career there. In 1939, he came to India on what was supposed to be a short vacation. But the Second World War intervened and Bhabha was forced to stay on. For all of us, it was a tremendous blessing because later he steered the country’s scientific destiny.

Great scientists are remembered for their outstanding achievements. Almost invariably, they are purely scientific. But Bhabha’s contributions were in many dimensions. What exactly were they? Read on and find out!

Acknowledgements

Writing this book has been a totally different experience since it is about a man who directly enabled me (and hundreds like me) to pursue a satisfying scientific career here in this country. In preparing this volume, I have had to lean for help on many sources which I wish to acknowledge. Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude to Dr.VK. Balasubramaniam for lengthy and most valuable conversations about Homi Bhabha and the early days of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Professor Virendra Singh and Professor R. Vijayaraghavan were kind enough to provide me with much original material concerning the activities of TIFR to Professor B.M. Udgaonkar, I am indebted for access to the Bhabha-Chandrasekhar correspondence reproduced in Chapter 5. I have also derived useful material from (i) Nuclear India (published by the Department of Atomic Energy, VoI.26/l/l989), (ii) Collected Scientific Papers of Homi Bhabha (published by TIFR), (iii) Homi Bhabha as an Artist (Marg Publication, edited by Jamshed Bhabha), (iv) The Heartbeat of a Trust by R.M. Lala (published by Tata McGraw-HiII) and (v) Science Today (Times of India Publication, October 1984 issue). Special thanks are due to Dr. M.R. Bala- krishnan of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) for helping me with archival material as well as several photographs. Mr. A. Ratnakar as usual was a pillar of strength. I am particularly grateful to Mr. Jamshed Bhabha for his kind and sympathetic interest in my effort and for making several useful suggestions .Mrs. G. Naga Nirmala provided, as usual, valuable assistance in preparing the manuscript. Friendly cooperation from the Publisher also acknowledged.

Contents

 

  Preface vii
1 Homi Bhabha - a thumbnail sketch 1
2 Cosmic rays 12
3 Bhabha at Cambridge 30
4 Research in the backwaters 68
5 The institution builder 113
6 The stuff dreams are made of 141
7 Bhabha and Nehru 177
8 The lesser known Bhabha 188
  Index 207

 

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Preface

To the adult reader

This book and others in this series written by me are inspired by the memory of my son Suresh who left this world soon after completing school. Suresh and I often used to discuss physics. It was then that I introduced him to the celebrated Feynman Lectures. Hans Bethe has described Feynman as the mo t original scientist of this century. To that perhaps may be added the statement that Feynman was also the most scintillating teacher of physics in this century.

The Feynman Lectures are great but they are at the textbook level and meant for serious reading. Moreover, they are a bit expensive, at least for the average Indian student. It seemed to me that there was scope for small books on diverse topics in physics which would stimulate interest, making at least some of our young students take up later a serious study of physics and reach for the Feynman as well as the Landau classics.

Small books inevitably remind me of Gamow’s famous volumes. They were wonderful, and stimulated me to no small extent. Times have changed, physics has grown and we clearly need other books, though written in the same spirit.

In attempting these volumes, I have chosen a style of my own. I have come across many books on popular science where elaborate sentences often tend to obscure the scientific essence. I have there- fore opted for simple English, and I don’t make any apologies for it. If a simple style was good enough for the great Enrico Fermi, it is also good enough for me. I have also employed at times a chatty style. This is deliberate. Feynman uses this with consummate skill, and I have decided to follow in his footsteps (whether I have succeeded or not, is for readers to say). This book is meant to be read for fun and excitement. It is a book you can even lie down in bed and read. Without going to sleep I hope! Naturally I have some basic objectives, the most important of which is to stimulate the curiosity of the reader. Here and there the reader may fail to grasp some details, and in fact I have deliberately pitched things a bit high on occasions. But if the reader is able to experience at least in some small measure the excitement of science, then my purpose would have been achieved. Apart from excitement, I have also tried to convey that although we might draw boundaries and try to compartmentalise Nature into different subjects, she herself knows no such boundaries. So we can always start anywhere, take a random walk and catch a good glimpse of Nature’s glory. Where she is concerned, all topics are “fashionable”. There is today an unnecessary polarisation of the young towards subjects that are supposed to be fashionable. To my mind this is unhealthy, and I have tried to counter it.

This series is essentially meant for the curious. With humility, I would like to regard it as some sort of a “Junior Feynman Series”, if one might call it that. With much love, and sadness, it is dedicated to the memory of Suresh who inspired it.

To the young reader

This book is about a remarkable man, Homi Jehangir Bhabha. He went to Cambridge in the late twenties at the young age of eighteen, studied physics, and started his research career there. In 1939, he came to India on what was supposed to be a short vacation. But the Second World War intervened and Bhabha was forced to stay on. For all of us, it was a tremendous blessing because later he steered the country’s scientific destiny.

Great scientists are remembered for their outstanding achievements. Almost invariably, they are purely scientific. But Bhabha’s contributions were in many dimensions. What exactly were they? Read on and find out!

Acknowledgements

Writing this book has been a totally different experience since it is about a man who directly enabled me (and hundreds like me) to pursue a satisfying scientific career here in this country. In preparing this volume, I have had to lean for help on many sources which I wish to acknowledge. Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude to Dr.VK. Balasubramaniam for lengthy and most valuable conversations about Homi Bhabha and the early days of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Professor Virendra Singh and Professor R. Vijayaraghavan were kind enough to provide me with much original material concerning the activities of TIFR to Professor B.M. Udgaonkar, I am indebted for access to the Bhabha-Chandrasekhar correspondence reproduced in Chapter 5. I have also derived useful material from (i) Nuclear India (published by the Department of Atomic Energy, VoI.26/l/l989), (ii) Collected Scientific Papers of Homi Bhabha (published by TIFR), (iii) Homi Bhabha as an Artist (Marg Publication, edited by Jamshed Bhabha), (iv) The Heartbeat of a Trust by R.M. Lala (published by Tata McGraw-HiII) and (v) Science Today (Times of India Publication, October 1984 issue). Special thanks are due to Dr. M.R. Bala- krishnan of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) for helping me with archival material as well as several photographs. Mr. A. Ratnakar as usual was a pillar of strength. I am particularly grateful to Mr. Jamshed Bhabha for his kind and sympathetic interest in my effort and for making several useful suggestions .Mrs. G. Naga Nirmala provided, as usual, valuable assistance in preparing the manuscript. Friendly cooperation from the Publisher also acknowledged.

Contents

 

  Preface vii
1 Homi Bhabha - a thumbnail sketch 1
2 Cosmic rays 12
3 Bhabha at Cambridge 30
4 Research in the backwaters 68
5 The institution builder 113
6 The stuff dreams are made of 141
7 Bhabha and Nehru 177
8 The lesser known Bhabha 188
  Index 207

 

Sample Pages
















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