Professor Emeritus Pai edits a book on computer pioneer Homi Bhabha


Shawn Adderly, ECE ILLINOIS

M. A. Pai
M. A. Pai

ECE Professor Emeritus M A Pai has co-edited a new book recently published by Oxford University Press (India) that examines the impact of Dr. Homi Bhabha on the computer revolution in India. In February 1960, India’s first full-scale digital computer—the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Automatic Calculator (TIFRAC)—was launched due to the efforts of Homi Jehangir Bhabha, a well-known Indian nuclear physicist (1909-1966). Though the TIFRAC was a state-of-the art computer at that time, computer hardware development was difficult to pursue. Hence, TIFR systematically developed expertise in software starting in 1960s. This book looks at India’s past, present, and future role in information and computer technology (ICT) in India.

The book, Homi Bhabha and the Computer Revolution, which Pai co-edited with R. K. Shyamasundar of TIFR, was released in February 2011 at a symposium held at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, India, to mark the centenary celebration of Bhabha. The symposium brought together experts from industry and academia all over the world to honor Bhabha and to reflect upon new developments in areas such as bio-informatics, telecommunications, and embedded systems.

ECE Professor Emeritus M. A. Pai was co-editor of a new book on the influence of Homi Bhabha on the computer revolution in India.
ECE Professor Emeritus M. A. Pai was co-editor of a new book on the influence of Homi Bhabha on the computer revolution in India.

From the University of Illinois, Professors Ravi Iyer, Narendra Ahuja, and M.A. Pai were on discussion panels related to research, education, and ICT in power, respectively.

“Many people believe that the IT revolution in India started with India’s economic liberalization in the 1990s, but really the revolution started in the 1950s with Bhabha and the Tata Institute,” Pai said. “Bhabha believed the country must develop its own expertise in high-end technology.”

This led him to contact the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, a philanthropic entity, to request funding for a scientific research institute. In June of 1945, TIFR was founded, and Bhabha was named the first director. In addition to nuclear physics, the institute, today, conducts frontier research in mathematics, computer science, molecular biology, and astronomy.

“A lot of solid work has come out of TIFR, including the designing and building of one of the first digital computers in the 1960s,” Pai said. The book catalogues India’s IT developments and Bhabha’s influence on these developments. The essays in the book have been written by eminent scientists, industrialists, and researchers across the globe.

The book was featured in the May/June 2011 issue of the Technology Review MIT (India edition) published by MIT.