Dr Vikram Sarabhai-a Visionary Scientist With Extraordinary Dedication And Innovation

Credit: ISRO

On, 12th August was the 100th birth anniversary of the 'Father of Indian Space Program’; Dr. Vikram Sarabhai (12 August 1919-30 December 1971) was a stalwart of Indian science. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai was handpicked by Nehru in 1962 to launch India's space programme and seven years later ISRO came into being. Dr. Sarabhai was a great institution builder and established or helped to establish a large number of institutions in diverse fields. He built several institutions; mentored & inspired generations of scientists. We cherish his services and his legacy and nation is paying respectful tributes to visionary scientist Dr Vikram Sarabhai on his birth centenary and google in his honour has launched a google doodle. On the 100th Birthday of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, we express our gratitude for his vision, for sowing the seeds of several institutions of world standard over the years, and for making an unparalleled contribution towards the development and advancement of our great nation.

After returning from Cambridge (USA) to an independent India in 1947, he persuaded charitable trusts controlled by his family and friends to endow a research institution near home in Ahmedabad. Thus, Vikram Sarabhai founded the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad on November 11, 1947. He was only 28 at that time. Sarabhai was a creator and cultivator of institutions and PRL was the first step in that direction. Vikram Sarabhai served of PRL from 1966-1971. He was also Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He along with other Ahmedabad-based industrialists played a major role in the creation of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. The establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of his greatest achievements. He successfully convinced the government of the importance of a space programme for a developing country like India after the Russian Sputnik launch. Dr. Sarabhai emphasized the importance of a space program in his quote: "There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. " "But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society."  Vikram Sarabhai launched India’s first satellite Aryabhatta & laid foundation to India’s Mission to Mars & Moon. Sadly Sarabhai passed away very young in December 1971.

As a result of Dr. Sarabhai's dialogue with NASA in 1966, the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was launched during July 1975 - July 1976. Some of the most well-known institutions established by Dr. Sarabhai are:

  1. Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad
  2. Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad
  3. Community Science Centre, Ahmedabad
  4. Darpan Academy for Performing Arts, Ahmedabad (along with his wife)
  5. Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram
  6. Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad (This institution came into existence after merging six institutions/centres established by Sarabhai)
  7. Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), Kalpakkam
  8. Varaiable Energy Cyclotron Project, Calcutta
  9. Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Hyderabad
  10. Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), Jaduguda, Bihar


Education

Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai had his early education in a private school, “Retreat” run by his parents on Montessori lines. After his matriculation, Vikram Sarabhai proceeded to Cambridge for his college education and took the tripos in Natural Sciences from St. John’s college in 1940. When World War II began, he returned home and joined as a research scholar under Sir C. V. Raman at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.  His interest in solar physics and cosmic ray led him to set up many observation stations around the country. Vikram Sarabhai built the necessary equipment with which he took measurements at Bangalore, Poona and the Himalayas. He completed his PhD in ‘Cosmic ray investigations in tropical latitudes’.

Great legacy

Son of Ambalal Sarabhai, he came from the famous Sarabhai family of India who were major industrialists committed to the Indian independence movement. He was one of eight children of Ambalal and the Sarla Devi.  Vikram Sarabhai married the classical dancer Mrinalini in 1942. The couple had two children. His daughter Mallika gained prominence as an actress and activist, and his son Kartikeya Sarabhai too became an active person in science. Some of the great men of the  India such as Gurudev Rabindranath, J. Krishna Murthi, Motilal Nehru, V. S. Shrinivasa Shastri, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad, C. F. Andrews, C. V. Raman etc. used to stay with the Sarabhai family when they visited Ahmedabad. Mahatma Gandhi also once stayed at their house while recovering from an illness. Visits by such great men greatly influenced Vikram Sarabhai. Dr. Sarabhai was very interested in science education and founded a Community Science Centre at Ahmedabad in 1966. Today, the Centre is called the Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre.

 

Awards and distinguished positions

  • Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in 1962.
  • Padma Bhushan in 1966
  • Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972
  • President of the Physics section, Indian Science Congress (1962)
  • President of the General Conference of the I.A.E.A., Vienna (1970)
  • Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India (1966–1971)
  • Vice-President, Fourth UN Conference on 'Peaceful uses of Atomic Energy' (1971)
  • Founder and Chairman (1963–1971), Space Applications Centre

Quotes by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai:

  • He who can listen to the music in the midst of noise can achieve great things.
  • My friend said to me : " When you stand above the crowd,
  • you must be ready to have stones thrown at you. "
  • We look down on our scientists if they engage in outside consultation. We implicitly promote the ivory tower.
  • I also believe that a person who does not have respect for time, and does not have a sense of timing, can achieve little.
  • Our bureaucracy today is too bloated and therefore it is burdensome.
  • Our belief at Anand has always been: let the people’s energies be unleashed.
  • About the government: It is a government that “governs” least and instead finds ways to mobilise the energies of our people.

 

Current Issue

NEWSLETTER