Padmanabhan Krishnagopalan Iyengar (29 June 1931 – 21 December 2011) was an eminent Indian nuclear scientist and a noted nuclear physicist who has known to be played a central role in India's cold fission tests. He was former head of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of India.
After post-graduation in Physics from Kerala University, Iyengar started his career with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1952. Three years later, he joined the then Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay and was soon deputed to the Chalk River Laboratories of the Canadian Atomic Energy Establishment.
After returning from Canada, Iyengar built a number of experimental facilities, including neutron diffractometers and neutron scattering spectrometers around research reactors Apsara and Cirus. He was also involved in the design and setting up of the first fast reactor critical facility Purnima-I, which achieved its first criticality on May 18, 1972.
Some of the other key positions he held included scientific adviser to Kerala government, member of board of the global technology development centre and president of the Indian Nuclear Society.
Career in Department of Atomic Energy
Iyengar was trained in Canada working under Nobel laureate in Physics Bertram Neville Brockhouse, contributing to path-breaking research on lattice dynamics in germanium. Iyengar joined the Department of Atomic Energy in 1952 as a Junior Research Scientist, undertaking a wide variety of research in neutron scattering. At the DAE, he built up and headed the team of physicists and chemists that gained international recognition for their original research contributions in this field. In 1960s, he indigenously designed the PURNIMA reactor and headed the team that successfully commissioned the reactor in 1972 at BARC.
Operation Smiling Buddha
In 1971 he was transferred to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre where he was appointed the director of Physics Group (PG). He was one of the key scientist in the development of India's first nuclear device. The team, under Raja Ramanna tested the device under the code name Smiling Buddha. In 1974, Iyengar played a leading role in the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion at Pokharan-I, for which he was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 1975.
Career with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
Iyengar took over as Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in 1984. As Director, one of his first tasks was to take charge of the construction of the Dhruva reactor , the completion of which was then in question, and bring it to a successful conclusion under his leadership. Recognizing the importance of transferring newly developed technology from research institutes to industry, he introduced a Technology Transfer Cell at the BARC to assist and speed the process. He motivated basic research in fields ranging from molecular biology, to chemistry and material science. He nucleated new technologies like lasers and accelerators, which lead to the establishment of a new Centre for Advanced Technology, at Indore.
Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of India
Iyengar was appointed Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India and Secretary to the Department of Atomic Energy in 1990. He was also appointed as Chairman of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India. Under his leadership the Department of Atomic Energy vigorously pursued the nuclear power programme with the commissioning of two new power reactors at Narora and Kakrapar, and continued with the development of new reactor systems, such as liquid-sodium based fast reactors. Equal emphasis was laid on enhanced production of heavy water, nuclear fuel and special nuclear materials. He also initiated proposals for the export of heavy-water, research reactors, hardware for nuclear applications to earn precious foreign exchange.
Legacy and Fame
Iyengar has been the recipient of many high civilian awards and honours. After retirement Iyengar has served in various positions such as Member of the Atomic Energy Commission, Scientific Advisor to the Government of Kerala, on the Board of the Global Technology Development Centre, President of the Indian Nuclear Society, and a Member of the Inter-governmental Indo-French Forum, besides serving on various national committees. Iyengar’s current interests focus on advances in nuclear technology for nuclear applications, issues of nuclear policy and national security, science education and the application of science in nation-building. He has participated in various international meetings on non-proliferation issues. Most recently, as a founder trustee of the Agastya International Foundation, he has been focusing on rural education and instilling creativity and scientific temperament in rural children.
Awards and honours
- Padma Bhushan (1975)
- Bhatnagar Award (1971)
- Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Award for the Physical Sciences (1981)
- Raman Centenary Medal of the Indian Academy of Science (1988)
- Bhabha Medal for Experimental Physics of the Indian National Science Academy (1990)
- R. D. Birla Award of the Indian Physics Association (1992)
- Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award (1993)
- Homi Bhabha Medal (2006)