India has recently become the fastest growing major economy in the world, and to sustain and accelerate this growth, there is a critical need to widen and deepen the knowledge base of the country, which at the end of the day drives growth with the emergence of new technologies and ideas. Application of science to the betterment of the human condition does not happen de novo, but is driven by investment into basic science. Within India, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), with its tradition of engaging with research at the frontiers, training researchers at the highest level, and successfully seeding new initiatives, is uniquely poised to contribute to the national scientific effort in a major way. Working towards this end, TIFR has started a major new campus in Hyderabad. The vision for the new campus is based on an integrated view of modern science. The aim is to establish a large campus with a broad coverage of the natural sciences, mathematics and computer science. The steady state will be a dynamic one, with the choice of topics dictated by new emerging frontiers of research, which often borrow tools from across disciplines. In the longer run, the number of faculty is projected to be 250, with twice the number of postdoctoral associates, five to six times the number of doctoral students and a commensurate number of technical support staff. Thus a large pool of personnel will be trained who will drive scientific efforts around the country and indeed the world in the days to come. Simultaneously through our outreach programmes we aim to actively engage members of the public in discussions about science and thus help in the wider dissemination of scientific knowledge. The location of the campus, adjacent to the University of Hyderabad, in a forward-looking city provides a unique opportunity for TIFR to put together something truly unique, and have a strong impact on the national scientific culture.
From the time it was founded in 1945, TIFR has established a tradition of taking new initiatives to promote emerging areas of basic science in the country. This began with nuclear science (including high energy particle physics and cosmic rays) and mathematics, both perceived by Professor Homi Jehangir Bhabha to be crucial to his vision of India’s entry into the field of nuclear energy. TIFR then went on to move into several other areas, and today research at TIFR encompasses physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, computer and systems sciences and science education. Besides the wide-ranging research carried out in the main campus in Mumbai, there are vibrant programmes in operation at TIFR national centres like the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) in Mumbai, the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) in Pune, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore. The new International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) has come up in Bangalore, and has begun operations already. Each of these institutions has established its own unique character while maintaining strong academic ties with the Mumbai campus and drawing upon the common TIFR heritage of resources, governing principles, practices and general endeavour for excellence. TIFR’s world-class faculty, cutting-edge research facilities, startup support, working atmosphere, and opportunities for academic interaction make it possible for institutions within the TIFR system to attract young faculty and graduate students of the highest calibre. This track record, established over half a century, emboldened us to envision a new campus in Hyderabad with far-reaching scope and impact.
The new campus aims to have a thrust centered on basic research in areas which are as critical to a nation progress today as nuclear science was in the 1950s. The national and international scene is of course very different today, but, as was the case then, there are areas of basic science intimately linked to the major concerns of the times such as, health, energy, and communication. India needs a strong knowledge base in these areas to successfully contribute to and compete in new developments. Thus the TIFR Hyderabad venture requires a careful choice of areas and faculty, and a commitment to attract and train a large number of talented and motivated research students at an advanced level. The thrust cannot be in isolation it must both add value to and draw strength from education, research and development programmes in other institutions, including but by no means limited to those in the TIFR system.
In the first few years of TIFR Hyderabad, research and teaching has been led by the TIFR Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences (TCIS) with a focus on topics carefully chosen within the natural sciences. The topics are of great contemporary importance, and the institute is now well placed to develop them on a significant scale with major impact. These themes have attracted some of the best of the younger generation of scientists in India to work towards building the ambitious new venture of TIFR Hyderabad, guided by the experience of more senior professors from both within and outside the TIFR system. In the longer run, starting with the experience and lessons of TCIS, once TIFR Hyderabad has matured into several centres of theme-driven research, faculty would be drawn from the natural sciences, the engineering sciences, and mathematics, and it is envisaged that there would be a large number of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and visitors. This will enhance many-fold the contribution that TIFR already makes to the pool of highly skilled scientific manpower in the country. Moreover, it is proposed to launch a vigorous programme in science education, drawing on our successful experience with the HBCSE. The proximity of vibrant research programmes on campus would provide an ideal setting for participating students and teachers.
The later phases of development are expected to be based on the diversification of areas which will be planned out through discussions among stakeholders, with the oversight of a panel of distinguished scientists. The academic research structure envisaged for TIFR Hyderabad involves a network of centres and laboratories. Different faculty members in a given laboratory may well be associated with different centres. Being the first centre of TIFR Hyderabad, TCIS would initially incubate a broader set of activities to allow the seeding of further selected programmes.
The doctoral programme at TIFR Hyderabad will give entrants the opportunity to take up rigorous courses in different disciplines across the campus, tailored to both their broad academic growth and the specialized needs of their own research. The structure of the courses to be taken by students would be organized by the Graduate School of TIFR, through its subject boards.
The proximity to the University of Hyderabad, one of India highest rated universities, is bound to generate synergy in research and in conducting advanced academic programmes, such as workshops, conferences, and courses. Many other academic institutions in Hyderabad also have interests overlapping with the proposed themes and some of these interactions are already underway. Links to industry in the greater Hyderabad region and the country too will be encouraged.
In summary, TIFR Hyderabad in its entirety will pursue fundamental knowledge in critical areas of science; it will identify, attract, and nurture talent to generate a strong force of young scientists equipped to face the challenges of a new India, and open its doors to work jointly with like-minded individuals and institutions around the world. The aim is to foster scientific growth in traditional and new disciplines of research. In that sense we are perhaps a microcosm of both the city we are in and the country as whole – steeped in tradition and with the weight of history behind us, and yet forward-looking, dynamically growing and innovating in the capital of the newest state in India.