The former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), P.K. Iyengar, 80, who passed away in Mumbai on Wednesday, was a great scientist and a role model to many people, according to AEC Chairman Srikumar Banerjee. He excited the minds of youngsters in several fields.
Dr. Iyengar was Chairman, AEC, and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) from 1990-93. He was Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), from 1984 to 1990. Prior to this, he headed the Physics group in BARC.
Dr. Banerjee said Dr. Iyengar played a leading role in India's first Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) in May 1974 at Pokhran in Rajasthan. “He was the Director of the Physics group at the BARC at that time. High pressure physics was an important component of the PNE and it was part of the Physics group. The PNE was a good achievement.”
Dr. Iyengar was “extremely sharp and his grasp of several subjects was very good,” the AEC chairman said.
Dr. Iyengar, who belonged to Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, did his postgraduation in physics in 1952 from the University of Travancore and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Bombay in 1963. He joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) of the DAE in 1952. He was deputed to Chalk River Laboratories of the Canadian Atomic Energy Establishment. He was trained in Canada under Dr. B.N. Brockhouse, a Nobel Laureate in Physics.
After he returned to India, Dr. Iyengar pioneered research in neutron physics and built an internationally recognised team in that field in the BARC. He led a team that indigenously designed and developed the PURNIMA reactor, which was commissioned in 1972. He made a significant contribution to the indigenous building of the Dhruva reactor, which attained criticality when he was Director, BARC. Dhruva continues to be a world-class facility even today, and Dr. Iyengar's contribution during the final stages of its commissioning was significant.
Starting his research in nuclear physics in the TIFR in 1952, Dr. Iyengar foresaw the advent of nuclear reactors and the opportunities they offered in both basic research and nuclear technology. He started building neutron spectrometers in 1958 around Apsara, Asia's first nuclear reactor, even before the high flux reactor CIRUS was operational, and gave India an early start in neutron beam research. He encouraged research and development in material science, radiation physics, molecular biology, lasers and accelerators. He was primarily responsible for the establishment of the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology in Indore. As AEC Chairman, Dr. Iyengar vigorously pursued the nuclear power programme with the commissioning of reactors at Narora in Uttar Pradesh and Kakrapara in Gujarat. He emphasised the importance of the development of the Fast Breeder Test Reactor at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam, near Chennai.
“Dr. Iyengar left an important mark on various aspects of the DAE programme. He was also interested in the DAE's training programmes. I am personally indebted to him because I had many opportunities to interact with him,” Dr. Banerjee said.
DAE spokesman S.K. Malhotra said Dr. Iyengar was “frank in expressing his views and quick in taking decisions.”
After his retirement from the DAE, Dr. Iyengar held several positions. He received several awards, including Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award and Padma Bhushan. He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.