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Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Kolkata

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VECC bids farewell to Dr. R. K. Bhandari
Posted on 2nd July, 2012

He came from a village where people used to go for hunting even in the derelict graveyards. Probably, that made him bold minded. He loves driving a car through hills. The most interesting project that he has handled in his 44 years long carrier is the development of a Superconducting Cyclotron at Kolkata. Mishreyee Bhattacharya & Tilak Ghosh unveil the fascinating journey through life and unfulfilled dreams of Rakesh Kumar Bhandari, the Director of VECC, who laid down his office in the last weekend.

He knew only the basic principle of a cyclotron that he read in his college at Meerut. Even then, when Dr. P. K. Iyengar, the Head of the Physics Group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in the year 1968, asked a 20 years old young fellow, where he wanted to join after successful completion of BARC training school; the answer was: “Calcutta, the Variable Energy Cyclotron Project”. 40 years later, he found that he is called as the “Father of Cyclotron in India”. 

“If you want to call someone in India as ‘Father of Cyclotron in India’, he should be my thesis supervisor, Dr. Ajay Divatia, not me”, said Dr. Rakesh Kumar Bhandari with all his modesty. “I worked from the beginning of the development of the K130 machine at this campus, but I took leadership role on the development of the heavy ion ECR ions source with my colleagues D.K. Bose and G.S.Taki. Of course, I worked as the leader of the Superconducting Cyclotron project since its inception.”

Rakesh Kumar Bhandari hails from a village in Punjab. “As you know, an Indian student from a lower middle class family of a village usually does not plan about his career when he is in school. One of the turning points of my carrier was that I bagged National Science Talent Scholarship in 1964,” remembers his young days. “My plan was to join IIT-Kanpur for the master’s degree, and then probably, as it was a fashion in those days, travel to Unites States for a PhD. But it didn’t happen to me as I couldn’t crack their entrance test. You can consider that as another turning point of my carrier”, fondly remembers Dr. Bhandari who was the topper in B.Sc. in his batch from Meerut College.

In the early 80’s Dr. Bhandari was invited as a guest scientist to design heavy ion injection system for a large cyclotron at the Nuclear Research Centre (KFA) at Juelich, Germany. “After, I came back to India, there was an initiative to develop a separated sector cyclotron that would be coupled with K130 machine. However, the success of the Michigan (NSCL, Michigan State University) K500 Superconducting Cyclotron machine boosted us to consider a similar development in India. So the idea of the development of a separated sector cyclotron didn’t turn up.”

In 1990, Rakesh Bhandari went to join the Superconducting Supercollider Project in Dallas in the Unites States. It was one of the largest funding science projects at that time. When he came back finally in 1993, the centre was really at the verge of taking up the Superconducting Cyclotron (SCC) project. “Although, we discussed about the project since the end of 80’s, the project actually started in 1998, when we started exploring industry. The machine that we have built is similar to Texas machine, but 70 % of the development was our indigenous effort,” feels Dr. Bhandari. He reminded the intricacy of the machine with lots of technology involved. He shared with us the difficult periods of the project, when they had to explore industry who would work with them. Getting superconducting cables were not easy. They had to struggle to get liquefier. They really had tough times to make cryostat working; there were lots of issues like criticality of welding, coil winding etc. “We had to go all over the country to find companies, in that process we lost over 4 years. There was also directive from the department to develop things indigenously. Even, we sensed of the denial of cryogenics technology by the developed countries.” added Dr Bhandari. “Now, we feel that we took the project well ahead of time, the Indian industry was not really mature enough to help us in this development”.

With all these difficulties, the SCC machine succeeded to deliver internal beam in August 2009. “I would have been happier if the beam could be extracted out of the machine before I lay down my office. This remains one of my unfulfilled dreams, though I am sure that the beam will soon be extracted”, told Dr. Bhandari.
He believes that, in the coming years the centre will continue to flourish as a nuclear physics research institute. “I think that the centre should be treated as a pioneer research institute in the country rather than just an accelerator centre. The researchers will get the opportunity to engage themselves in the front line research activities with the available beam from cyclotrons. Surely, a young researcher can consider joining VECC for the best career development in the country.” He feels that the mega science project of Advanced National facility for Unstable & Rare Isotope Beams (ANURIB) will be the future of VECC in long run. “The centre should of course continue to take part in international collaborations, but only in those that fit in our own program and which benefits our centre.”

He also mentioned about the need to reach to the society. “It’s all the money of the tax payers that we get for our science funding. With all our expertise in accelerator development, we should take effort for the indegenous development of low cost cyclotrons that can be utilized to treat cancer patients.” One of the projects that is close to Dr. Bhandari’s heart is DAE Medical Cyclotron Project that will be used to produce isotopes for diagnosis cancer patients. “The machine has already been procured from IBA, Belgium. However, the project couldn’t be completed in time as there is huge delay in the construction of the building. This remains another unfulfilled dream”, told Bhandari.

“I have spent more than four decades of my life in the DAE family. When I look back, I find it’s a satisfying journey through the roads of life. I am really thankful to my all colleagues”.

The centre bids farewell to Dr. Bhandari on Friday, 29th June afternoon. In the felicitation program, scientists and accelerator physicists from all over the country assembled at the SINP auditorium to convey their appreciation to him. Dr. Dinesh Kumar Srivastava, the newly appointed Director of VECC, mentioned Dr. Bhandari as a pioneer to make VECC a leading accelerator centre in the country.  Dr. Bikash Sinha considers Dr. Bhandari as the number one accelerator physicist in the country. “His bonhomie and sensitivity are much to be admired”, added Dr. Sinha.

Sir, tussi great ho”, said Tamal Bhattacharyya, one of his younger colleagues !