PRL - The Cradle of Space Science in India
Vikram Sarabhai established the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in 1947. He remained associated with the scientific institute throughout his life.
The Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) started small in 1947 at Vikram Sarabhai's residence, The Retreat. Later, it was formally established on 11th November 1947, in the MG Science College, Ahmedabad. Service quarters of the college served as the foundations of the institution which spread its wings all over India. There were only a few rooms, and Vikram Sarabhai did not have any room for himself. He just sat at the end of a passage. K.R. Ramanathan was the Director. An asbestos sheet on top of two boxes became a table for staff and the first few students. The whole amount of money was nothing more than one lakh rupees for research. That was the starting.
If only one listens to music in the (apparent) noise, the work becomes very rewarding indeed.
- Vikram Sarabhai
The initial days of cosmic ray research at PRL were the same, as described by Sarbhai's student: RP Kane.
Day in and day out recordings were made, first manually, later photographically, automatically. The rates did change during the course of the day, sometimes as much as 10 - 15 per cent, but these were all traced to loose wiring making uncertain connections which were frequently disturbed by the profusion of pigeons that inhabited the MG Science Institute and perched on the telescope, shaking it appreciably. The main power supply was not much to boast about. The voltage varied widely and our established power supplies were no match. So the rates varied on all days except Sundays when the power load was less and the mains stability better.
Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) soon started to garner attention from students from all over India. Praful Baskar, while looking to work in Nuclear Physics stumbled upon PRL through Poona Observatory of IMD. A lecturer at Sagar University, RG Rastogi was urged by Sydney Chapman, a visiting researcher to look out for a 'young man with 2 or 3 students running after him'. EV Chitnis left the job at All India Radio for Rs 100 scholarship. UR Rao joined after completing his MSc. Many other students joined in the intervening years until the main campus ready.
Sarabhai took a keen interest in every student's work. Also, while he was busy with ATIRA and Sarabhai Chemicals, he asked his students to join on the long train journeys. Nealy twenty research scholars obtained their doctorate under his supervision. You could find him at PRL even in the middle of the night discussing with his students. He never left being associated with PRL. First, he was a professor of Cosmic Rays and later as the director in 1965.
Sarabhai had mentioned in his PhD thesis, "Cosmic Ray Investigations at Tropical Latitudes".
The Kashmir expedition has provided a great deal of experience in the performance of cosmic ray field experiments at high altitudes. It has also demonstrated the great need for the establishment of a permanent high altitude laboratory in the Himalayas so that important scientific investigations can be carried out under satisfactory conditions. It is hoped therefore that by cooperative efforts of scientists and the government scientific departments such as a laboratory will be established very soon.
Sarabhai fulfilled his long-cherished plan to develop a permanent laboratory at high altitudes in 1955 when PRL set up a research station at Gulmarg. Within a few years, a new PRL campus was established in 1954 in the presence of dignitaries such as Jawaharlal Nehru and CV Raman. Over the years PRL set up many observatories all over India for studying outer space cosmic rays including Kodaikanal, Trivandrum and Gulmarg.
PRL - After Sarabhai
The Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) has expanded even more since Vikram Sarabhai. Observatories at Mt. Abu and Udaipur became part of the institution. Another campus at Thaltej was added. Having started from Cosmic Ray Research, PRL has expanded to Theoretical Physics, Radio Physics, Solar Physics, Infrared Astronomy and Particle Physics to name a few.