In 1944, Homi J. Bhabha, known for his role in the development of the Indian atomic energy programme, wrote to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust requesting financial assistance to set up a scientific research institute. With support from J.R.D. Tata, then chairman of the Tata Group, TIFR was founded on 1 June 1945, and Homi Bhabha was appointed its first director. The institute initially operated within the campus of the Indian Institute of Science, Banglore before relocating to Mumbai later that year. TIFR's new campus in Colaba was designed by Chicago-based architect
Helmuth Bartsch and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on 15 January 1962.
Shortly after Indian Independence, in 1949, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) designated TIFR to be the centre for all large-scale projects in nuclear research. The first theoretical physics group was set up by Bhabha's students
B.M. Udgaonkar and
K.S. Singhvi. In December 1950, Bhabha organised an international conference at TIFR on elementary particle physics. Several world-renowned scientists attended the conference, including Rudolf Peierls, Léon Rosenfeld, William Fowler as well as Meghnad Saha, Vikram Sarabhai and others providing expertise from India. In the 1950s, TIFR gained prominence in the field of cosmic ray physics, with the setting up of research facilities in Ooty and in the Kolar gold mines.
In 1957, India's first digital computer, TIFRAC was built in TIFR. Acting on the suggestions of British physiologist Archibald Hill, Bhabha invited Obaid Siddiqi to set up a research group in molecular biology. This ultimately resulted in the establishment of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore twenty years later. In 1970, TIFR started research in radio astronomy with the setting up of the Ooty Radio Telescope. Encouraged by the success of ORT, Govind Swarup persuaded J. R. D. Tata to help set up the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope near Pune, India
TIFR attained the official deemed university status in June 2002. To meet the ever-growing demand of space needed for research labs and accommodation institute is coming up with a new campus at Hyderabad.