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Updated: November 21, 2011 17:08 IST

Kindling curiosity in science

Lavanya M
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Prof. J.J. Rawal, President, The Indian Planetary Society, Mumbai. Photo: V. Ganesan
The Hindu
Prof. J.J. Rawal, President, The Indian Planetary Society, Mumbai. Photo: V. Ganesan

The Indian Planetary Society attempts to bring science closer to every child and also promotes research in astrophysics, earthquake sciences,vedic mathematis and geology.

“Who decides east and west — if you think it is the sun, you're wrong. Because, it is the rotation of the earth that determines which side the sun rises and sets.” Prof. J.J. Rawal, an astrophysicist, and his team attempt to develop student interest in such simple fundamentals of science that occur around us.

Formerly Director of the Nehru Planetarium Mumbai, he founded The Indian Planetary Society to bring science closer to every child and also to promote research in the fields of astrophysics, earthquake sciences, vedic mathematis and geology.

The society adopts schools and works closely with them. Students are taught science through stories and hands-on experiments. “Mathematics and science are so powerful that standing in two locations that are 50 kilometres apart, we can calculate the circumference of the entire earth,” he says.

Most children are never exposed to such fascinating aspects of science.

“The reason is that most teachers, even Ph.D holders are not strong in fundamentals. In the process, children lose interest in some of these fascinating areas of studies,” he says, emphasising the need to have devoted and inspiring teachers who can guide children in the right manner.

Retired and experienced scientists should impart their knowledge by taking up the responsibility of mentoring at least ten youngsters, he says. The India of Aryabhatta and Ramanujan has become a country producing commerce and MBA graduates.

“It is due to lack of motivation to take up science that students turn to other subjects. But pure science is the basis for any development and growth and will ultimately create more employment opportunities,” he says.

Students have many opportunities in the area of astrophysics. “There are plenty of opportunities in observatories, planetariums, as lecturers and researchers. India is one of the leaders in space research. After the successful launch of Chandrayan, students are likely to have many opportunities springing up in ISRO,” he says.

On the shortcomings of research in India, he says, most Ph.D holders often do not have original ideas.

“Even the system is not conducive in India for the growth of researchers. In other countries, irrespective of whether the experiment would be a success or failure, funds are provided. But the Indian government, corporates and societies are too wary of taking such risks,” he says. Only risks can yield results.

He also talks about the top research institutions that are open only to the cream. “Most of the country's top research facilities such as TIFR and IISc are open only to the toppers, in the process the other students never get an opportunity,” he says.

For students interested in research, he cautions them against looking at research work as merely another lucrative area. “Do not take up research to earn money, since it is a service.

The devotion to pure knowledge is most important, and this will in turn help in the uplift of human beings,” he says.

But what qualities should be nurtured to become a good scientist? “Besides having a strong mathematics and physics knowledge, think creatively. Develop your imagination and thoughts with novelty to become an original thinker.”

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