Five girls from Kadri Mills Higher Secondary School, Coimbatore, have won laurels for their project at the 20th National Children’s Science Congress. Akila Kannadasan reports

S. Sowmiya, A.K. Amirthaa Nanthani, A. Nithya, S. Sowmya and R. Ramya walked into the village of Chinnakuyili with a questionnaire in hand. They wanted to find out if farmers there were aware of energy conservation methods that can be employed in their fields. Did they know that they can generate bio-gas from agricultural waste? Were they aware of cost-effective machines that did de-weeding? Sowmiya and her friends, all of them just 14 years old, went door-to-door to find out. They were working on a project for the 20th National Children’s Science Congress.

Coimbatore to Varanasi

A panel of scientists awarded their project titled ‘Energy Uses in Agricultural Land’ an ‘A+’ and placed it among the top 10 entries from over 600 other projects from across the country. The Science Congress was organised by the National Council for Science & Technology Communication that comes under the Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India.

It is a noteworthy achievement for these girls from a government aided school in a little-known town panchayat in Coimbatore. None of them has a computer at home or ready access to the Internet, and yet they earned a top spot over hundreds of other students more privileged than them.

Under the guidance of their teacher R. Selvi, the girls from the Kadri Mills Higher Secondary School, did extensive research for the project — they visited agricultural fields, interviewed farmers, interacted with experts at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU)…

“We didn’t expect to win,” smiles Sowmiya, for whom this is the fourth time at the National Children’s Science Congress. “We lost at the State-level the last three times.” The announcement for the State-level winners was made at Sree Sakthi Engineering College. Sowmiya and team sat close to the exit at the very end of the auditorium. “We had planned to leave immediately once the results were out,” she says. But, the first name to be announced was theirs. The stunned team strode to the stage as all eyes turned to see the first group that made it to the Nationals. While team leader Sowmiya is good in communication, Amirthaa and Nithya made the charts and drawings. Ramya and S. Sowmya compiled the results of their surveys into rough and fair drafts.

Some of them are also involved in conservation activities in their villages.

The kids formed the ‘Children’s Science Circle,’ and went door-to-door campaigning against the use of plastic bags and collected plastic waste from their streets.

Teacher Selvi says that the project’s aim was to create awareness among farmers about energy conservation techniques already available. For instance, a plant at the TNAU campus recycled agricultural waste such as sugarcane fibre and straw into ready-to-use fuel. “If the wood pellets from the plant are heated, we get oil, coal, and gas from which we can even produce electricity,” says Amirthaa.

Tips for farmers

Imagine the amount of firewood that can be saved. And in the present situation of power deficit in Tamil Nadu, the plant can be a boon for farmers. Sadly, most of them are not aware of such technology. The students printed pamphlets describing such methods and distributed them in the villages.

They told farmers that they can plant Jatropha (kaataamanakku) along the boundaries of their fields which can be used to produce bio-diesel. This in turn can be used for their land machinery.

“We also found that they can save time if solar panels are employed to dry food grains instead of direct sunlight,” explains Selvi. It was Sowmiya who presented the project during the finals at the Banaras Hindu University at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. She spoke in Tamil and used the charts they prepared for further elucidation.

It was an unforgettable experience, she says. “I made friends with students from Nagaland, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand …. The Uttarakhand students especially, were really friendly,” she smiles. “There were campfires at night outside the hostel and cultural performances in our traditional costumes.” Sowmiya adds that the train journey to Varanasi (the trip was organised by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum) was fun. “The 30 of us from Tamil Nadu practised dance moves inside our compartments and shared thoughts on our projects.”

The long hours spent in agricultural fields amidst farmers has changed the way the children view farming, explains Selvi. Amirthaa now wants to do research on agriculture. “I always imagined a farmer as an old man in a soiled veshti slogging in the fields,” says Sowmiya. “But we realised that farming can also be trendy; a farmer can work effortlessly if he employs the right techniques.”