“Can you see the star Arundhati over there? In olden days, during marriages, the bride used to be asked to see if she could make out the star and the one near it. If yes, it meant her eyesight was good … ”

There were hastily suppressed giggles as 150 pairs of excited and curious eyes swept skywards in search of ‘Arundhati.' A short while later, these eyes lit up with wonder when they spotted — this time through a telescope— the rings around planet Saturn.

Excitement, wonder and curiosity appear to be the dominant moods among the participants of the Inspire Summer Camp being organised by the Department of Science and Technology on the Karyavattom campus of the University of Kerala.

On Tuesday night, the participants gathered on the rooftop of the university's golden jubilee building on the campus for a session of stargazing and to attend a lecture-observation of the various constellations. The five-day camp was inaugurated on Monday by Vice-Chancellor A. Jayakrishnan.

V. Prasanna Kumar, camp director and Professor of Geology, told The Hindu that the camp, as its name suggested, aimed to inspire young minds to make science a career and way of living. “We have Bhatnagar awardees giving lectures and interacting with the children; they would get to visit laboratories in the university; we even have a wildlife photographer coming over for a session,” he said. The lectures would focus on the interesting aspects of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and earth systems sciences.

The sessions with eminent scientists proved thrilling to the camp's participants. “Normally, we can't dream of attending a lecture by a Bhatnagar award winner. What struck me was that those scientists took our questions, our smallest, silliest doubts very seriously and gave detailed answers,” said Jeena Varghese, who has completed standard 11 at the Government Higher Secondary School, Kottarakkara. This aspiring scientist, who loves biochemistry and astrophysics, wants science and technology to catapult India to the status of a developed country.

What also caught the fancy of Ansu Thankam John, who has completed her twelfth standard from Sree Narayana Public School, Kollam, was the opportunity provided by the camp to interact with other ‘ignited minds' from all over Kerala. Ansu aims to complete her MBBS and do research in medicine. Both participants said camps such as this would motivate girls to take up science as a career.

Once the camp is over, the new-found friends will be able to keep in touch with one another through a blog which will be set up, Dr. Prasannakumar said.

Keywords: Astronomy