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Gateways to exciting science

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A group of scientists is travelling the extra mile to enthuse more students into pursuing science.

Guiding force: BLV Prasad, an NCL scientist makes gold nanoparticles with students.
Guiding force: BLV Prasad, an NCL scientist makes gold nanoparticles with students.

It is not surprising when scientists win accolades for their work within their labs, but it does make one notice when they get involved in an activity purely to enthuse children in the pursuit of science. The Exciting Science Group (ESG) is one such initiative. Started in 2008 by a group of scientists, from the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune (CSIR-NCL), the ESG, a volunteer group, housed in the Venture Center, is a not-for-profit (section 25) company that CSIR-NCL floated as a technology business incubator. This work chiefly involves faculty members from CSIR-NCL and Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune.

Science through comics

They started with talks at the Venture Center by NCL faculty, but now people come from IISER, IIT Bombay, IISc, TIFR, etc. and even from the industry (Praj, DSM etc). About a year after ESG was started, they adopted three schools, so as not to restrict their activities to middle-class and upper middle-class children. Their activities branched out from talks to workshops and even put together science-based stories for comic books. 2011 being the international year of chemistry, they had a series of workshops where class IX and X students were able to spend half a day with the members. “We had over 1,200 students visit over a period of six months,” says Guruswamy Kumaraswamy, one of the scientists involved.

He continues, “We feel that limiting our engagement to students who do their projects at NCL and IISER would seriously restrict the number of students we could reach out to. Therefore, this year we’ve started science clubs at the two Vidya Niketans that we partner with. Our objective is to develop scientific curiosity, a scientific approach to problem definition and problem-solving, and hopefully, nucleate several science project entries for the national fair next year.”

The same year they were also approached by Brainwave, an initiative from Amar Chitra Katha, to help them with content for a chemistry-themed issue. “Several of our colleagues worked on this and put together a really cool comic story on how a young, intrepid chemist called Gaia, uses her chemistry knowledge to save the world from terrorists and an impending energy crisis,” says Guru enthusiastically.

Science Talks

For the Popular Science Talks at NCL, they have a first-come-first-served policy to register. All talks and events are free of cost to the students, and slides from previous talks are available on their website, http://www.excitingscience.org. This work is supported by funds from local industry enthusiasts at the Praj Foundation and the Forbes Marshall Foundation.

“Our plan is to build a large, supportive local community in Pune that is passionate about science outreach and about science and technology. I’ve often been asked about scaling up what we do. My personal view is that what we do is to enable a forum for leading scientists/researchers/faculty to interact with school students and therefore, create local role models in our community for school kids. This is not scalable. But, I feel that it is certainly replicable,” concludes Guru.

All talks and events are free of cost to the students, and slides from previous talks are available on their website,

http://www.excitingscience.org.


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