Society

Talking Science the easy way

SCIENCE EDUCATOR: Dr. T.V. Venkateswaran, Vigyan Prasar, Department of Science and Technology. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

“Open your mouth and blow on your hand,” instructs Dr. T.V. Venkateswaran. “Now, purse your lips and blow again,” he continues. “Do you notice the difference in temperature?” he asks the 60-odd students gathered at the Elumalai Government School. Boys and girls respond that the first blow was warm and the second was cool. “This is how a refrigerator works, based on the principle of compressed air,” explains Scientist T.V. Venkateswaran, Head of Audio Visual Department, Vigyan Prasar, New Delhi. He was in town to interact with school children at a two-day Hill Science Camp organised by Tamil Nadu Science Forum.

Venkateswaran intersperses his talk with interesting science tidbits, games and riddles. At ease with children from varied backgrounds, his style of talking science is not preachy and highfaluting but simple and legible to lay people. “The future is going to be knowledge-based economy. We need more science and technology people for a better future,” he says, pointing out that India in comparison with other countries has fewer number of science personnel per million of the population. Official statistics show only 103 people per million and that includes the lab assistants and a whole gamut of personnel involved in Science and Technology. It is for this dismal ratio that Venkateswaran believes there is an urgent need to take science closer to citizens, especially the younger generation.

For nearly two decades now, he has been a key figure propagating science in the country through camps, workshops, TV programmes and articles. One of the founding members of Thulir, a science magazine in Tamil for children and as the past president of Tamil Nadu Science Forum, he stresses the need to inculcate scientific interest and quest in young minds. “Only then, they can be encouraged to take up research as a profession. The key is to approach creatively. Preaching science pedagogically does not help. Teachers should go beyond the obvious and make the children reason every single theory and principle.”

Commenting on the country’s rich tradition of science and astronomy, he says, in the ancient times India was scientifically progressive than even the West. “But now there is stagnation in research and inventions. Contemporary science needs to be pursued more seriously,” he says. He takes the examples of Panchagams, the traditional Indian calculations of planetary positions. “ Panchangam is a wonderful work of science. It is a mix of calendar, divinations and astrology. Right from the age of Cholas, we have had these calendars to guide us in agriculture. It was a scientific tradition that later became a religious dogma.”

Venkateswaran who has done Ph.D on 'Popular perception of Science during the late Nineteenth Century Colonial Tamil Nadu', is currently working on the scientific calculations of Chinthamani Raghunathachari, an Indian astronomer who was head-assistant at the Madras observatory and discovered a new variable star in 1867. “He was the first to device a Thirukanitha Panchangam, which is a more precise account of the movements and positions of various stars and planets.”

As a science educator, Venkateswaran recommends science as a tool for democratisation of social spheres. “Public policies should be produced upon scientific basis, so that it can be accepted by all groups of the society. Only science and literature can provide a more democratic space and transcend differences.” At the camp, around 40 students from city school and 20 children from the Elumalai villages took part, made merry, visited forests, watched birds and learnt science in unison. “Science is a creative subject contrary to the popular belief. It has to be learnt collectively through dialogue and discussions,” adds Venkateswaran.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 7:00:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/scientist-dr-tv-venkateswaran-simplifies-formulaes-to-stories/article6741937.ece

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