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A website by science enthusiasts gains traction during the lockdown

Screenshot of a page on shasthrasnehi.com

Screenshot of a page on shasthrasnehi.com   | Photo Credit: shasthrasnehi.com

If it is Comet Neowise that enthuses Padmasree, an engineering student from Thiruvananthapuram, Keerthana Vengatesan, an undergraduate student in mathematics from Attur, is fascinated by the length of a lightning bolt. Neha P, a physics graduate from Bengaluru, is obsessed with black holes, whereas Indhirakumar Balakrishnan, a biotechnologist from Namakkal, has gone deep into the food habits of tribesmen in the Kalahari desert.

They are among 100-plus science enthusiasts who form the backbone of the portal shasthrasnehi.com. The pandemic-induced lockdown has seen the formation of several online communities and this science portal is among them. Within two months or so, the forum has emerged as a growing community of science buffs spread across India.

Arun S

Arun S   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“A group of us had attended a course on astrophysics and cosmology conducted by Amateur Astronomers Organisation (AASTRO) in Thiruvananthapuram in 2018. We kept in touch and used to hold discussions and interactions that eventually resulted in the launch of a science blog in Malayalam. We shifted to English to make it accessible to non-Malayali friends. During the lockdown we shared articles among our network of friends and that did wonders. The write-ups were widely read and when more people joined the group we launched the website in May,” says Arun S, a physics graduate and co-founder of the forum.

Among those who contribute articles on the page are school and college students, graduates and postgraduates, engineers, researchers, lecturers, scientists and technology experts. Anand Narayanan, associate professor, Department of Earth and Space Science, Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, is the resource person. Co-founders of the page are Abhijith Prakash Mangattu, currently working with the Ministry of Education in the UAE and Sreebala PS, final year undergraduate student in Physics at St John’s College, Kollam.

Keeping it simple

“Our motto is ‘Science for Society’. So we convey scientific information in simple language and try to avoid all jargon. Whenever our members come across a scientific fact or development in a journal or any platform, they write on that topic in a way that can be understood by all,” says Arun. The articles, vetted by the editorial board, fall under categories such as technology, general science, space science, earth science, chemistry, mathematics and puzzles and life sciences. The team maintains the website and designs images for the articles. Writers themselves can choose the topic and are expected to give at least one article per month.

The team adds that the forum has been appreciated by scientists and experts from other countries. Arun cites an article by Suad Kadeem Khan on ancient crocodiles that walked like dinosaurs. Suad, pursuing BSc Biotechnology in UAE, had based her piece on the findings of Anthony Romilio, a palaeontologist and research associate at The University of Queensland. “When we contacted the University to give us permission to use the images, they wanted to know the reason for our request. Once we explained the mission of the forum, Dr Anthony himself mailed us and allowed us to use the images. They have extended their support for our website,” says Arun.

The website shasthrasnehi.com gives updates about upcoming space events such as the launch of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

The website shasthrasnehi.com gives updates about upcoming space events such as the launch of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter   | Photo Credit: shasthrasnehi.com

While the ‘one-minute read’ section is popular, many follow the science calendar as well. The latter gives information about important scientific events scheduled every month. For example, programmes like the space walk and launch of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which can be watched live on the page of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), have a keen following. Lecture series have also been a hit, especially the one on astrophotography by Abhijith. Shastrasnehi, meaning ‘science lover’, has also started ‘Children’s blog’ for school students to post their articles.

Audio interviews with eminent scientists/researchers and a YouTube channel are in the pipeline. The team plans to reach out to children in tribal areas as well. “We will soon launch Sisterblogs, where members can write in their own regional language. Looking ahead, we hope to reach 1,000 members in a couple of years, including enthusiasts from across the world. We also want to highlight scientific research in India and throw light on achievements of scientists in the country,” Arun says.

To become a member, contact shasthrasnehi@gmail.com or 97465 20118 (WhatsApp).

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 3:23:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/a-website-by-science-enthusiasts-gains-traction-during-the-lockdown/article32091080.ece

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