Science

Chennai scientist chosen for INSA science popularisation prize

Professor R. Ramanujam.

Professor R. Ramanujam.   | Photo Credit: R. Ashok

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Computer scientist R. Ramanujam has been associated for over thirty years with a Tamil science magazine Thulir.

Chennai-based computer scientist R. Ramanujam will receive the The Indira Gandhi prize for popularisation of science for the year 2020. The prize was instituted by Indian National Science Academy in 1986 and is given once in three years to either a career media professional or a career scientist who has made outstanding contributions to science popularization in English or in other languages. Previous winners include veteran physicist Jayant V Narlikar, scientist and writer G. Venkataraman, and scientists and The Hindu columnist D. Balasubramanian.

Prof. Ramanujam who is with The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, has been associated for over thirty years with a Tamil science magazine Thulir, which is published by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum. “I look upon it as a recognition of the work done by Tamil Nadu Science Forum, because the award letter states that it is for science popularization work in a language other than english. And Thulir and my work with the TNSF form a major part of this,” says Prof. Ramanujam.

Major contributions made by him include taking science to school children through Thulir, a monthly science magazine and developing a science curriculum for neo-literates. “During the International Year of Astronomy, we had a year-long programme for self-help groups, ” he recalls.

In the 1990s, he was involved in developing slideshows and literally going to street corners to screen them using dhotis as screens. “One was called Cosmos, inspired by Carl Sagan, and another ‘Unadhu Mugavari’ (Your address), which were very popular,” he adds. Topics would range from health to peace and nuclear weapons. There were also street plays on health and environment issues, which made a huge impact and spread awareness – Cholera, Rattham (on blood donation) and Visham (on air pollution and water pollution). “Visham was about two crows talking to each other – about a birds’ eye view of pollution,” he explains. “This is not about discoveries being told to the people, rather things that involve their lives and promoting awareness on crucial issues. That has been the strength of TNSF.”

Starting the children’s science congress was a major achievement of the Tamil Nadu group. It is now a national event. “We started it around 1992-93. One reason was that the Indian Science Congress was so unsatisfactory. Another reason was that we wanted children to do extended projects. That would teach them that science is about observation, duration of time.” Projects like biodegradation, resource mapping became part of the children’s science congress.

Bringing out Thulir every month was a big challenge. “We used to write in several names,” he says smiling, recalling the contributions of T.V. Venkateswaran who is with Vigyan Prasar, and K. Shaji of the Kerala Shastriya Sahitya Parishad, and T.R. Govindarajan, Chennai Mathematical Institute.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 7:10:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/chennai-scientist-chosen-for-insa-science-popularisation-prize/article30449804.ece

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