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Science on a hilltop

Is that a telescope? Posing in front of the Ooty Radio Telescope

Is that a telescope? Posing in front of the Ooty Radio Telescope  

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A vist to the Radio Astronomy Centre and Cosmic Ray Laboratory in Ooty on National Science Day showed city kids how much is happening in the world of research

It’s always a joy to have a home away from home. For many Coimbatoreans, Ooty is our second home. Most of us only look at the breathtaking scenery and fantastic weather but how many know that Ooty also has world-class research facilities?

On National Science Day (February 28), we at Mango Education organised a trip to two such centres for students: the Radio Astronomy Centre (RAC), which organises a public outreach event every year on this day, and the Cosmic Ray Laboratory (CRL), both part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

The RAC has one of the most powerful and the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world. To stand under this 500m long radio telescope (ORT) was stunning. The children’s initial reaction was: “is this a telescope?”, a very natural question as the ORT looks very different from an optical telescope. “It was a phenomenal experience to learn about the ORT and how it tracks pulsars and quasars on the go,” said Mithun Meenakshi, a Std IX student. Akshay K Sathish, a student of Std VII found the idea of using stainless steel wires instead of a sheet “ingenious”. Keerthana, also of Std IX, “was completely amazed that we had perfect geographical features to construct such amazing pieces of equipment so close to my home town.”

How to detect Extensive Air Shower

How to detect Extensive Air Shower  

Stalls from other research facilities like the Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, the Central Silk Board, the Tribal Research Centre, and the Potato Research Institute offered a range of information. Ten-year-old Akshaj was most interested in information regarding terraforming Mars and converting waste water into drinking water.

The Cosmic Ray Laboratory is home to the largest muon telescope in the world. A muon is one of the many unstable particles produced when cosmic rays bombard the Earth’s atmosphere. Atul Jain, the scientist in charge, interacted with the children and patiently answered their questions. Electronics expert Pankaj Rakshe took the group on a guided tour of the CRL.

Studying the exhibits about gravitational waves

Studying the exhibits about gravitational waves  

The students were inspired to see that state-of-the-art detectors and other electronic equipment were created indigenously. They learnt how detectors work, how data is collected and how it is processed. There are close to 417 Extensive Air Shower detectors (EAS), and about 3700 muon detectors. Bragadeesh, a std VI student was very impressed with the detectors that tracked solar storms.

On the way back to Coimbatore, the Mango Education team was kept busy answering questions and clarifying doubts. The question-and-answer sessions at the two centres and with the facilitators is something we wish to see in every science class.

Science educator and communicator Obuli Chandran is co-founder of Mango Education.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 10:46:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/a-trip-to-ootys-radio-astronomy-centre-and-cosmic-ray-laboratory/article22918038.ece

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