Maths, robotics and fun too

Students shaping up for Project X, a design contest, during Shaastra at IIT Madras.

Students shaping up for Project X, a design contest, during Shaastra at IIT Madras.  

WHERE ELSE but in IIT Madras can you find a hall jam-packed for a math lecture on what was supposed to be a fun day. Where else but here can you find a guy in an `I hate exams!!' T-shirt standing right at the end of a choked hall trying seriously to sink in `The 10 unsolved problems of mathematics', a classic lecture by Dr. M.S.Raghunathan, described by geniuses as "one of the best mathematical brains".

"Here again, I have to assume that you know something," said the doctor before explaining rigid motions, convex polyhedrons and half spaces. It was to be a break from equations for the IIT folks, but here they were, sitting in a dim-lit hall and taking notes when they were supposed to be amusing themselves outside. But then, if it's Shaastra, IIT Madras' annual tech fest, math might actually be fun 'n easy. Others outside were dealing with rocket science, robotics and artificial intelligence.

In a hall nearby, a member of the robotics group was explaining how he got his skeleton of a robot to climb the rope. The group then got down to demonstrating their amphibious robot - "it moves like a car when on land, but as soon as it enters water, it senses it and the propeller starts rotating and it moves like a boat". Well, the propeller didn't quite start moving as they wanted it to - some glitch there - but they promised a demonstration later.

Another bunch of students were in combat mode. Participants in the AI Bots contest were programming computers to fight others, the ring being a giant screen. Others were busy engaging themselves with some high profile gaming. But maybe that wasn't much.

Building bridges.

Building bridges.  

Scheduled for the evening was a `Rocketry competition'. "They are given solid fuel engines and they have to design rockets around them. The rockets will then be fired electronically from under water and they have to go through a specified range," said an organiser. Sounds fun.

On a more down-to-earth note, a team was attempting to create a world record. They were rolling up newspapers to construct the world's largest and tallest paper bridge. "It's never been attempted before on this scale," said a team member. The bridge should be ready by Monday, and should be a good hangout "at least till the rains start". And then, there was `Project X', the design contest.

That's just part of the three-day Shaastra, from October 4 to 6. Day one had a videoconference session with Madhu Sudan of MIT. Day two had lined up, besides Dr. Raghunathan, a lecture-demonstration on robotics by Dr.CRJP Naidu, the head of the Centre of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, and another one by Dr.Swami Manohar on the Simputer, India's next-gen export to the world. And day-three is going to have car designer, Dilip Chhabria, reveal a few secrets, an automobile design contest and the quiz finals.

Science and math didn't seem nerdy affairs here. These young ones were in designerwear or rags, funky, accented, and pony-tailed, showing off that brains and attitude could indeed go together. But they did miss out something after all; they did not even so much as attempt a go at another of maths unsolved problems - why do so many hate it so much?

By Feroze Ahmed

Photos: T. A Hafeez

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