On February 28, the country celebrated its 85th National Science Day, a day designated to commemorate Sir CV Raman for his remarkable discovery of the Raman Effect, one which earned him the Nobel Prize. Yet, lamenting that in the years since, not one Indian physicist has been able to claim the same honour, Dr A P Jayaraman, a renowned nuclear scientist, called for a more active scientific community that engages with the young -- the future of science.
“Unlike other days of celebration, National Science Day is not a birthday or death day, but the day on which Sir CV Raman communicated with the world about his discovery. But, unfortunately the country has seen no physicist win a Nobel prize since,” he began as he interacted with students. Going around to as multiple schools in the city, Dr Jayaraman spent as much as three hours at each school with the children, answering their scientific queries and trying to motivate them beyond the textbook. One very commonly featured topic was science fiction.
Impressed by their scientific curiosity, he commented, “Science fiction books have done a remarkable job in creating scientific literacy, and by that I mean the ability to separate facts from opinion. This scientific thinking should be formally learned and school syllabi does not teach formal scientific thinking skills.”
All for creating a generation of scientific thinkers and the right curiosity for the way things work, he said, the best time to attract a child’s imagination into the world of science is before the age of 14. “Around this age is the time that children read science fiction and their mind is imaginative. Once they enter into an active science field, they stop thinking beyond textbooks.”
To counter the eventual stalemate, he called for active participation of working scientists in popularising science and inculcating formal scientific thinking skills. “The instrumental action should come from working scientists. They should interact more with children and present them with best of scientific methods. It is the responsibility of the scientific community to engage the public and present them with technically approved facts.”
Inspired by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who the doctor worked with at the Baba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Dr Jayarman opined that the former President’s views have inspired the entire scientific community and has shown a scalable successful model to reach out to the children, with the more socially-conscious scientists following Dr Kalam’s foot-steps. However, time has been a major spoil sport for many. “More working scientists should come forward, but most often their focused attention will not permit them to take long spells of time to interact with children.”
While the scientific community interacting with students is a bonus, how far is our scientific curriculum effective in instigating the required curiosity among young minds? “The science text books studied from in schools today have facts established at least 10 years ago. However, science is dynamic and it takes two to three years for current scientific facts to be accepted or criticised before it actually enters the textbook, which takes another 10 years,” he shared, adding, “Besides, if working scientists are able to present established facts to children in a way they understand, it helps them to think beyond text books.”