98TH Indian Science Congress

By Dilip Ghosh

New Delhi, Jan 10, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB-India) The 98th Indian Science Congress was held at the SRM university campus near Chennai from 3rd to 7th January this year. The five day event from Monday to Friday was seen by thousands of visitors who included school children, scientists, research scholars and science lovers. A galaxy of Scientists attended the Science Congress - Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the Indian born American scientist and his co-winners of Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009 Professor Thomas A. Steitz and Professor Ada E. Yonath and Professor Martin Chalfie, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Professor Tim Hunt, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2001. The theme of this year’s Science Congress ‘Quality Education and Excellence in Scientific Research in Indian Universities’, focused on how universities can improve and contribute. Indian Science Congress General President, Professor K.C. Pandey said that the focus continues to be on quality science education because though India has the third largest higher education sector in the world, it has not been able to keep pace with the knowledge explosion.

The Science Congress was traditionally inaugurated by the Prime Minister. In his inaugural address, Dr Manmohan Singh reiterated Professor Pandey’s concern for improving the quality of science education while exhorting our Science managers and academicians to ‘think big; think out of the box; and think ahead of the times.’ He said,“ The time has come for India to produce the Ramans and Ramanujans of the 21st Century.” The Prime Minister reminded his audience that “Tamil Nadu has a unique place in the world of Indian science.” He said, “India’s first Nobel Laureate in the sciences, Dr. C. V. Raman, was a proud student of Presidency College, Chennai. So was Professor S. Chandrasekhar. The State has also produced one of India’s greatest Mathematicians, Srinivasa Ramanujan.” Recalling his Government’s achievements in spreading higher education, Dr. Singh said that in the past five years, the Government has established eight new IITs and five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research. An Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research which seeks to produce more than 1,000 doctoral and post graduate fellows every year is also being established, he said.

Dr. Singh recalled, “Whenever I travel abroad I meet bright young people from India doing good science who tell me they look forward to the day they can continue their work back home in India.” He asked, “ How do we make our Universities more open to such talent, including for those who seek temporary affiliation?” and urged the science managers to deliberate on this. He disclosed that in August last year the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister prepared a report setting out a vision and a roadmap for India to become a global leader in science. The Council has inter alia recommended measures to attract the best of talent for science. He said, he would like the Ministries of Human Resource Development and of Science & Technology to jointly mount efforts to attract more young people to the study of science. The Prime Minister stated that Indian technologists are not adequately harnessing science for the benefit of their fellow country men and said that the report also pointed out that while C. V. Raman won the Nobel Prize for the Raman Effect, most of the instruments available in India today using this principle are imported. He said, this is not an isolated example. Many of our outstanding scientific discoveries have been converted into marketable products by technologists and firms based abroad.

Announcing that 2012-13, the Centenary year of the Indian Science Congress will be observed as the ‘Year of Science in India’, the Prime Minister said, “We have to make a concerted effort at building and motivating a new generation of scientific talent and to this end we had launched the INSPIRE or Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research programme”, he added that more than 3.5 lakh students in the age group 10-27 years have received awards and scholarships under this innovative scheme. Calling the current decade “Decade of Innovation”, Dr. Singh, however, did not forget to stress the need for maintaining the links between science and society. He said, “We believe that scientific temper would help India make the transition from a traditional to a modern society.” He said, scientific hypotheses are accepted or rejected on the basis of facts and not on the basis of their consistency with any ethical or religious belief. Citing an example, he said that now it is universally accepted that the Earth revolves around the Sun even though the belief is inconsistent with the cosmological view of some religions.

The Science Congress, a happening place where in different halls of the SRM University, scientists deliberated on topics ranging from affordable medicines for cancer to growing plants on Mars to learning from birds why they fly in formations. Professor of Cancer Research, University of Kansas, Dr. Srikanth Anant said that turmeric, garlic, ginger, saffron and capsicum used in Indian cuisine have cancer fighting qualities. While research on cur cumin (a derivative of turmeric) is in human trial stage, animal trials on others have shown promising results, he added. ISRO Satellite Centre Director, Dr. T. K. Alex got the ears of his audience when he said, ”Formation of flying of migratory birds and swarm flying of bees are excellent lessons we can learn from nature to launch constellations of small satellites that can move and work as a single unit to provide a variety of services to humankind.” Prof P Dayanandan, former Head of the Department of Botany of Madras Christian College had just finished his lecture on growing plants on Mars for future settlements, when he was mobbed by school children with questions, But, how long will the plants last? Is such endeavour really possible? inspiring the young to enter the world of science and explore new possibilities.

(PIB Features)

Disclaimer : The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB or Washington Bangla Radio.