The United Nations’ General Assembly has unanimously approved a resolution proclaiming year 2022 as the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD2022). The scientific disciplines of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology are called basic sciences because they provide a fundamental understanding of natural phenomena and the processes by which natural resources are transformed. Basic science provides the essential means to meet crucial challenges such as universal access to food, energy, water, health and communication technologies.
Science is not just about inventions and technological advancements, it is also about the spirit of rational inquiry that can guide us in our lives. The constitution mentions this as one of our Fundamental Duties (Article 51A(h)--to develop scientific temper and spirit of inquiry. A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future. We need to create the right ecosystem for the youngsters to become future leaders in science and lead our nation into the 21st century, as envisaged in NEP 2020.
We need to move beyond classrooms for better science communication in regional languages to reach out to people in their mother tongue and to inculcate a scientific temper and the spirit of inquiry. At the same time, government must take steps to popularize science through books, documentary and broadcasts.
We have a scientific social responsibility (SSR), akin to corporate social responsibility. We also need to introspect and find out ways to excel in the field of STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics) research, as has been mentioned by Prof Qazi Azhar of Michigan State University in his presentation at NIT Srinagar. We must increase public and private investments in Research & Development, nurture research scholars to do high-quality research, resolve bottlenecks in patenting regime and nurture promising ideas that find wide applications, as was done in recently organized Materials conclave under the chairmanship of Prof MSR Rao, IIT Madras. We believe that support to the basic sciences indeed contributes to poverty reduction and sustainability and are hopeful that Prof Rao will extend support in opening the local chapter of MRSI in J & K.
We need to celebrate the role of our scientists, science communicators, science teachers, policymakers and institutions that have contributed in giving relief to humanity. We also must recount inspirational stories of our great scientists to our youngsters and encourage them to take up careers in science.
More than dozen INSPIRE internship programmes of DST New Delhi were conducted to inspire and encourage bright minds to take up science under my chairmanship and an option of inviting Nobel Laureates for interaction with young minds was indeed marvelous.
I wish the programme to start soon for the larger good of society and science. In 2021, thirteen laureates were awarded Nobel Prize, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from the earth’s climate to our sense of touch. I am confident that the day is not far to see the recipients of prestigious prize in this part of the globe, as number of sons and daughters of soil are working in prestigious science laboratories.
Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman was confident of winning the Nobel Prize in Physics and he booked tickets in July, even though the awards were to be announced in November. He did eventually win the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him.
He was the first Asian and first non-White to receive any Nobel Prize in the sciences. Ramanujan, like Swami Vivekananda, lived a short life but one that is full of accomplishments that we shall always be proud of. Students of his age used to juggle with algebra, trigonometry and arithmetic problems but Ramanujan found theorems to solve tricky trigonometric problems.
They transformed 20th-century mathematics and continue to shape the subject in the present century. Jagadish Chandra Bose in 1895, two years before Marconi’s demonstration wireless communication using radio waves. Many of the microwave components familiar today - waveguides, horn antennas, polarizers, dielectric lenses and prisms, and even semiconductor detectors of electromagnetic radiation-were invented and used by Bose.
He also suggested the existence of electromagnetic radiation from the Sun, which was confirmed in 1944. For a long time he had been thinking of building a laboratory. The result was the establishment of the Bose Research Institute in Kolkata. It continues to be a famous centre of research in basic sciences. Homi Bhabha realized the need for an institute fully devoted to fundamental research and wrote to J.R.D. Tata for funding. This resulted in the establishment of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai in 1945. In 1948.
Under his guidance, nuclear reactors like the Apsara, Cirus and Zerlina were built. A multi-faceted personality, Bhabha was immensely fond of music, painting and writing. Vikram Sarabhai had his early education in a private school, ‘Retreat’ run by his parents on Montessori lines. This atmosphere injected into the young boy the seeds of scientific curiosity, ingenuity and creativity.
With a natural inclination towards physics and mathematics, Sarabhai pioneered India’s space age by expanding the Indian Space Research Organization. India’s first satellite Aryabhata launched in 1975, was one of the many projects planned by him. Like Bhabha, Sarabhai wanted the practical application of science to reach the common man. Thus he saw a golden opportunity to harness space science to the development of the country in the fields of communication, meteorology, remote sensing and education. Dr. Ali Jan as popularly known in Kashmir was an outstanding student who earned many medals and was conferred Padma Shri in 1975 for his meritorious services in healthcare and medical education.
A 21st century education is about giving students the skills they need to succeed in this new world, and helping them grow the confidence to practice those skills. With so much information readily available to them, 21st century skills focus more on making sense of that information, sharing and using it in smart ways. Mr. Ibrahim Lincoln rightly communicated to the teacher of his son, “teach him to sell his talents and brains to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul”. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave.
Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind and in God. We need to train our children to face modern challenges and equip them with virtues, as Lincoln wished for his son.
After Glasgow Climate Change Conference, Director NIT Srinagar Prof Rakesh Sehgal, and Registrar NIT Srinagar Prof S K Bukhari encouraged faculty and students to take up environmental issues seriously. In this context, event on environment, with a title “Our Relations with Nature” was held at NIT Srinagar on 11th Nov 2021, in collaboration with other Institutions/ Govt & Private organizations and in association with NLCO Kashmir, which was inaugurated by the Shri P K Pole, Hon’ble Divisional Commissioner Kashmir.
The objective was to encourage students to take leading role in protecting the environment (which is hugely complex system that includes the air we breathe, the land we live on, the water we drink and the climate around us) through scientific knowledge, mass awareness and human consciousness. A group of intellectuals, social reformers, technocrats and environmental lovers have assured to take the mission forward across Kashmir valley in phased manner, taking up water bodies which are being polluted. Thus, it has been decided that the Environmental Symposium Series shall be organized across valley, accompanying volunteers from batch 2021 and the scientific calendar for such events shall be released soon. Ministry of Education (MoE), Govt of India has also advised to visit the districts of Kashmir region for review, monitor and implementation of major schemes and programmes of Higher Education, Schools and Skill Development.
Dr. M. A. Shah, Head, Department of Physics, National Institute of Technology Srinagar
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK