Interacting with Nobel Laureates

Prof. Gross and most of his fellow laureates advocate ‘Curiosity-Driven Science’; He emphasized that India needs to spend more on basic and applied sciences to foster growth.
Interacting with Nobel Laureates

The recent Nobel Prize Series India 2017, brought together large number of students, researchers and scientists from all over India to interact with the Nobel Laureates at various events. This was a unique opportunity to spark creative thinking, innovation and inspiration. In one such program Prof. David J. Gross, Nobel Laureate Physics 2004, delivered a lecture on "Frontiers of Fundamental Physics" at the IISc Bangalore, but for most of the time, he spoke about science in India. In Prof. Gross's experience, when politicians speak of science, they usually refer to 'Technology-Driven Science' which has direct applications. While Prof. Gross lauded Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiative, "Make in India", he cautioned that making in India must be preceded by inventing in India, which, in turn, must be preceded by discovering in India. Prof. Gross and most of his fellow laureates advocate 'Curiosity-Driven Science'. He emphasized that India needs to spend more on basic and applied sciences to foster growth. This indeed was a very important message.

The Scientific Revolution was a period during 17th century when new knowledge, ideas and theories on physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry and other sciences were discovered. The scientific discoveries and technological inventions irreplaceably fueled the Industrial Revolution. We witnessed this period again during 20th-century when we saw great theories mostly in physics like Quantum Mechanics and Relativity, revolutionizing our present day science. The evolution of Quantum Mechanics changed all our perspective on science. Much of the information technology-the entire IT-revolution, that we rely on, from Microcircuits to Lasers, and liquid crystal displays, would not have happened if there was no Quantum Mechanics. The discoveries, even if they have to do nothing with our daily lives–change the way that we see the world. Nobody had expected that by studying Einstein's General Theory of Relativity we can invent Global Positioning System (GPS). Riemannian geometry was considered useless for a long time but it enabled Einstein to formulate general theory of relativity.

Prof. Gross rightly said that India has much richer traditions of scientific research in comparison to China. The decimal system, the concept of zero and technique of Algebra originated in India, were introduced to Europe, became the basis for the Scientific Revolution. In the early part of the 20th Century, the trio Bose, Raman and Saha-quantum Indians, revolutionized the world of Physics. Satyendra Nath Bose in 1924, published a research paper with Albert Einstein on how groups of light particles called photons (Bosons) behave, providing the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and experimentally observed Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC), now referred as the fifth state of matter. The name boson, (Higgs boson) after S N Bose is indeed a great honor for India. C V Raman discovered Raman Effect -a feeble phenomenon using modest apparatus which did not cost more than few hundred rupees. Raman Effect is a significant tool for analyzing the composition of liquids, gases and solids. The Bose–Einstein condensate is extremely useful in research and innovation for future technologies.

India contributed a lot of quality research literature before 1947 because it was more curiosity driven. However, after Independence India could not maintain pace with the west. Even to this date with a large infrastructure, the science research is still in a nascent stage. The higher education institutions have remained mostly teaching universities. The percentage of GDP spent on research remained low around 1% and the private sector doesn't fund research. Publishing quality research papers in top journals requires infrastructure like top quality equipment and the right kind of atmosphere. Today, the introduction of Academic Performance Indicator (API) by the UGC is forcing teachers to remain more focused on earning points and publishing quantity of papers for promotions. This has contributed to the cancerous growth of substandard research work being published in mediocre journals. These are the reasons for India's poor global university rankings and wining Noble Prizes. There is nothing wrong with the minds of students or teachers. These people show excellent performance abroad because of being in a different atmosphere. 

Curiosity-driven research is a long term investment and to devalue this research simply because it can't promise an immediate specific application is not justifiable. There has always been a gap between the fundamental research and technological innovations and the basic research has always remained a driving force behind the applied sciences. Finding practical applications for all sciences is also not possible. Any scientific investigation may not payoff for years or may not payoff at all. Then, without curiosity and deep desire to understand the universe we cannot explore the nature and our place within it. It is not for today or for some years, but for long-term survival and propagation of the human species. The world would be a poorer place especially one with no hope of ever understanding this amazing universe. If we want progress to continue in the next century, we have to encourage basic science research. As Prof Gross referred Dr. Abdus Salam's quote "one cannot be good at technology unless one is good at basic science". 

In J&K, we have witnessed a tremendous growth in the number of higher educational institutions which has put a premium on quality assurance. The lack of quality has created huge unemployment problems. Our education is all theoretical/bookish, marks oriented and based on rote memorization, where students after degrees move in search of jobs. After plus-two, the students are generally interested to join Engineering, Medicine or Business with the sole aim of making money in high-paying tech jobs. Civil services attract talented youth even those holding professional degrees. Although, science and mathematics have natural elegance and beauty by which we understand the most interesting truths about the natural world, we fail to attract talented youth towards it and the career in these subjects has remained the last choice with the students. The focus of higher education should be more on sciences, in view of the fact that it has the highest job creation, most effective in Global ranking of universities and Noble Prize awards.

If the quality of science education has to improve, the focus of the Govt should be to support sciences from lower levels and encourage young talented minds to explore its opportunities. The main focus should be on: quality of teaching sciences, laboratories equipments, flexible funding in these areas, encouraging people who are promoting science education, maintaining fair and reasonable teacher-transfers and improving academic administration. Administrative effectiveness is a major factor that can determine the whole success.

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