Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"We Need Creative Scientists" - APJ Abdul Kalam Speaks to youngsters

In science, impossible does not exist. Inventions and discoveries are the products of constant endeavour by creative minds, envisioning ever-new outcomes. With vivid imagination and consistent effort, the forces of the universe can be made to work for an inspired mind. How do we fire up the minds of India's youth who are the foundation for cutting edge research and usher in a renaissance in Indian science?

We need a new generation of creative scientists. For that, we need an environment for research and challenging missions. Above all, academic institutions must have well-equipped laboratories and professors who have the proven capacity to attract youth to science. I have noticed that Indian universities lack a research culture. I believe where there is good research, good teaching is possible; where there is good teaching, good research emanates. Hence, I visualise our universities transforming into research-cum-teaching hubs. This calls for the presence of a number of renowned research professors on campus to attract bright students. Such a research environment will provide credibility to university departments and, in turn, bring in funding by industry and R&D laboratories for research programmes and projects.

For a conducive environment for research the actions of two Nobel laureates who have facilitated research in their own unique way are instructive. The first is the culture of magnanimity demonstrated by Norman E. Borlaug. When he was given the M.S. Swaminathan Award on March 15, 2005, at the age of 91, in Delhi, he did not stop at just naming the founding fathers of the Green Revolution in India. He recalled with pride the White Revolution. Then came the surprise. He identified scientists in the audience-Sanjay Rajaram, a wheat specialist; S.K. Vasal, a maize specialist; and B.R. Barwale, a seed specialist-asked them to rise, commended their contribution to Indian and Asian agriculture and ensured the audience cheered. Such magnanimity is what motivates the scientific community and it should spread in all our research institutions.

The second is an incident narrated in G. Venkataraman's book The Big and the Small about Sir C.V. Raman. When President Rajendra Prasad invited him to stay at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and receive the first Bharat Ratna award in the last week of January 1954, Raman declined and wrote back in polite terms saying that he was unable to make it to the investiture ceremony. He explained that as the guide of a student in the final stages of submitting a PhD thesis ahead of the January 31 deadline, he felt that he should be with the student until it was completed and signed. He gave up the pomp of a glittering ceremony associated with the highest national honour because he felt his duty required him to be with the student.

Will our experienced scientists inspire research scholars by emulating the standards set by such great masters? That is not all. We need a pragmatic blueprint for a revolution in Indian science research and technological applications that offer challenging missions to attract youth. For this, there are goals and priorities that must address the national need for growth. Here are the top 10:

Ability to spot talent in the young and the inexperienced. He was a unique find for India in the early 20th century-Srinivasa Ramanujan, a hardworking youth who failed in all subjects except mathematics in the intermediate examination. A dockyard officer in then Madras came across a mathematics research paper by the student. He sent this paper to Professor G.H. Hardy at Cambridge University, which led to the discovery of the mathematics legend. Recognition from the Royal Society of London followed. The Srinivasa Ramanujan Museum at Kumbakonam speaks volumes about his genius. Even today, throughout the world, researchers are trying to solve the challenging mathematical problems postulated by Ramanujan. What we need in our country is that both educational and research institutions should have the capacity to spot unique talent wherever it springs up, with or without formal qualifications.

Research in the area of forecasting earthquakes hours before, days before and even weeks before they strike is of paramount importance. This calls for multinational and multidisciplinary research on geology, earthquake science, earth sciences, nuclear science, electromagne-tism as well as a modelling and simulation environment using super computers.

In another 20 years, Earth, Moon and Mars will become an integrated economic entity. It is essential for India to mount a programme in planetary sciences and life sciences related to different planets.

Today, the cost for orbiting one kilogram in space is nearly $20,000. It is essential to work for low-cost access to space, so that orbital costs can be reduced to about $2,000 per kg. This will result in more satellite launches, our communication transponders in orbit would increase and connect India's 600,000 villages in a cost-effective manner. In parallel, fibre optic connectivity must reach all panchayats by 2020.

Malaria is again appearing with a vengeance. It is essential for our life science scientists to work on the development and deployment of a vaccine to combat multiple malaria vectors in a time-bound manner.

The only way to control and finally eliminate HIV AIDS coupled with tuberculosis is by inventing a vaccine. Research and development must be intensified towards this end.

The bulk of India's population lives in its 600,000 villages. Provision of urban amenities in rural areas, which envisages provision of physical connectivity, electronic connectivity and knowledge connectivity, will lead to economic connectivity and employment generation in multiple skills in rural areas. The Government has taken up the Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA) programme in nine states in a public-private partnership. India needs 7,000 puras. A mission mode programme has to emerge for completing all 7,000 PURA projects in the next 10 years.

As part of an energy independence programme, every state must frame a policy to become carbon-neutral by 2030. That means all transportation systems-land, air and sea-and static power generation systems must switch to electric, biofuel or solar power, or a combination of all three. Emulsification technology for substituting petrol and diesel in automobiles and static installations has to be developed. With thorium ore available in the country in plenty, we have to design and develop large scale nuclear power plants that run on thorium-fuelled reactors. Intensive research is essential to convert thorium into a fissile material for this application.

The present trend among young people after Class XII is to take up engineering, medicine or management courses because of an assurance of employment. To attract the best minds to science research at the MSc and doctoral programmes, it is essential that an exclusive science cadre is introduced to facilitate a career in well known scientific laboratories and universities.

The nation needs a smart water way grid similar to the Golden Quadrilateral for national highways. This would definitely enable low-cost carbon-efficient transport of people and goods across the length and breadth of the country, provide year-round irrigation, contain floods and droughts, generate much-needed additional power and also serve as an economic asset with provision for fishing and eco-tourism. The water way grid will also serve a strategic purpose in times of war.

This is, at best, a beginning towards becoming a stronger nation, one that is concerned about the progress and welfare of its people. There are many more areas in which scientific research programmes and projects are to be initiated for economic development. This is our national challenge this century.

The writer is former president of India and an eminent scientist. He received the Bharat Ratna in 1997.

Reproduced From India Today. © 2011. LMIL. All rights reserved.

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