2022 – Year of Science

M. Ashraf Shah

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 physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics are called basic sciences because they provide a fundamental understanding of natural phenomena and the processes by which natural resources are transformed. This science provides the essential means to meet crucial challenges such as universal access to food, water, energy, 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–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 have a scientific social responsibility (SSR), akin to corporate social responsibility (CSR).
We need to move beyond the class rooms for better science communication in regional languages to reach out to students in their mother tongue and to inculcate a scientific temper and the spirit of inquiry. Simultaneously, government must take steps to popularize science through books, documentary and broadcasts. Ministry of culture recently sanctioned Science Center in Srinagar, though I wished Science City, like Pushpa Gujral Science City, Jalandhar. We also need to introspect and find out ways to excel in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) research, as has been mentioned by Prof Qazi Azhar of Michigan State University in his presentation at NIT Srinagar. In a recently organized Materials conclave and AGM under the chairmanship of Prof MS R Rao of IIT Madras, it is expected that local chapter of MRSI shall be open soon. The conclave received accolades across the globe. 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. Abrahim 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.
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. 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. I believe that support to the basic sciences indeed contributes to poverty reduction and hopeful that humanity lovers will keep on supporting basic science like the businessman and innovator Alfred Nobel, who dedicated whole of his wealth for sciences and instituted a prize (Nobel Prize) for those who do good to humanity.
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 many 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. The great lady, Madam Marie Curie received Nobel Prize twice, one for Chemistry and one for Physics. She met Pierre Curie at the age of 35, with whom she shared one prize. Pierre was taken by Marie’s uncommon intellect and drive and proposed her. “It would…be a beautiful thing,” he wrote, “to pass through life together: your dream for your country; our dream for humanity; our dream for science.” Ramanujan, like Swami Vivekananda, lived a short life but one that is full of accomplishments that we shall always be proud of. Ramanujan found theorems to solve tricky trigonometric problems and 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. 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. A multi-faceted personality, Bhabha was immensely fond of music, painting and writing. With a natural inclination towards physics and mathematics, Vikram 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.
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 P K Pole, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. The objective was to encourage students to take leading role in protecting the environment 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, restoring water bodies and NIT Srinagar will take a leading role. Thus, it has been decided that the Environmental Symposium Series shall be organized across valley, accompanying volunteers 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 strengthen the implementation of major schemes and programmes of Higher Education, Schools and Skill development. Without elaborating, I will conclude year 2021 with Ghalib’s verse that –
Bas ke dushwaar hai har kaam ka asaan hona, Aadmi ko bhi maessar nahi insaan hona
(The author is presently a faculty of department of Physics, NIT Srinagar)