Sunday, May 15, 2016

Why Block the Useful Science?

By Vinod Varshney
India’s policy-making is overwhelmed by those who have mastered the art of blocking benefits of science reaching to farmers. Sounds preposterous, but it is true, especially in the field of genetically modified crops, which hold the promise of revolutionising Indian agriculture. But these are not being allowed to move from lab to land on ideological grounds. The arguments in opposition are sometimes facetious, like these are meant to benefit only MNCs, who have monopoly over the technology and intend to bring vast Indian agriculture under their control for their own profit to the bewilderment of Indian farmers. Using scientific jargon, they also allege that it might lead to uncontrolled genetic pollution in other varieties and consumption of genetically modified foods might also be harmful to human health. They ignore that genetically modified crops are being grown in so many countries, developing and developed both, cutting down input cost, improving yield and quality of the food. While they raise spectre of damage to health, they pass over the fact that we import such foods and millions of Indians eat them in the country as well as abroad without any harm.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

John Gurdon Compensates Kalam’s Loss

By Vinod Varshney

APJ Abdul Kalam was nostalgically remembered in the Rashtriya Kishore Vaigyanik Sammelan, a 3-day apex national event of child scientists, which began Monday (04-01-2016) at Mysore University campus. Child scientists fondly remembered their Guru who used to seek a pledge from them to dream high and be creative. However, the loss was compensated by presence of British Nobel Laureate John B Gurdon who was as inspiring in his 82nd year as ever and resurrected the vision of Kalam.

Inaugurating the Rashtriya Kishore Vaigyanik Sammelan, the 82-year Gurdon presented a comparative view of how life has totally changed, thanks to scientific developments during last fifty years. ‘There was a time when we used to communicate through post, but today communication has become spontaneous and almost instantaneous. Right from television to genetically modified crops, one can see enormous developments have taken place in the field of science. Science and technology has completely changed the lives of people. On the basis of the achievements in science & technology during last 50 years, one can predict what may come through science in next 50 years’, he said.

Giving a historical perspective while speaking in the inaugural session, which saw an attendance of more than 5,000 delegates from all over the country and abroad, he told how during the first world war, people died even due to flu, but now antibodies have been discovered to fight this. Cars today can be driven without drivers, and small piece of skin can be cultured to become different parts of the body. Later in the evening in a plenary session of the Indian Science Congress, a five-day event started a day before, he gave a talk on his Nobel-winning research on this very issue, showing how by a few cells taken from the skin could be used to make cardiac cells, macular cells and even brain cells, which can be transplanted to cure related incurable diseases.

Odd 200 selected child scientists would be presenting their research in the ‘Rashtriya Kishore Vaigyanik Sammelan’ during the three days. They have been selected for that after a lengthy nation-wide exercise in which one million children of 10-17 year age group participated through their projects. They conceptualized, planned and executed projects with the help of their teacher guides to solve a select problem of their surrounding using scientific methods. Largely these projects relate to the focal theme. This spurs creative thinking and develops scientific temper in them. It has been found that they offer simple, innovative and cost-effective solutions to many unsolved problems. The focal theme this year was ‘Understanding Weather & Climate’.

Seeing the glowing faces of the child scientists, one can say, the 23rd Rashtriya Kishore Vaigyanik Sammelan turned out a rewarding experience for them as they were thrilled at getting opportunities to interact with Nobel Laureates and other top scientists and seeking autographs and selfies.

Most of the participants have been selected through the National Children Science Congress which took place at Mohali between 27 and 31 December. The event is organised every year by National Council of Science & Technology Communication, a department of the union government. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Indian Science To Get a Makeover

Prime minister Narendra Modi released the Vision 2035 for India's science & technology

By Vinod Varshney

Indian science may get a makeover in coming years if the announcements made by the prime minister Narendra Modi are sincerely implemented. More monetary allocations will be made for strategic projects. Not just more money, its efficacy would also be monitored by scientific audits to be undertaken in scientific departments and institutions. This apart a major focus of the government’s science and technology policy would be to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

The PM gave a sort of blue print of the challenges ahead and was lavishly cheered during his inspiring speech addressing around 15,000 scientist delegates including five Nobel Laureates, one Field Medal winner scientist among around hundred foreign participants and hundreds of top Indian scientists in the inaugural session of the 103rdIndian Science Congress at Mysore University.

He declared innovation as his government’s mantra for success. 'We have pledged to double national investments in innovation; and, build a global partnership that combines the responsibility of governments with the innovative capacity of the private sector. We need innovation to make renewable energy much cheaper; more reliable; and, easier to connect to transmission grids’, he said.

While he talked of making more funds available for science and technology, he also emphasized that funding of science should not just remain the duty of government, but should also be an obligation and responsibility of the private sector.

Not losing sight of the focal theme of the Indian Science Congress, ‘Science and Technology for Indigenous Development in India’ he narrated an array of issues where Indian scientists would be required to offer cost-efficient and environment-friendly solutions.

He talked of the challenge of rapidly increasing urban population,‘For the first time in human history, we are in an urban century. By the middle of this century, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.'  

His speech had a flair of the recently concluded global agreement to cut carbon emissions for saving the planet. He set the agenda before the scientists, especially the younger lot, that they need to find the cost effective and efficient solutions which can also take care of the environment and the ecology. He urged to develop technologies which can provide prosperity with less reliance on energy.
‘I suggested an international network of 30-40 universities and labs focusing for next ten years on transforming the way we produce, distribute and consume energy. We will also pursue this in G-20. We will make it easier to do science and research in India, improve science administration, and expand the supply and improve the quality of science education and research in India.’

He spoke of an important new area, marine sciences, ‘Oceans occupy more than 70% of our planet; and, over 40% of humanity and 60% of the world’s largest cities are found within 100 kilometers of the coast. We are at the cusp of a new era, where oceans will become important drivers of our economies.We will set up an advanced centre of research in marine biology and biotechnology and establish a network of coastal and island research stations in India and abroad. We have entered into agreements on marine science and ocean economy with several countries. We will also hold an International Conference on ‘Ocean economy and Pacific Island Countries in New Delhi in 2016’ he declared.

He released the Vision 2035 also for the science and technology that India needs to focus on.