Friday, August 15, 2008

Spenta Wadia is interviewed by The Deccan Herald

Spenta Wadia, well-known theoretical physicist and the founding director of the new International Centre for Theoretical Sciences was interviewed by The Deccan Herald. The link is here.
It is reproduced below due to fear of link rot.

ICTS in Blore to rekindle interest in basic sciences

Theres a need to meet paucity of good science teachers. The quality of science education in schools and colleges is perhaps one of the reasons why people dont take up basic sciences. You dont make them interesting enough. Its not only the money that takes people away says Spenta Wadia

With students turning their backs on science, the Centre has decided to seek reversal of the trend by creating a new International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) in Bangalore. This prestigious institute will, among other things, try to bring young minds back to science research by improving the quality of science teaching in colleges and universities. Likely to be inaugurated by November 2009, the ICTS will be Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s (TIFR) third centre in the Garden City. The other two centres being the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and Centre for Applicable Mathematics (CAM). The ICTS promises to create the same level of academic excellence. The centre’s director Spenta Wadia spoke to Kalyan Ray of Deccan Herald about the upcoming institute and what role it would play in attracting students to science.

Bangalore already has too many institutes. Why one more?

It will not be just another centre. It will be driven by the visitors coming from all over the world for academic programmes. There will be parallel streams of subjects so that people from different streams can interact. Programmes on statistical physics and biology can run parallel as there are new areas in biology which use fundamentals of physics. This type of centre is unique in India.

What will be its main areas of research?

There will be emphasis on activities in areas overlapping traditional fields of science like biological physics, computational science, complex systems, fluids, the interface between cosmology, particle physics and string theory and new emergent areas of mathematics with applications in biology and finance.

Will you carry out any other activities besides research?

We also want to focus on teachers’ training and outreach. There’s a need to meet paucity of good science teachers. The quality of science education in schools and colleges is perhaps one of the reasons why people don’t take up basic sciences. You don’t make them interesting enough. It’s not only the money that takes people away.

But money is a factor. Science research is simply not a paying job...

Money is a very important factor. But there will be some percentage of people who would feel inspired if the teaching is good, if you produce good textbooks and if you make things interesting and exciting, because if you excite somebody’s mind at some point, that person might think that it (solving scientific challenges) is worthwhile. The government is now investing a lot of money in basic sciences and planning to increase the emoluments of scientists. So science research can be attractive in future.

Is it the reason that you keep outreach as one of the major ICTS activities to let people know about the wonders of science?

We would like to interact with the civic society at all levels. But specifically, we would target the university and college teachers.

Will there be an industry interface?

It’s important to have an academia-industry interface. It’s not very popular in India and we should make a beginning. For example, there is the concept of Math Clinic in which if an industry — ranging from engineering to financial and biotechnology — has certain mathematical problems, a set of mathematicians are invited to solve that problem.

Do you think that centres like ICTS will help in bringing students back to science?

Hopefully yes. We need to inspire students. Lack of inspirational teachers and inspirational labs are driving students away from science. Our existing laboratories are pathetic. In experimental sciences we are not good precisely because the laboratories in high school and colleges are so primitive.

Why did you choose Bangalore for the centre?

It is important for this centre to have already established scientific centres around it so that there will be mutual benefit. It’s a two-way symbiotic relationship.

How much land you have been promised by the government?

Originally we were shown 34 acres. Now we have got about 20 acres and trying for 15 acres more. It’s difficult to get lands in Bangalore. But the ICTS residential areas have to be close to the academic complex as the visitors will reside there. If they are unable to stay nearby, the effective time the visitors will spend in the centre will be far less. That’s why we are seeking additional land from Karnataka government.

Where’s the institution going to come up and when do you plan to start the construction?

The land is at Hesarghatta in Bangalore. Once the land is transferred to us, we will start the construction work. The funding — a couple of hundred crores of rupees — will come from the department of atomic energy through the TIFR, Mumbai.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Annoucement of membership to editorial board

To all those loyal readers of this blog who also work in hadron physics, please note that I am now a member of the Editorial Board of European Physical Journal A. Part of duties is to solicit high quality articles within the aims and scope of the journal. Please consider this such a request.

Police firing in Kashmir...

I guess one simply gets used to headlines such as `Police firing in Kashmir: 5 killed'. Whatever the rights and wrongs, how come this kind of thing happens every other day? Of course Kashmir could be replaced by Manipur, Nagaland,...Last year in Andhra we had police opening fire and several persons killed. Since this is a private reflection, comments are being turned off.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Abhinav Bindra's olympic gold

Good news! That too in a sport where there is no chance of the athlete ever testing positive for performance enhancing substances, unless coffee or tea can be considered such. I wonder if I write a paper and test positive for coffee or tea, will the referee strip me of the paper? Anyway, the headlines have also screamed that he will now command up to 2 crores for endorsements. So that is what this is all about?!

Anbumani Ramadoss on Homosexuality laws

There was a newsitem which I only briefly looked at. Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss says that to arrest the spread of HIV, it is important to legalize homosexuality. I would say that this ought to be a consequence, and not the raison d'etre for getting rid of such a blot on our collective conscience as the absurd, outdated homosexuality laws. To suggest that in the year 2008 consenting adults, should they choose to cohabit, be considered criminals is way beyond the pale. Correct me if I am wrong, but some one did file a PIL saying that these idiotic and unconscionable laws be scrapped, but was dismissed under the pretext that the PIL should be filed by an aggrieved party. Maybe the courts are too afraid to strike down the laws. If can be legislated away, so much the better.

Roddam Narasimha on India's 61st

In the Sunday section of The Hindu, they had the views of many persons on India's 61st. This included the well-known scientist, engineer, technocract, intellectual, Roddam Narasimha (we like 300 m from him). I am happy to see such a person comment on a political matter. The question is not whether one agrees or disagrees, but in an atmosphere where scientists are supposed to have no views at all, it is good to hear someone speak. Hope to hear more from such persons.

Hiroshima Day, 2008

August 6, 2008 has come and gone. The Hindu had a story on page 12 and Deccan Herald on page 14 (or something like that). It is worth spending a moment thinking about what it was really all about. And to pay homage to the victims. A good reminder of what war is really all about. As I write this, there is news of a war in some province in Georgia. By now one would have thought that Russians would have known what it is really like to roll in tanks and send fighter craft to bomb civilian areas. Collateral damage, I think they all call it.

Bangalore and Ahmedabad, July 2008

This blog fell silent after those terrible events. It was too painful to write about.