Science and the City: Research centre plans to boost curiosity by bringing science to your doorstep

By Elton Gomes

In the past, Indian society has witnessed mind-boggling guffaws by Indian politicians. From Union Minister Satyapal Singh discrediting Darwin’s theory, to Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma claiming that cow urine prevents ageing, and that peacocks bear their offspring by drinking tears. Furthermore, Shankarbhai Vegad’s comments on cow dung and urine reach the sky when it comes to the ridiculousness metre.

Small wonder then that the entire country needs some strong lessons in science. This is where Bengaluru’s National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) plays an integral role. NCBS is a research institute that is largely interested in biology. The institute has come up with an initiative called Science and the City, which encourages housing societies and apartment complexes to host lectures on topics popular in science—at no cost.

How Science and the City works

Residents can sign up by filling a form on the NCBS website, and selecting a topic.

Mukund Thattai, a scientist at NCBS told the Hindu: “The NCBS will arrange for a scientist to give a popular talk on the chosen subject. Hosts must ensure that the venue has sufficient seating, some basic refreshments and, if possible, projectors.”

Thattai added that it is up to the hosts to spread the word about the initiative, although the institute has prepared flyers to market the new program.

A genuine curiosity

As it continues to break barriers in answering age-old questions, coupled with the shift in technology, science seems to have created a buzz around the local public. A corollary to NCBS’s initiative can be said to be citizen scientists—those among the general public who are involved in scientific research through data gathering.

The Science and the City initiative attempts to hold lectures cum discussions on any topic in science. Meanwhile, citizen scientists asses their environment to gather data that aids professional scientists. Apart from these, the initiative led by Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai takes a more casual approach.

TIFR’s Chai and Why is a gathering that discusses scientific issues in a ‘science café’ format. The program has been operational since 2010.Dr. Arnab Bhattacharya, a professor and chair of TIFR’s public outreach, told the Hindu, “Our programmes have been well received in and around Mumbai, especially with their strong connect with children through the sessions with hands-on activities.”

TIFR’s Chai and Why is a program focused on generating a love for science, and also aims to inculcate a scientific temper in life.

Why should India inculcate a scientific temper?

Apart from India’s politicians desperately needing a lesson in science, it is up to Indian society to be more inclusive and aware of scientific events and developments. A sound scientific temper paves the way for rational thought. But when rational thought is stifled, curiosity and science are long forgotten, and India gets reduced to a nation practicing religious politics.

The murders of Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, and Narendra Dabholkar will always be seen as a huge blot on India’s ability to develop a scientific temper. The ruling party allegedly plans to weaken the scientific spirit among the youth. This is why initiatives like Chai and Why and Science and the City are necessary to keep the scientific spirit alive.