Popular science: Sky is the limit for Bengaluru

Bengaluru made international headlines with the successful Chandrayaan operation, the first unmanned mission to moon by India. And the institution responsible for Chandrayaan’s initiation and monitoring is none other Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In the same league as ISRO are the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Jawaharlal Nehru Pl anetarium (JNP) and so on. Indeed, among the many feathers in the city’s cap are some ofthese renowned science institutions.

But how many of us, especially students and scientifically-inclined citizens are aware of the opportunities for the local public at these major institutions? Not many, but that does not appear to be for lack of effort on the part of these institutions. Youngsters in this science city have fabulous opportunities for furthering careers in pure science.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium near High Grounds, for instance, conducts specialised shows for students, particularly, those interested in astronomy. There are courses which students can apply for if they are interested in mathematics or physics.

Providing a solid BASE

The Bangalore Association for Science Education (BASE), operating out of JNP, in collaboration with other premier institutes, organises a number of courses and events for the public. It is a non-profit organisation engaged in science popularisation, non-formal science education and training students for a career in science. BASE is running the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium since 1992.

Programmes regularly organised by BASE at the JNP campus include:

  • Science exhibitions titled ‘Science in Action’
  • Workshops on science teaching for school teachers
  • Summer programmes for school and college students
  • Interactive weekend sessions for high school students
  • Research Education Advancement Programme (REAP) for undergraduate science students in collaboration with Indian Institute of Astrophysics, National Centre for Biological Sciences and Raman Research Institute

BASE organises special activities for astronomy enthusiasts. One of them takes place on the first Sunday of every month, organised jointly with the Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers (ABAA). It begins with a lecture session in the sky-theatre where the sky of that night is simulated. Stars, constellations and planets are identified. A star chart of that day is provided to all visitors and they are taught its use.

The lecture is followed by a star watching session using telescopes manned by amateur astronomers. So all those dreaming about stars and didn’t know about this have an opportunity on the first Sunday of the coming month.

Another programme is providing opportunity to the public for viewing the sky during special occasions. Special arrangements are made for the public to view comets, solar eclipses, planetary transits. Portable telescopes are arranged in the open area for athe purpose. During live coverage of such events happening elsewhere, video projectors are used to bring the coverage on large screen for the public to see.

ABAA, a wing of BASE, is a non-profit organisation. It is one of the leading amateur astronomy clubs in India, which engages in various activities like amateur telescope-making, popularisation of astronomy, organising lectures and observation sessions for the public. Its members meet on Saturdays and Sundays after 5 PM at JNP.

BASE also conducts three day science exhibitions called ‘Science in Action’ twice a year, in which models showing the principles of science and its application are exhibited. Several schools in and around Bangalore participate in the first exhibition held in August. About 30 experiments are selected.

In the second exhibition in January, an equal number of models are set up by BASE and various research institutes like Raman Research Institute, National Aerospace Laboratory, ISRO, Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Research and Indian Institute of Science.

BASE also organises interactive weekend sessions throughout the academic year. These programmes consist of theory sessions, group discussions, demonstration experiments, problem solving, investigatory projects, computer based learning, screening of science movies and so on. All these activities provide stimulus with variety, necessary for a complete understanding of scientific concepts. Students from various schools in and around Bangalore participate in these sessions.

One such weekend course is the Research Education Advancement Programme (REAP). This is a three year course offering intense study of mathematics and physics. Faculty from IISc and IIA come here to guide the students. Students are provided with an opportunity to do a project at the IISc in their final year. These classes are moderated by educators in BASE and senior scientists from research institutes and university.

Skanda Vivek who is undergoing this course finds it very interesting as it has very good faculty as guides. “The best part is that only dedicated people join the course adding to the quality”, says he, “and as these classes are on weekends I can attend regular college simultaneously.” The 19-year-old further adds that courses like these open gates for more opportunities for students. Vivek is doing his Bachelors in Science.

Vivek says that a lot of his friends are interested in astronomy and related subjects, and these courses offer them a platform to fulfill their dreams. He regularly visits the JNP to attend the events, workshops and special shows. His friends also attend the special classes and shows for astronomy enthusiasts.

All the activities conducted by BASE take place in the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium. In a similar vein ISRO is holding World Space Biz, a space expo. This is an international space exhibition and conference open to the public. ISRO is also holding a national level workshop to understand the design of an antenna and radar system. This is scheduled for 12th and 13th February 2009 and the last date for registration is 31st December 2008.

‘Ask an astronaut’ and more

There are similar interesting events by the IIA also. On its website, the IIA has a column named – ‘Ask an astronaut’, in which one can get answers to all the queries relating to astronomy careers options to details about astronomy and astronauts. In this section you simply have to fill an online form with your queries and submit it. Your queries will be answered by professors and astronauts. For details check this link: www.iiap.res.in/outreach/astronomer.

The IISc goes a step further by organising a Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojane (KVPY), which is a programme to select prospective sceintists of the country through examinations and then scholarships are awarded to the selected few to pursue a career in this field. Similar programmes are organised for under-graduates as well. Furthermore, research papers are available online for public to read and benefit from.

All these programmes are available for the public, and yet awareness about these initiatives does not penetrate our city society the way it should. This article is an effort in that direction.

And needless to add, here is hoping that after Chandrayaan, ISRO will next launch Mangalayaan (a mission to Mars!) for the young stars of the city.

Mark your calendars

ISRO (Tel: 23415474, www.isro.org)

  • DARS 2009, National Workshop on design of Antenna and Radar System
    Date: 12-13 February 2009, Registration last date: 31 December 2008
  • World Space-Biz, A Bengaluru Space Exhibition and Conference
    Date: 29 November – 1 December 2008

IIA (Tel: 25530672, www.iiap.res.in)

  • National Science Day – exhibitions, workshops and talks. Date: 28 February every year.

IISC (Tel: 23600757, www.iisc.ernet.in)

  • Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojane (KVPY), Scholarship programme to benefit young science enthusiasts.

BASE (Tel: 22266084, www.taralaya.org)

  • Research Education Advancement Programme, three years’ course in advance Physics and Mathematics
  • Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers – organises lecture and star watching sessions using telescopes with ametuers.
    Date: First Sunday of every month.

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