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.

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