In an exclusive interaction with Research Matters, leading scientists, including three Infosys Prize winners and a jury member, highlighted that a greater thrust on science was the need of the hour. They were sharing their impressions on the sidelines of the inauguration of the new office of the Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) that was inaugurated recently.
Prof Spenta Wadia, Prof Sriram Ramaswamy, Prof SK Satheesh, and Prof Arindam Ghosh were part of the interaction.
Prof Spenta Wadia is currently the Infosys Foundation Homi Bhabha Chair Professor at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (ICTS-TIFR), Bengaluru, and he was the Founding Director of ICTS-TIFR. Earlier, he was a member of the jury of the Infosys Prize. Prof Sriram Ramaswamy, a Professor at the Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), was also the Centre Director of TIFR-Hyderabad. He received the Infosys Prize in Physical Sciences in 2011 and served on a jury for Infosys Prize in 2014.
Prof SK Satheesh is a Professor at the Centre for Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences (CAOS), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and is also the Chair of Divecha Centre for Climate Change (DCCC) and the Director of “Future Earth” global secretariat at IISc. He was a recipient of the Infosys Prize in Physical Sciences in 2018. Prof Arindam Ghosh is a Professor at the Department of Physics, IISc and is also a recipient of the Infosys Prize in Physical Sciences in 2020.
Raising concerns about the ongoing climate crisis, Prof Satheesh noted the importance and factoring aerosols in climate and weather prediction. He noted that spending on measures to tackle climate change is the need of the hour, and if we don’t act now, today’s students (children) will face the brunt of climate change by the 2040s itself. Observing that we may not have enough time for mitigation, we need to focus on adaptation as well. He suggested the ISF aggressively take up outreach activities and awareness programs for high school students.
Adding to this discussion, Prof Spenta Wadia shared that ICTS-TIFR is also engaging, not only with the schools but also with civic society, including people from villages neighbouring ICTS on what science is and how it can elevate their life. He suggested that Infosys Science Foundation should support other institutions that do similar work and emphasised the need to communicate and reach out in the local language, Kannada.
Speaking of engagement, Prof Arindam Ghosh commended the move by the Government of Karnataka, which has established a Quantum Research Park. He shared that the Quantum Research Park has a mandate to engage with local schools, colleges and universities to give them access to infrastructure and provide exposure to the cutting-edge research and training of faculty members on quantum technologies. He noted that it might be open for the public in the coming days and is being set up now.
On some of the points discussed during the inaugural session towards enhancing the public understanding of science, Prof Sriram Ramaswamy noted that while they are good, he also cautioned that a lot would depend on what actually happens. While appreciating that given the new facility here (new office of ISF), it would depend on the number of people visiting it.
Prof Ramaswamy noted that given the state of affairs in India, we have to do it at scale, and that requires one to step out and go to the public rather than expecting them to come to you. He also observed that this need not be owned by ISF alone, but this was a task of institutions like IISc, ICTS-TIFR, and many such leading institutions in Bengaluru. ISF can join hands and lead such efforts supported by scientists in these institutions. He also suggested that ISF could explore supporting those who are already reaching out to the masses, which could help amplify their efforts.
Appreciating some of the efforts by ISF, Prof Ramaswamy recalled that establishing Chair Professorships in leading institutions in the country is a very good move. Prof Spenta Wadia added that ISF teaming up with Springer to bring out monographs in Mathematics and Engineering is a nice initiative.
Prof Spenta Wadia strongly suggested that ISF should take a leaf out of what the Simons Foundation is doing for basic sciences research in the United States and elsewhere. He suggested a similar Foundation is very much needed in India that could fund and kickstart new cutting-edge research programs and support individual and collaborative research. He extolled ISF to expand its support beyond the prize and outreach to all spheres of science.
He noted that Simons Foundation also collaborates with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US to provide grants for some projects. As India is also gearing up to set up a similar overarching funding organisation, the National Research Foundation (NRF), it may be worthwhile for ISF and all other science foundations to work with NRF.
Prof Spenta Wadia also briefly shared that ICTS-TIFR, which is primarily involved in theoretical sciences, has a holistic view of science and attempts to establish bridges between various traditional disciplines. For instance, a group at ICTS is working on the mathematical foundations of the Indian monsoon. He shared that the thinking on this was inspired by the late Prof Roddam Narasimha. Noting that the monsoon is an example of a complex system, there is also an effort at ICTS to study Black Holes which are also complex chaotic systems.
Lastly, he noted that ICTS-TIFR needs to expand and scale up their programs and research and education in new cutting-edge areas in the mathematical sciences.
Concluding the interaction, they also noted that how some of the new buildings of some corporates are being considered as the new tourist destinations, we need to lay great emphasis on the architecture of our (science/research) institutions too to make sure that they are the new temples for everyone to visit. Everyone unanimously agreed that a greater thrust to science beyond the prize and outreach was the need to the hour.