The Blog Physica Page on Condensed matter books is up. It is a page under construction and a lot more work has to be done. For example, as of now, it is egregiously weak on soft condensed matter books, books on semiconductor physics. So, dear reader, if you think you can help us in that regard, please do so.

Sometime ago, I came across the site by Arvind gupta at IUCAA Children’s Science Centre. For those who haven’t heard of him before, he is the 1988 winner of the National Award for Science Popularisation amongst Children, conferred by the Department
of Science & Technology, Government of India. And a recipient of Distinguished Almunus Award 2000 from the IITK “In recognition of his outstanding and seminal contributions in developing low-cost science-base teaching aids for young children and thus doing a great service to humanity at large”. (or you could just watch him in action at youtube right at the end of this post).

The site has a great collection of material regarding popular science and education in general. I particularly liked the comic titled the story of physics with a slightly humorous slant. You should check it out sometime, you might like it too. It is a children’s history of physics[1] with pages like the one below

Or, if you think you have already outgrown comics, you might like articles like this one – “In Search for the Meaning of Science” by A.K.Roy . There are many articles like the one by Roy which take a hard look into what science means for Indian society – deep reading, indeed.

And as promised, here is the youtube video of a “talk” by Arvind Gupta.

Arvind Gupta – Toys from Everyday Stuff

This video was shot at MAIS, Bangalore when tinkerer and toy-maker, Arvind Gupta (winner of the National Award for Science Popularisation) worked with kids of Std. 06 and showed them how to make some exciting inventions from ordinary stuff like straws, film roll cannisters, empty toothpaste tubes and string!

[1] By children’s history, I mean a kind of a kind of history which is consciously oversimplified (for example, by opting deliberately for a whiggish tone) so that it is accessible to children.

The Documentary on Rabindranath Tagore by Satyajit Ray – thanks to those who uploaded it on the YouTube !

Sometime ago, Arunn, a professor from IITM put up a post in his blog complaining about the lack of enthusiasm for science blogging in India. I have nothing much to add to what he has already said.

However, something is painfully clear – I, among the few Indians blogging on Science, haven’t done enough to make the situation better. And hence, the title of this post.

I very much sympathize with Arunn’s frustration – I am no stranger to that feeling. Last year, when I was still an undergraduate, I had along with some other undergraduate colleagues of mine started a blog named blogphysica . From whatever experience I have gained from that exercise, I can safely say that it is almost equally difficult to convince students about blogging science.

And that is just a restatement of what has already been said . A more pertinent question is of course, what can be done about it ? That, I realize is a difficult question – and it should be answered in the way all such difficult questions are answered : Formulate solutions, Attempt to implement them, Note the obstacles that arise, Go back to the drawing board armed with that knowledge and Repeat till you succeed.

This is a game in establishing a vibrant Indian SciBlogsphere and we are not going to win it in a day. It is very tempting for us to get annoyed when say, Scian Melt gets disbanded or when Panta Rei gets very few entries , but, I think we will win this game in the end .

Do I have anything more concrete to say than that broadly optimistic assertion ? Yes, indeed. Among the links to the left, you will find a list of links listed under the title “India/Science”. That list, captures in a way all that I know about Indian SciBlogging.

In particular, let me draw your attention to some blogs whose names have never been raised in this discussion before [1]. Indian Science News and Popular Science Writing – both maintained by a journalist named Y.Bala Murali Krishna. If we dig a little bit, we come across the “about us” posts tucked among the early posts in the blog [2].

So, we are told

Welcome to this “Popular Science Writing” blog aimed at promoting popular science writing for the young and the old and even the scientists,besides inculcating scientific temper.Any articles on this aspect are most welcome. …

I am bureau chief-cum-special correspondent of the United News of India(UNI) now working in Panaji-Goa specialising in science and technology, media and related issues besides photography. I have also been a journalism educator and resource person to the National Council for Science and Technology Communication(NCSTC) under the Union Ministry of Science and Technology….

I have been engaged in participating in various science writing workshops across the country as a resource person besides various annual National Science Communication Congress sessions.Our aim is to prepare a dedicated band of people including the scientists, particularly the youth,who could write for different media organisations exposing the potential of the Indian Science and Scientists to the common man.The process involves application of various journalistic forms of writing, known as genres and avoiding jargon.

and the second blog welcomes us with the post

Hi friends,

This blog is to bring out some of the best science stories contributed from journalists,particularly of the United News of India, across the length and the bredth of India to benefit the readers.

It is aimed at encouraging popular science writing by post graduate students,scientists and journalists.

So, my question is this – How many other science writers are out there , who will be both eminently capable and very much interested in advancing the cause of Ind-Sci-Blogging ? And how is it that such kind of science writers are rare in Indian blogsphere despite the fact that we have whole institutions devoted to science communication ?

Note :

[1] To be fair to Arunn, he has already made it clear that his interest in this particular post is to understand “why “scientists” (or say, Ph. Ds. who have an expertise) in India seems not to have picked blogging yet as a means for communication.” And the blog I am now referring to, does not fall under that category.

[2] Those familiar with blogsphere would probably remark that it is not a very good blogging practice to bury the “About us” page among the early posts.

A peripheral glance at this blog should convince the reader that I enjoy reading more than writing. I write very sporadically (I do realise how cruel it is to the blog-readers ..). But, those who frequent here often will hopefully realise a kind of “silent blogging” happening as I update my links to the left.

For example, I’ve created new lists as new Maths blogs came along and my lists were updated when geology/chemistry blogsphere grew to its present size. I call this “silent blogging” for a very good reason. One, I am trying via these links to attract the attention of my readers to these blogs which is very similar to what a lot of posts in blogsphere end up doing. Secondly, the list of links to the left is my way of conveying my tastes – to tell those who visit this blog what sort of stuff I find interesting. In that sense, this list is a form of self-commentary, a way of communicating my perspectives.

A substantial part of what people are is what they find interesting. On that vein, I’ve included a link to my Google Reader(Shared Items) page (Feed URL) . It’s mostly a list of posts from all over the physics blogsphere. Occasionally, you might find a non-physics post, but, I will try to stick to physics posts for now.

As a compensation, here is a list of non-physics links which I found interesting.

1) Here are some great photos of the institute from which I got my undergraduate degree. It shows a lot of buildings as they were under construction. To my colleagues from there who are reading this, how many of these venues can you identify ?

2) Via one of my schoolmates, I came to know of this blog by Kalyan Verma. He seems to be a great lover of wildlife photography and has some interesting photos up on his blog.

3) Terence tao has an interesting post about the Navier Stokes equation – Why Global Regularity for Navier Stoke is Hard ? (By the way, I should probably sit down and write a post on whatever little I’ve learnt about Ricci flow and Perelman’s proof on Poincare’s conjecture – but, unfortunately, it is a bit too much effort to put together all my notes…)

4) See also his post about mathematical education – there is an interesting discussion in the comment section about math-literacy and its significance in the present world.

5) Recently, a lot has been written about the E8 story. Rather than flex my fragile representation-theoretic muscle, I will ask the readers to read an exposition by John Baez .

6) Also read the recent “This week’s finds in Mathematical Physics” dealing with quasicrystalline tiling and Islamic architecture apart from E8.

7) Carl Zimmer has an interesting post titled Said the Mouse to the Other Mouse, “Dude, You Would Not Believe The Colors I’m Seeing….” based on this paper in Nature. By changing a gene, biologists have made Mouse see colours that it normally cannot see ! Though Zimmer quiet doesn’t come around to talking about it, I was reminded of Ramachandran’s discussion (on what is known as “Qualia” in philosophy) in his book “Phantoms in the Brain”.

8 ) Talking of Ramachandran, if you haven’t read/heard it already you should definitely have a look at Reith lectures by Vilayanur S.Ramachandran titled “The Emerging Mind”.

P.S. : Recently, I was tagged by the “Entertaining Research” Blog asking me to link this post by the “Effect measure” blog in which they have resolved to explain a technical paper on “a mathematical model to investigate the spread of antiviral resistance in the control of pandemic influenza”. In their own words

Why consider this an “experiment”? The experiment was to see if a paper that used a coupled system of non-linear ordinary differential equations as its main technical tool could be explained sufficiently so a lay audience could understand what was involved and how the model worked. In that way they would have a better appreciation for the findings and some understanding of an important tool, mathematical modeling. We took it as a personal challenge…

As somebody who can almost never sit down to patiently explain in writing the interesting things in science, I have nothing but great admiration for this effort spanning some sixteen posts on a single paper !

On Science

February 28, 2007

Name anything on earth or in the sky far beyond. Think of anything that you can think of. I can bet that Science has something interesting to say about it.

Except Science, there is nothing that humans have ever done , no goal that they have ever pursued that goes beyond our self-centric nature, our ever-present temptation to irrationally hold one species to be more important than all others and one planet to be the centre of everything.

Science is the universal language – when you learn how our heart works, you learn about hearts of so many other cousins of our species. When you understand the colours flowing out of a vapour lamp, you understand the language of the same gases staring at you from the stars far away. When you can decipher that small piece of magnet lying around, you understand the history of our planet etched in the magnetic domains of the Atlantic sea floor.

All that you see with your naked eye speaks electromagnetism – brandishing proudly their charged swords, writing psychedelic hues on the vacuum slate. Their masses come mostly from the ever-boiling strong interaction fields that pop in and out of nowhere like little kids. A silent swarm of neutrinos run through your body in a breeze more gentle than any that you’ve felt.

The deepest of your emotions is a symphony of atoms – the most mellisonant tune you’ve heard is their passionate dance in your eardrum.

Gold gets its golden hue from its electrons speaking relativity. The plain crystal of salt mumbles incessantly of solid state. The glorious sun hums as its plasma whirls around its magnetic roads.

To those who can hear, it is a concert with science as the ticket. For those who cannot, deep are my condolences.

And stronger still shall be my condemnation of all that deprives one of this most glorious of feelings – poverty of the body and soul, the hunger, human cruelty and indifference, mindless wars, boundless arrogance, shameless plunder and surrender to superstition. India celebrates Science Day today – and science means much more than most of its citizens assume…

LaTeX / Maths blogs

February 21, 2007

  • introduces \LaTeX. It is a big deal for a blog like this, since, it allows me to write equations “on the fly” . It works even in comments ! Just use the syntax $latex <LaTeX Eqn.>$

    For example, try this – $latex E= \sqrt{p^2c^2+m^2c^4}$ gives E= \sqrt{p^2c^2+m^2c^4} . Of course, the downside is that in rare cases, \LaTeX tempts you into using more math even when it is not strictly necessary.

  • You would notice that I’ve put up a new page – The Scientific India . I realised that it is not possible for me to put the various science-in-India-related sites in my blogroll. Hence, I’ve created a separate page for those links.
  • Talking about blogroll, I’ve added many new geology/math/many other blogs to the list. You will notice that I’ven’t created a separate list for Computer science – for now, I’ve decided to club it together with math, I’ll try to make a separate list later…[1]
  • Update (27/2) : I’ve added some more blogs. Check out this post titled “Quantum mechanics and Tomb Raider” by Terence Tao.

  • Via n-category Cafe, I came across an article titled “What is good mathematics?” by Terence Tao. The second half of the article is on something called as Szemeredi’s theorem about which I know almost nothing [2]. But, I found the discussion in the first half quite interesting.
    Endnotes :

  1. Have a look at the inaugural edition of the carnival of mathematics . It has links to a lot of interesting posts including a post on algebraic topology titled A_\infty for layman”.
  2. These posts seem to be a good place to start if and when I want to learn what it is all about – I don’t see it happening any time in the near future, though.

India Science Report

January 22, 2007

I am going through the archives of a recently found site – Sci.Dev.Net which deals with Science and technology in developing world. In particular, an old news item titled Indian science teaching ‘needs overhaul’ talks about the Indian Science Report.

I found the the original report to be quite interesting. It is filled with a lot of statistics about various questions I’ve wondered about. Case in the point – What percentage of Indians know that Earth moves around the sun ? (70 percent of respondents, it seems. See page 69- Table 4.6 of the above report) and 56 percent agreed with the statement that “Human beings developed from an earlier species of animals” . 42 percent seem to believe that “Scientists are peculiar”(Page 72 – Table 4.9). I wonder in what sense ? 😉

You can see the Urban/Rural Male/Female breakups of percentages in the appendices . Before I close this post, I should give a statutory warning – rather, I will just reproduce the last part of the News article linked above

The report has drawn criticism from some analysts, who say the sampling methods were inadequate and that the results were compared with data obtained using different techniques.

“As a scientist I agree that it would have been better to compare data using the same sampling methodology over, say, three years,” Raghunath Mashelkar, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and current president of INSA, conceded at a press briefing on the occasion of the report’s release.

“They should have had a more rigorous survey methodology,” agrees N. Raghuram, a biotechnology lecturer at Delhi’s Indraprastha University.

“There has been no data about the actual number of science students in schools, teachers, and student-teacher ratio. Even the conclusions on public attitudes towards science are based on a small sub-sample of 30,000 which is not representative enough.”

NCAER project leader Rajesh Shukla, and other scientists have in the past pointed out India does not have a systematic and comprehensive assessment of its science and technology education and industry (see A tale of two databases: India’s R&D dilemma).