2200+ science lectures and counting

What was an impulsive idea has turned tradition as the Bangalore Science Forum holds its thirty-second annual science festival this month at Basavanagudi’s National College.

The Bangalore Science Forum (TBSF) needs no introduction. It has for the last 47 years relentlessly promoted Science in the city through lectures and discussion. A few hundred metres away from its cultural cousin, the Indian Institute of World Culture on B P Wadia road, TBSF’s Wednesday evening Science lectures have been patronised  by thousands over three decades.

Come July, weekly lectures give way to a month long festival of Science, with luminaries from various disciplines delivering lectures on a diverse range of topics at H N Hall at National College Basavangudi. While Professor Siraj Hasan, Director, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, inaugurated this year’s edition with a lecture on the Mysteries of the Sun, IISc Director, Dr P Balaram spoke on The Past, Present and Future of the Indian Institute of Science.

Dr K Jagannath Rao, Raja Ramanna Fellow and Professor at IISc delivered a lecture on ‘If it it is small and beautiful, then it must be Nano (technology)’.

Many stalwarts such as C N R Rao, U R Rao, ISRO Chief Madhavan Nair, K Kasturirangan have lectured at TBSF in the past. The year 2005, which was celebrated as the world year of Physics, saw India’s most famous scientist of the present day, Dr C N R Rao deliver TBSF’s 2,000th lecture to a packed house. C N R Rao reminisced about his childhood spent in Basavangudi while emphatically urging students to take up Science in a ceremony where he was felicitated by the then governor.

The idea, according to present TBSF President Dr A H  Rama Rao, can be attributed to its founder, the late rationalist and educationist Dr H Narasimhaiah. ‘Dr H N’, as he is known, then vice-chancellor of Bangalore University proposed they hold a ‘Science Festival’. "‘If there can be a Ganeshotsava, why not a Vignanotsava’, he had said" recounted a nostalgic Rama Rao even as he praised the speakers at the festival, regularly annotating their various virtues with an appreciative "esht important nodi". What was an impulsive idea has turned tradition as the forum holds its 2277th lecture as a part of its Thirty Second Science Festival this month.

The Bangalore Science Forum is as much community as fraternity– Dr K Jagannath Rao, Raja Ramanna Fellow and Professor at IISc delivered his lecture in memory of his teacher G T Narayan at National College. Rao’s lecture was titled ‘If it it is small and beautiful, then it must be Nano(technology), laughing at how journalists in Delhi had mistaken him for a specialist on the Tata Nano instead of structural chemistry!

Rao’s talk was engrossing, alluding to the achievements of Feynman, Pauling and, more recently, Robert Langer (not to mention a light hearted reference to Elizabeth Taylor) to explain the basis and potential of Nanotechnology. The professor who started his lecture with a Sanskrit verse maintained progressive, yet cautiously realistic ideas on the possibilities of the technology.

Former IISc director Dr G Padmanabhan, admittedly a regular at the science festival, spoke of the Growth of Biotechnology in India. Through his hour long lecture, the Molecular Biologist painted a fair picture of the work done by the Indian government and industry in the field of Biotechnology. "Bugs" he says "are smarter than scientists. We haven’t found an effective cure for malaria caused by these little things. It teaches you humility" he remarked in jest.

Padmanabhan also took time to dispel ‘myths’ about genetically modified crops, while asserting that he was absolutely in favour of them. He joked about the urban myths created by television panelists such as a popular film director (the reference is to Mahesh Bhatt) who labeled GM vegetables ‘poison’ in his documentary. " I, a biotechnologist, may scream from rooftops about these being harmless to no avail, but have a film personality say something dire on prime time and people won’t touch GM vegetables with a bargepole", he chuckled. Like him, other scientists too shared their optimism and influenced students and citizens to not believe in fatalistic legends on the new sciences.

 "These lectures expose students to a lot of knowledge which will give direction to their own interests", says Professor H R Ramakrishna Rao, Treasurer, TBSF. Sriharsha Aradhya, a doctoral student at Columbia University agrees– "It used to be a rare opportunity to see the greatest Indian scientists in person and to hear them explain science at an extremely approachable level and a great inspiration for students to pursue science."

"The objective of the forum is to encourage scientific temper in students and to give them a platform to interact with scientists."says Ramakrishna Rao. They draw up a list of all the disciplines in which lectures are to be delivered and the organising committee then decides on the speakers. He explains this to me even while a bunch of school kids query him on the science of time travel – perhaps they didn’t quite follow his explanation of time-space curvature. But they have made a start.

See the Citizen Matters seminar schedule for the remainder of lectures.

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