Reaching out with science

On Friday, Kolkata will see five young scientists displaying skills in presenting their work to a lay-person audience. The event…

Reaching out with science

On Friday, Kolkata will see five young scientists displaying skills in presenting their work to a lay-person audience. The event is the India finals of Science Slam, an annual international science communication competition that is conducted by EURAXESS, a European Union-funded resource of information and support to researchers who would like to work in Europe.

EURAXESS has centres for the Asean, Latin America and the Caribbean, India, China, Japan and North America and the centres work to link researchers in the regions with institutes in Europe. The centres are resources of information, a place to seek or advertise academic or job positions, to find support for relocating to and integrating with Europe and to seek funding. While applicants need to manage their admission to institutes of their choice, it is significant that EURAXESS selects the researchers to be hosted to network, and awarded a fellowship to work in Europe, each year, through a contest not of science but of science communication.

The contest is open to researchers, or students pursuing a doctoral programme or a Masters’ with a research component, in a swathe of disciplines, including the social sciences and humanities. Participation is through multimedia presentations that describe the fascination and importance of the field of work in a manner that has originality and impact, before a group of mixed, essentially non-specialist viewers. The presentations are bundled in videos and submitted for shortlisting, before they are presented in person, at the finals.


In Science Slam India, the best videos from different zones have been selected by a specialist jury and in the finals in Kolkata on 8 December; the winner would be decided not by a panel of judges but by the vote of the audience.

At an all-day event in Chennai in November, the five finalists and over 70 others attended a workshop on science communication, conducted by Professor Arnab Bhattacharya of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. The contest is now to convey the science behind an area of research in a way that takes the viewer by surprise and conveys to her the excitement and the fascination of the field, all in one racing, gripping presentation. The paragraphs that follow are about the five finalists in India, from institutes at Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru and Shillong, selected for their superlative skill in communicating their science.

Mayur Bonkile is a mechanical engineer working at IIT-Mumbai. His abiding interest is simulation and building models of systems that store energy, and he would present the story of his work with the lithium-ion battery. This device, which powers our cell phones and electric automobiles, has a large storage capacity which can be recharged quickly and time and again. Such a device is clearly the answer to the problem with solar and wind energy, which are emission-free but intermittent.

While electric cars can be only as efficient as the plants that generate the electricity to charge batteries, better batteries enable taking advantage of the efficiency of generating electricity in large power plants, compared to the efficiency of the petrol or diesel engine. With such an important role to be played, the very limits of efficiency, cost and safety of Li-ion batteries need to be attained. There is hence intense research the world over and manufacture and maintenance of the Li-ion battery will soon be a huge industry. A major concern is the cost of the Li-ion battery whose replacement cost can be as much, per kilometre of use, as the cost of the electricity consumed.

Priyanka Dasgupta is a zoology student in Delhi University and she is passionate about collaborative research, science communication and being with nature. She is clearly a reflective, communications person and the title of her presentation: Inside the brain – the effect of theatre language, literature, art, psychology and intense communication with a dynamic group and within a short spell, usually less than a couple of hours. And then, the advances in neurology and psychiatry and studies on the brains of birds and animals have discovered pathways within the labyrinth of cognition.

A presentation by one who dabbles in all these areas, to discover a link of expression in theatre with the development of the brain and understanding and then creativity is sure to prove fascinating. Would she answer the question of whether the reaction of a responsive audience affects the brain of a theatre person?

Padma N is an experienced teacher and popular senior lecturer in chemistry at New Horizon College of Engineering, Bengaluru. Her presentation, “Correlation of Soil and Corrosion Science”, suggests something multidisciplinary and relates at once to a resource under pressure and effects that attack things and materials. We speak, of course, of soil and contaminants or harsh media that wear things away.

Calvin Warjri, from North Eastern Hill University, in Meghalaya is a gifted photographer and wildlife and nature enthusiast.  We live in troubled times, when too many people and industries are filling the air and our waters with waste and pollution.  A diet, which includes fish, would help us combat much of the stress that our health is under and fish is also a source of necessary protein in many parts of the world.

Calvin is a researcher whose work is close to the environment. When he speaks about how the environment has affected an important dietary component, his lens is sure to take in different viewpoints — biological, public health, responsible living and the environmental.

Ananya Rakshit is a doctoral student at TIFR, Mumbai. Her work is with Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive degeneration of neurons in the brain. The disease affects the cognition and motor ability of nearly 30 million people worldwide. About six per cent of people over the age of 65 are said to be affected.

Alzheimer’s, along with other conditions like Parkinson’s and ALS, arises from changes at the molecular level in nerve cells and answers could be useful in many areas of medical science and even outside the medical field. The presence of trace elements like manganese, iron, copper, and some others are sometimes pivotal in the initiation and progress of life processes.

Ananya’s take, entitled, “Catch the excess copper”, by a person engaged in this field since the last five years should set us thinking!

The writer can be contacted at response@simplescience.in