Science & Curiosity Print

रविवार, २४ जून २०१२
Written by    :    Dr. Vaibhav S. Prabhudesai,
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
altThe dictionary meaning of the word ‘science’ is systematic knowledge and that of ‘technology’ is the use of knowledge for creation by technical means. Naturally, science is at the base of any technology and technology paves way for the advancement of science.  Today’s science becomes the foundation for tomorrow’s technology.

In fact if one looks closely, one realises that trying to understand the modern technology may lead to better understanding of the basic science behind it and by knowing or using modern technology, we appreciate the scientific development.
However, just a mention of the word ‘science’ usually generates two extreme types of reactions among students. I suppose, these students’ reactions arise due to a difference in approach towards learning science. Students either tend to love it because it matches their way of looking at the things around them or dislike it as they feel that it is very difficult (especially at an advanced level). This later feeling comes mostly due to their style of ‘studying’ science, which is memorising the answers to specific questions relevant to the examinations.
One must always remember that being curious about the things in our surroundings is the first step towards appreciating science. Science teaches reasoning and it starts becoming enjoyable when we start asking ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ about things in nature. The only way to learn science is by asking questions and trying to get the answers to those questions. After all, it is the ‘systematic knowledge’. So naturally, the best approach to acquire it would also be the one which is very systematic. These logical studies enabled the scientists to put forward some basic laws that explain most of the things happening around us in a consistent way. What we start learning in our school days is some of these fundamental laws in their elementary form. And as we move along, more detailed descriptions of these laws and subsequent modern twists in them get unravelled. But that comes only if one takes natural science as a stream in higher education. On the other hand, one gets exposed to the application aspect of these scientific studies through engineering and medicine.
However, by the time students get to the 10th standard, it should get clearer to them that the best language in which science can be expressed is the language of mathematics. One equation can give all the information for the understanding of a scientific principle. So try to appreciate this language at the stage of 10th standard itself. And there cannot be a better way one can learn it than by expressing the science question in mathematical equations and trying to solve it. Don’t look at the numerical problems that you get to solve in physics with dislike or use as just a tool to gain more marks. Try to appreciate its importance as in future this acquired ability to use mathematical expressions will help you go a long way irrespective of you taking science stream after 10th standard.
When I say that mathematics is the language of science, it’s not only true for physics (as many of you may think) but also for chemistry and biology. Since logical reasoning and systematic study is essential for any stream of science. In fact if you decide to pursue science at the university and higher level, you will encounter a strong link between all streams of science and mathematics.
Another interesting aspect of science that we learn in school is the experiments. These experiments expose us to the true nature of the scientific principles. One must explore in these experiments as much as possible. This exploration will bring forth many more questions to your mind and that will open up doors to the quest for learning more advanced science. How many of you have carried out small experiments at home or outside school or beyond the experiment class in the school? How many of you have actually tried to build your own telescope or microscope (not a sophisticated one) at home? If you remember we are more curious about things around when we are little kids. As we learn more and more things in the text book, instead of increasing this curiosity by acquiring more and more knowledge, we tend to give more importance to exams and grades. Consequently, our curiosity takes a back seat, and that actually unknowingly starts affecting the quality of learning. This is true for all the subjects but more so for science. Do you remember focusing sunlight using a reading glass on a piece of paper or a matchstick and burning it? You must have done it when you were in 3rd or 4th standard. Now you know why it happens that way but after knowing more about it, have you thought about using two reading glasses instead of one and see what happens? Try it and the principle of microscope and telescope will be clearer to you than reading in a textbook. Collect as many types of flowers and leaves that you see on your way to school or even present around you and see the kind of variety you will see in the nature. Try to classify it and you will realise how easy it is to understand the biology that you learn in the text book. The best way to understand the difference between the soap and detergent is to actually take a washing powder and bathing soap and trying to see if you can find the difference.
Try the following experiment at home. Everyone knows that magnet attracts iron but not aluminium. This can be verified by just putting a magnet close to these metals and feeling the presence or absence of the force of attraction that acts on the magnet. Now take a strong magnet and try moving it very close to the aluminium sheet along its surface without touching it. What do you experience? Do you experience the resistance to the magnet’s motion? Can you explain it why, if aluminium is not attracted by a magnet? Well, I am sure by the time you finish your 10th standard syllabus you will be able to figure out.  
Remember asking questions just for the sake of it, will not lead you anywhere. Ask questions because otherwise not understanding the answer will trouble you all the time. I feel the best part of science is that, it is always in pursuit of improving itself. The most effective way of doing it is by questioning its explanations at every possible juncture. I am sure as a small child you must have asked this question during a visit to local planetarium or even at night looking at the moon or after coming across a picture of a planet in a newspaper that, what makes these planets stay in the sky. Why do they rise and set every day? What keeps them go around the sun in the sky? Now you know the answer, its gravity. The next natural, simple but an important question is how these objects feel this force of gravity and you know what, this is one of the leading questions scientists are trying to answer today.
One more important aspect of learning anything and especially learning science is referring to the existing literature (for science it is scientific literature). Nowadays, at least in the cities, one of the common and popular trends among students is to type any question in ‘Google search’ and reading about it on the internet. See, how the use of technology helps in learning science. One of the biggest sources of scientific knowledge for school going children is ‘Wikipedia’. But remember even there the information is tagged with a proper reference (and if not then better be careful about it). Try to follow it and remember don’t believe things written on the internet pages if they are not backed by proper references. And once in a while also try to access those references for your own curiosity. Library is the best place to find most of the references to read. Referencing is one of the most scientific ways of properly learning any subject, be it science or history. This habit of referencing that one develops in high school goes a long way in making higher studies effective, be it in science, commerce or arts.
So at the end of all this I will just say, keep asking questions,  searching for answers, keep doing experiments, reading scientific literature that interests you, and most importantly enjoy learning science.
Cordinate by    :    C.D.Vadke, Vidyaprabodhini, Dadar.