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Ignited Minds

A clutch of bright small town kids were feted at an international science fair recently, and rightfully so, reports Manoj Sharma.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2008 21:59 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times

The conference room at the Capital’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), resonated with the laughter and chitter-chatter of eight teenagers in special Team India T-shirts. They were part of an Indian contingent that recently participated in Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) 2008, the world’s biggest and most prestigious pre-college science fair held in Atlanta, US. Of them, seven were awarded for their research and innovation in science in categories ranging from electrical and mechanical engineering to environment management.

Good news, since of late there has been a lot of concern about increasing shortage of scientific researchers in India as compared to China. No wonder then that Kapil Sibal, Union Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, commented at the felicitation ceremony held recently, “India needs to develop the next generation of scientific researchers. These winners give us hope as a country.”

The ISEF which started in 1950, is sponsored by Intel and organised by the Society for Science & the Public (formerly Science Service). Interestingly, many of these youngsters who made their mark over there are from small towns, a testimony to the growing pool of talent from these areas.

Swathi Soman, 16, a student of Bhavan’s BP Vidyamandir, Nagpur, cannot stop gushing about her trip to Atlanta, “It was an unforgettable experience. My project was about finding a biological alternative for the control of water hyacinth in the water bodies of Kerala. Hyacinth infects 2 lakh hectares of water surface causing problems in 98 out of the 246 districts in India”. Her project won her the third Grand Award at the fair. She conducted research and experiment at College of Agriculture in Kerala for her project.

Swathi, who belongs to Trivandrum, feels that the biggest advantage the children from small towns have over their metro counterparts is parental support. “My parents helped me a lot with the project; they often used to take me to Trivandrum from Nagpur for experiments,” she says.

Ambud Sharma 16, a Class XII student of Sunbeam School, Varanasi, got fourth Grand award for his project titled ‘Heat Buster’— a low cost water based evaporative cooling device for computers. “Most computers have cooling systems mounted on processors which hardly make any difference in the processor’s temperatures. In my project, there is a heat sink which uses fluid cooling systems to cool the processors and transfer the heat to the atmosphere,” says Ambud, who has applied for a patent. And where did he conduct his experients? “In my bed room which resembles a computer laboratory, with books and computer paraphenelia strewn all over,” he laughs. Ambud was one of 35 students who were selected from 1,550 participants from 51 countries at the fair for a lunch with a galaxy of Nobel laureates at the fair.

“Being able to ask them questions was the most memorable experience. I got along very well with Robert F Curl, who got the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. I was proud to hear from him that most of the path-breaking research in medicine is being done by Indian doctors,” says Ambud. He now wishes to go to the US for higher studies.

“I have already got a scholarship from the Florida Institute of Technology, but need a lot more money which I am trying to arrange by selling the patent rights. I am already in talks with many companies, and their response is good”.

Interestingly, out of seven students who got the awards, six were girls. Riddhi Dasani, 14, a 10th class student of Late Shree SG Dholakiya Memorial High School, participated in fair in Team Project category with Pooja Dholakiya, her classmate.

Talking about their project, titled ‘Marker Pen from Vegetables’, she says, “ Paint chemicals are one of the biggest pollutants, and are quite hazardous for biodiversity. But we have developed a marker pen which is made up from vegetables”. Working on these projects for meant striking a balance between studies and research, travelling, and staying back in the school for hours after the classes were over .

Divya Venkataraman, 14, a student of Modern English School, Mumbai, who participated in team project with her classmate Neha Kulkarni, also won third Grand Award for their project ‘An eco-friendly way of controlling mosquitoes’. “The recent rise of malaria , dengue, filaria prompted us to try and find an eco-friendly solution to control mosquitoes. We collected papaya leaves, crushed them to make an extract, diluted it in water and studied its effects on mosquitoes at different stages. Our study revealed that mortality rate of mosquitoes was 86 per cent.”

These students, most of whom want to become scientists, are as much excited about the city of Atlanta as they are about wining awards at the science fair. In fact, they are in love with America. “We visited CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest aquarium and the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. It is a great city,” says Swathi.

“The US is so pollution-free, the air you breath is so clean and fresh,” gushes Ambud. Perhaps Ambud and his group’s research can replicate that back home as well.