Popularising science

Print edition : October 22, 2010

Inside 'Vigyan Rail', the train-borne science exhibition conceived and implemented by Vigyan Prasar.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

Vigyan Prasar's diverse programmes have been a huge success in terms of improving people's understanding of science.

ARTICLE 51A (h) of the Constitution upholds scientific temper to be one of the fundamental duties of every citizen: It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. One clear way of inculcating scientific temper in the public at large is to increase Public Understanding of Science (PUoS). This is a task that Vigyan Prasar (V.P.), an autonomous registered society under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), has been engaged in for the past 20 years.

Founded on October 12,1989, V.P. has diverse activities in the public outreach of science. While promoting and propagating a scientific and rational outlook in society, it has constantly diversified and improvised its activities to meet its objectives.

Over the years, V.P. has nurtured interest in science among people, encouraged creativity, and developed in people the capacity for informed decision-making. Besides developing and disseminating original and interesting communication material for print, electronic and digital media, V.P. trains science communicators, catalyses creative activities and conducts research in various aspects of science and technology (S&T) communication. The stated vision of V.P. is to continuously strive to emerge as an institution for capacity building in science communication and as the central node for knowledge resource networks for science dissemination and popularisation among people

To this end, V.P. has consistently adapted, employed and utilised new and emerging technologies and established itself as a leading resource-cum-facility centre in S&T communication in the country. Today, V.P. is a major national centre for the development and dissemination of high-quality software on S&T communication. In particular, its efforts at production and airing of science programmes on radio and television, and utilisation of modern technologies for spreading science among the masses have been highly appreciated. Some of its prominent activities are as follows:

TV Programmes

Since May 2005, V.P. has produced and aired science programmes on Doordarshan's National channel, initially in collaboration with the Development and Educational Communication Unit of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and now on its own. DVDs of these are popular in educational institutions. V.P. is scheduled to launch programmes through the Lok Sabha TV channel shortly.

Some of the highly acclaimed television serials of V.P. include a 26-part science quiz serial titled Jigyasa and a 12-part serial Jeete Raho on common ailments and medicines. A 26-part serial, Kahani Dharti Ki (The Story of Earth), produced as part of the International Year of Planet Earth 2008, began in February 2009. It was also aired beginning September 2009. Judging from the thousands of e-mail responses received, the serials are popular outside the country as well, notably in Pakistan. A three-part serial on Eclipses was produced on the occasion of the total solar eclipse of 2009.

The popular serials have been dubbed into 11 Indian languages for transmission on DD Direct satellite channels and regional Doordarshan Kendras. As part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009), a 26-episode serial on astronomy, Taaron Ki Sair, was produced and telecast. A 13-part serial, Baatein Raaz ki, using simple experiments to explain and illustrate basic scientific themes, was initiated last year in collaboration with AV-Code, Ahmedabad.

Currently, we are in the process of making a 26-part series for Doordarshan called Experiments that shaped the world', said Dr Amit Roy, director, Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC). These will look at pathbreaking discoveries in the field of natural and biological sciences, instances of departures of thought that changed the course of science.

Other forthcoming TV programmes are serials on chemistry in our life and science species apart from a weekly science news magazine.

Radio Programmes

Considering the wider reach of radio, V.P. has collaborated with All India Radio (AIR) extensively over the past few years. It produced a 52-episode radio serial called Dharti Meri Dharti on the earth, the broadcast of which began in January 2008 from 117 stations of AIR in 19 Indian languages and continued until January 2009. The serial was popular among schoolchildren and the general public.

A 52-episode serial on astronomy, Sitaaron Se Aage, was produced on the same pattern, the broadcast of which began in April 2009.

The broadcast on WorldSpace satellite digital radio in English (30 minutes) and Hindi (30 minutes) for six days a week, which was on air for seven years, had to be terminated because of the winding up of WorldSpace's operations in India. The Gyan Vani FM channel of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has been broadcasting science programmes for the past five years. Gyan Vani stations are operational in Allahabad, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Kanpur, Lucknow, Nagpur, Jaipur, Varanasi, Rajkot, Raipur, Jabalpur, Patna, Kolkata, Shillong, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Mysore, Indore, Goa, New Delhi, Chennai and Coimbatore. Of late, Vigyan Prasar has made its audio programmes available to the community radio stations that have sprung up in different parts of the country.

Some of the forthcoming V.P. radio serials are on S&T research in modern India, biodiversity, Women's empowerment through S&T and chemistry (each of them 13 episodes).

V.P. also helps organisations develop their own innovative science radio programmes that can be broadcast locally in regional languages.

V.P. Publications

V.P.'s publication programme has emerged as one of its major activities. The objective is to bring out science publications on different aspects of science and technology in different Indian languages. The books are written by scientists and science communicators, and the publications have been widely reviewed in newspapers and magazines both in India and abroad. The publications, mainly books, number over 270 and include titles in English and 11 Indian languages. The organisation brought out 13 titles on different aspects of the earth in English and Hindi during the current year. The titles, along with The Mysterious Moon and India's Chandrayaan Mission, were reviewed extensively and received high levels of appreciation.

THERE ARE 13 titles on different aspects of the earth.-

The institution has received prizes for the production quality of its publications. According to Anuj Sinha, Director of V.P., private publishers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have come forward to bring out these publications in local languages. The publications are used as resource materials for different science popularisation programmes and are also available in digital format on the V.P. website.

Dream 2047, the bilingual science monthly magazine of V.P., with a circulation of over 52,000, has drawn appreciation from all parts of the country. Every month, one topic is included in it for readers' opinions. Excerpts from the best two/three opinions are published along with the name, address and photographs of the responders.

On the occasion of National Science Day, February 28, last year, V.P. brought out an interactive multimedia compact disc (CD) titled Fun with Physics. The CD contains 30 novel experiments/activities on different concepts of physics and video clips of actual activities. The experiments, aimed at students and teachers of Class VI to X, were developed jointly by the Department of Physics of Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and V.P. The majority of the experiments can be performed using commonly available objects/equipment. The CD is also available in Hindi.

A CD on Optics with 40 experiments is available in Hindi and English. The Indian Association of Physics Teachers (IAPT) bought the CD in both languages in bulk for distribution.

A CD containing 14 PowerPoint presentations on various topics of Planet Earth was brought out on the occasion of International Year of Planet Earth 2008. The CD was extensively used for training programmes. Other titles include Computer for Housewives, Innovative Physics Experiments, Transit of Venus, India in Space, and Vigyan Rail.

V.P. Edusat Network

V.P.'s Edusat Network, which utilises ISRO's Edusat satellite, is extensively used for interactive S&T awareness and training programmes. The hardware and the software at the 50 Satellite Interactive Terminals (SITs) of V.P. Edusat Network, which enable the reaching out to participants through two-way audio-video interactive communication, were upgraded recently. The system, which is used primarily for S&T communication and popularisation, can also double as a communication network during emergencies such as natural disasters. For the past four years, this network has also been used for multicasting of science programmes.

Edusat is a boon to the student community, especially for those in the rural areas, Dr Iyaaperumal of Tamil Nadu Science and Technology Centre said. V.P. informs us in advance of the programmes, so we are able to send leaflets to the students, who come to our centres and see these programmes.

V.P. Information System

Vigyan Prasar's website (www.vigyanprasar.gov.in) registers over a 1,000 hits every day. Its digital library with the facility for free download of software is frequented by a large number of people every day; 50 per cent of its users are students. Three years after its launch, the digital library has over 5,000 registered users and records over 150,000 hits a year.

The website is used to upload science videos in streaming format. Apart from these, the science serials produced by V.P. for radio and TV are available for free download. V.P. runs a fortnightly news clipping service, VIPRIS Clipset, that covers S&T news from about 125 newspapers in the country.

A discussion forum is also operational on the V.P. website. It is an e-platform where anyone can ask questions or answer fellow participants' queries. There are about 250 active topics with multiple sub-topics on this e-forum. In a month, about 500 users participate actively in the discussion forum. A Hindi version of the website is also updated regularly and finds a large number of users.

V.P. has developed a software interface, Scientific experiments using computer, which explains to students the usefulness of a computer in measuring and controlling physical parameters and processes. It also helps the educator develop new experiments.

In collaboration with the Department of Physics, IIT Kanpur, V.P. has developed about 200 innovative science activities. These are aimed at facilitating a conceptual understanding of scientific phenomena.

V.P. has designed and developed astronomy kits and interactive multi-media CD on Space Sciences and Astronomy.


VIPNET, the acronym for VIgyan Prasar NETwork, was added as a new project to Vigyan Prasar in 1998 with the objective of providing a fillip to the science club movement in India. This network aims to weave all science clubs, societies and organisations that are willing to work with Vigyan Prasar to strengthen the popular science movement in the country.

AN EDUSAT-DRIVEN INTERACTIVE class on eclipses at the Satellite Interactive Terminal facility in the Science and Technology Museum in Thiruvananthapuram.-S. GOPAKUMAR

An active and fully functional science club working in any part of the country can be a part of VIPNET by simply registering with VIPNET for affiliation. Affiliated clubs can seek guidance and assistance from V.P. in the conduct of their activities. Today, the network consists of nearly 11,000 clubs. All State Councils and State-level departments of S&T, besides prominent NGOs, have accepted VIPNET as their official network .

The first issue of the monthly newsletter, VIPNET News, appeared in December 1998. The newsletter has interactive and informative articles and activities on biodiversity, nature, environment and various issues of weather, climate, astronomy and related themes. The present circulation of VIPNET News is around 12,000.

Ham Radio

Considering the potential of ham radio (amateur radio) in triggering and promoting interest in S&T, V.P. popularises it through various outreach programmes.

Through its lecture and demonstration programmes, training and workshops, V.P. has attempted to motivate schoolchildren, technical students and even non-technical laymen to take up ham radio as an extracurricular activity. The aim is to develop a national resource of volunteers with expertise in radio communication technologies and electronics. The organisation is in the process of utilising ham radio for science communication and exploring the possibilities of integrating new-generation digital technologies by setting up state-of-the-art ham radio stations at VIPNET science clubs.

The new technologies will demonstrate the utility of ham radio in monitoring the weather, text messaging, Internet linking with radio, time management, activity coordination and the like.

Collaborative Programmes

V.P. continues to collaborate on programmes and activities of mutual interest with government organisations and NGOs. Collaboration and joint activities with institutions and organisations such as the IIT Kanpur, AV-Code, and Gujarat Science City are particularly noteworthy. V.P. has joined hands with the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) for a lecture series at the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM), Kolkata. Similarly, to mark the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, V.P., along with the Vikram Sarabhai Communication Centre, will launch a series of programmes on biodiversity.

V.P., always planning ahead, is getting ready for the International Year of Chemistry in 2011 and the Venus Transit in 2012.

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