Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Raman Effect: the beginning and the end of Indian science.

Our Prime Minister addressed the 98th Indian Science Congress on 3 January 2011. While I was looking over its text, I stumbled upon a fact that he pointed out: “While C.V.Raman won the Nobel Prize eighty years ago for the Raman Effect, most of the instruments available in India today using this principle are imported. This is not an isolated example and many of our outstanding scientific discoveries have been converted into marketable products by technologies and firms based abroad.”

This is really appalling and shows how backward we are in the matter of science and technology. Prime Minister has also said that we need more Ramans and Ramanujans. Thanks to our Prime Minister. Someone has finally remembered C.V.Raman, the greatest Indian brain ever in the field of science. It is really important to remember them in the days when personalities like Dr. A.P.J. Abul Kalam and others are unnecessarily given the status of great scientists. They are given the status larger than life. Here I do not want to undermine their contribution. They are eminent personalities, but certainly not great scientists.

The point is why we have only C.V.Raman as a home grown Nobel Prize winner in science. Sir C.V. Raman won the Noble Prize in 1930. So in the eighty years we don’t have a single scientific discovery as great as C.V. Raman’s. We boast of I.I.Ts, but nothing great has happened also in the field of technology, which is clear from the fact that most remarkable Indian scientific discoveries are converted into products outside India. On one hand we do not have great scientific discoveries after the Raman Effect; we have not produced any great technology on the other. Our performance in the field of science and technology is extremely lacklustre. If I am not digressing, I must say that even in the field management, we have not discovered a single management theory which is so great that the world has to emulate it.

We generally tend to blame polity, bureaucracy and education system for our mediocre scientific progress. But this is barking up the wrong tree. We should blame ourselves for the fact that we have never given importance to pure science.

Shyam Manohar, noted Marathi writer’s latest novel has a character who is a software engineer, who happens to read an autobiography of his physics teacher. To his surprise, in the autobiography he does not find even a single mention of pleasure that his teacher finds in anything related to physics. This disturbs him. He wonders why his teacher does not have a single pleasurable experience related to physics to mention in his autobiography. He becomes introspective and starts looking back whether he ever had any moment of happiness during the years of his education. He remembers that when he was in 12th standard class, learning polarisation of light was the moment of happiness. He realises that as India always has given more importance to technology than to pure science, doing career in pure science has never occurred to people like him.

He finds that with the arrival of technology in India, achievements and financial growth became important. The fact that no one has realised the importance of pure science in India strikes him. ‘Nehru met Einstein, but Nehru championed technology in stead of pure science.’

However, our progress in the field of technology is also mediocre. The reason lies in our indifference to pure science. Shyam Manohar once said in an interview that we call physics a subject not a branch of knowledge. This clearly shows our indifference to fundamental questions. We have never looked at pure science as a source of knowledge, in turn as a source of technology. This exists everywhere, in all our Indian unversitites and institutions including our elite institues like Indian Institue Of Technology. Remember they are institues of technology not science. Even the goverment does not want institues of pure science. Great ideas are born in the attempts of solving fundamental and abstract questions. Unless and untill we bring about a change in our attitude to fundamental and abstract questions, we may have hunderds of I.I.Ts., nothing will make a difference. They will simply act as PLACEMENT AGENCIES, the way most parents today simply look at them. They hardly want their child to be the Raman of India today. They simply want him or her to be a technocrat who will be a highly paid 'servant' of some American and European and now Chinese multinational company.

C.V. Raman won the Noble Prize, with a simple instrument barely worth Rs. 300. Today very expensive instruments are needed for inventions. We do not have them, because we do not have technology. And we do not have technology, because we have never given importance to pure science.

It was a great beginning for Indian science, when C.V. Raman discovered the great Raman Effect. Sadly it is also becoming the end of Indian science.


  1. First of all I would say that it is not our mentality that can be blamed for poor status of pure science in India but the system that shapes our mentality-the education system.I'am a student right now and for someone like me who loves science it is really frustrating that teachers give much more imp. to giving lengthy notes than giving their students a feel of the subject.Beauty of science is not at all emphasised.Cause also lies in beureacracy presently director of CSIR once said even in best indian univ. App. have to be giveo at least a week in advance to use someting like a electron microscope while in places like cambrigde and Havard they can be used straight a away.With such attitude How can we hope to produce Einstein's and venkatraman's??

  2. Dear Ajay, thanks for your comments. Most of the times we blame politicians and bureaucratic systems or the system overall. We have lost faith in them. But we need to understand that we are also part of them. Systems do not work because we fail to make them work. Unfortunately, we , all of us, soceity as a whole, have failed to make our systems work. That is why we keep criticising one another. Criticising one another never sovles problems. This is simply passing the buck. The habit of passing the bucks shows our weakness. SOmewhere, we must accept our collective failure and introspect. The root cause of our collective failure lies in our overall indifferent attitude to pure knowledge, not just pure science.

    First we should stop saying pure science "subjects". They are not subjects. They are branches of knowledge. Phyics is not a subject, it is a branch of knowledge. How many of us have really developed this attitude or a will power that I will devote my life only for pure knowledge, not just in the field of science, in any branch of knowledge, even it may be poetry?

    Harvard and Cambridge universtities are great , not simply because they have state-of-the art infrastructure, but because they also have poeple who can imagine and are totally devoted to pure knowledge and can creat even without they do no have hi-fi facilities. They became great universities, because they invented microscopes. They invented them even they were poor at facilities. C.V.Raman invented the Raman effect, even when he didn't have any hi-fi instruments. That is why he is great. He was great at the level of the idea generation. He was so confident of his idea that he was certain that he would win the Nobel Prize. You get this confidence when you have great ideas. Somewhere, we must accept that we are failing to creat great ideas with the exception of a few here and there.

    We do not have microscopes, we do not have hi-fi expensive instruments. We must accept these limitations and even then we should work so hard on the level of imagination that we must be able to creat something great even without expensive instruments. Creating great things even without facilities is the mark of a great country. Let us get facilities, and then we will have hunderds of inventions,.... this attitude shows our lack of imagination.

    Somewhere we must stop blaming one another and work hard to achieve in spite of all the difficulties and problems.

    Otherwise, we will simply keep on blaming one another and this will end up in nothing.

  3. The Prime Minister stressed quite a lot on the importance of Universities. I have never been to an University, do may be am not quite a right person to blabber on them. But from what ever i read in the newspapers I am confident the Indian Universities are not doing what they are supposed to do. An university is supposed to be a place were by thought and action progress is made to better our understanding of the world around us. It is meant to be a place were opinions of people are respected irrespective of whether that is the opinion of the majority or minority. If an individuals opinion is always crushed, how can we hope for her to think?

    Having said that, as a student of science I feel these problems exist in the education and propagation of science:
    1. Lack of good primary school teachers. I don't mean to show dis-respect, but I had a physics teacher once who thought stars were "gaseous Bodies hanging in the upper atmosphere".
    2. Terrible course structure. We have textbooks after reading which one doesn't feel awed by the beauty of science, but instead feels condemned to study it! The structure of the things we learn, and how we learn them needs drastic improvements, like insistance on more pracrical work etc.
    3. Lack of role models.
    4. Lastly, but very importantly, the indian life still rotates around the family. Most parents invest in their children's education so that the child when grows up can support them. In many families, it is planned that as and when the "father" retires the "son" can take his place as the bread earner. If a person desires to do a carer in pure sciences, he will start earnings only in his late twenties this skews up many calculations.
    And yet, we could have at least produced better engineers for building our nation. But it so happens that most of the "produce" of good engineering colleges ends up doing jobs outside the nation. Not because of lack of patriotism, but because of lack of employers at home. For any progress, we need to have good entrepreneurs. Why we don't we have any good entrepreneurs? I guess research needs to be done on that. Encouraging entrepreneurship will help solving all our problems.

  4. Thanks Amogh for sharing your views.
    I would like to insist that we need at least one generation who devotes ther lives for "creating" knowledge irresepctive of all difficulties and problems you have mentioned. If we dono't have roll models. Let us try be roll models for the generation next to ours.

  5. Firstly, I appreciate for bringing out a very genuine issue of our society. It has loud reverberation certainly in my mind after reading your article. I couldn't stop myself thinking about “why it was so ?” “And most importantly, what is the solution?” So though of sharing my views with you.

    Your article has definitely raised a serious questions on our Indian education system. I will not hesitate to say that India has provided more an examination system rather than education system for grooming young brains. I do agree with you that India has not been able to produce many great scientists, inventions unlike other western super powers. But, I certainly won’t agree that it is an end of Indian science. I do believe in aptitude and potential of Indian brains.

    It is very true to say Indian scientists have failed over a century to have its mark on world. But, it would be unfair to compare Indian scientists to that of the other developed countries scientist. We should always compare apples with apples. A finest quality of grape shouldn’t be compared with finest wines available in the market. It takes time for grapes to get converted into wine and for a young Indian student start to pursue his or her passion. It’s just the platform is missing or putting it more accurately platform is under construction.

    Let’s try to understand practically with a real time examples. Before independence, English controlled India for 400 years. Indian kings have won just a few battles carrying swords against the English cannons. An elderly person can argue “But, why can’t we win a war with swords?” He will also beat you with his experience saying “We had won a battle once during 18th century again English guns and cannons ” It sounds very inspiring, but it doesn’t mean we can win every battle carrying a sword. If we introspect, we will understand that we are not equipped with the latest equipments and with a proper mindset to compete in global arena. Today also we can’t compete with western countries in certain fields because they are far ahead of us. This is a fact, though it is difficult to digest. But, over a few decades gaps has been reduced.

    Now the question arises, why we are lagging behind them and treated as 3rd nation country? History witnessed, we did not invade any country in the name of religion nor we have import slaves from Africa to build our nation. Moreover, we were ruled by foreign rulers for more than 400 years and we were treated as slaves. Today, we have achieved everything coming out of our own suffering and we are developing in a good pace, if not rapidly. For instance, if a tree is to be cut, sharpening of axe is very important if we want to see the results. We are in the phase of sharpening our axe today.

    The day when Indian economy gets stronger, it will open many more doors for young student to chase his or her craze. Government will also encourage R&D. Though pure science is passion for many Indian young guns, they are forced to get into rat race. Today also majority of passionate Indians are not economically strong or bold enough to peruse their dreams. But, yes we are changing. Once a stage is prepared, our mindset will change and world will watch us.