About science, about a magician and also about PrintPack

The 102nd Indian Science Congress was hosted in my backyard in Mumbai. The sessions were mired in controversy: what with claims and counterclaims over ancient India’s scientific prowess. It's tragic. A couple of scientists I met on the weekend were dismayed that the controversy about Vimana and Head Transplants; overshadowed serious scientific presentations.

07 Jan 2015 | By Ramu Ramanathan

It begs the question: as a nation do we lack scientific temper? As a nation, do we easily surrender, as the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, to: Authority, Mystery and Miracle!

Many years ago, I attended a children’s workshop at a tiny Gandhian school. The session was conducted by Arvind Gupta, who was talking about the application of simple toys that can teach children about science.

Arvind Gupta is from Pune University’s Children Science Theatre, known as the IUCAA (Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics) and has held training sessions for hundreds of teachers and students in several cities of the country. For the last 20 years, Gupta has worked on developing a technique in which he contrived from simple toys and presented fundamental scientific laws. And it is delightful madness. He uses junk like matchboxes, thread, discarded pens, straws, etc. It’s like a magic show. But with science. And there is no secrecy nor theorems.

Taking an old rubber sole (he says Bata’s hawai slippers are the best) planted with three old ball pens, he can demonstrate ‘divergence.’ The kids merely bend the sole forward till the pens touch each other, like rays of light in focus, and then bend it backwards until the pens split into separate rays to demonstrate divergence.

He can transform the mundane into magic. Old Tetra Packs flung away become long-life measuring cylinders, funnels, or tree nameplates. Empty plastic film roll cans are recycled into ‘pumps from the dump.’ Almost 60 percent of India depends on hand pumps, but thanks to Gupta, one learns learnt that a world-class pump with working valves can be made in ten minutes using a film roll can and an Add Gel refill. What’s more they are leak-proof, so these homemade pumps can pass the same acid test used to evaluate commercially produced pumps.  

Likewise, straw is used to explain the principles of sound. But blowing through the straw to observe what happens to the pitch, as the straw is snipped simultaneously, has a side benefit – I’m told it helps increase the lungpower of asthmatic kids. 

And so on.

In Madhya Pradesh, there are more than 600 different types of toys (mostly developed by Gupta) being used to educate students, in more than 1,000 different schools across India. The philosophy is simple. As they say, the writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mineshaft. You compose first, and then you listen for the reverberation. Arvind Gupta’s methods sensitises you to the reverberations of science.

Question: Why am I say all this in a print magazine?

Answer: I am hoping this is what PrintPack 2015 in February shall do for the print industry. Sometimes we are so self obsessed with our vanities about balance sheets and bottomlines and brand bragging, we forget that print is fun.

And even more importantly, printing is science.