The 104th session of the Indian Science Congress concluded on January 7. The five-day conference was attended by as many as 1300 scientists and students. Along with them, 500,000 school students visited the Pride of India pavilion which exhibited the work of India's public research institutes and industry. The chief guest of the valedictory function Vidyasagar Rao, Governor of Maharashtra, asked the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) to reward and recognise the best science universities and science leaders in the country.
Guest of honour, YS Chowdary, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology and Earth Science, asked the ISCA TO improve the content of the conference and provide direction to science in the country. He also asked the organisation to set a system to provide feedback on the recommendations made during the conference.
The next session of the conference would be held in Bhubaneshwar in 2018.
The first four days of the Congress saw discussions and deliberations on a range of issues on what India can achieve and what could be the road map. However, Down To earth raises concerns about the trend to shy away from specifics and harping on generics.
Investment needed for converting prototypes to products
The theme of the 104th Indian Science Congress could be ‘Science and Technology for National Development’ but an interactive session with the industry and academicians suggested that this kind of development could be far off in the future. The fate of nanotechnology demonstrates this very well. India has invested as much as US$ 300 million on research on nanotechnology. However, there is no investment in startups.
The IIT Bombay realised this when it did not find anyone to produce the product for detecting markers for Acute Myocardial Infarction (cardiac muscle damage that accompanies a heart attack). This product is important as it can detect multiple markers in a single reaction and reduce the cost of performing the test. Similarly, it faces failure in marketing its soil moisture sensors. The IIT has now set up a prototype manufacturing facility, NanoSniff Technologies, which is likely to be functional in a few months.
"The biggest challenge now is to convert the prototypes to products," says V Ramgopal Rao, director of IIT Delhi, who had developed these prototypes when he was at IIT Mumbai. We have not invested enough in product manufacturing facilities, he says. Overall, we put in very little money in research, he adds. Just two universities in China have more funds than whole of India. However, for the money we have, our output is more than other countries, he explains.
Providing this service to research is not on the industry's agenda at present. At the meeting, experts from industries such as Bharat Forge Ltd and Titan Company Ltd talked about how they worked in collaboration with researchers. For example, Bharat Forge provides its employees an opportunity to work in research labs in India and outside. Bharat Forge has worked closely with India's Defence Research and Development Organisation.
Technologies to curb Ganga river pollution revealed
Researchers at the Indian Science Congress discussed technologies that could help the country achieve its goal of cleaning River Ganga and the Swachh Bharat mission. Technologies, which are generally used to reduce pollutants, sewage and industrial waste that enters river, are crucial for this. To this effect, the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) in Chennai has developed some technologies that are ready for commercialisation. Dry tanning, which eliminates the use of polluting chromium and water, is one of the techniques.
Enzymes are used for dehairing and opening up of the leather fibres for further treatment. Calling it a game-changing technology, B Chandrasekaran, director of the institute, informed that it has been given to 50 tanneries in Kanpur. According to him, the industry is not only controlling pollutants, but it is also saving 20 per cent of the operational cost as they now do not have to import chromium.
To adopt the technology, the industry would need to modernise. However, according to Chandrasekaran, the Centre is providing it with subsidies. By using reverse osmosis, the industry can now be zero-liquid-waste premise. "It should take the industry around two years to clean up," says Chandrasekaran. In addition, the CLRI has ensured that they use the waste to produce wealth. They are in talks with a Delhi-based industry to use the animal hair to produce a blended cotton material. The collagen from the skin is being turned to medical products like sutures.
To further ensure that the goal of Swachh Bharat Mission is met, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Hyderabad is using remote sensing to monitor the river Ganga. They have carried out ground tests, too, and based on the continuous monitoring data provided by the Central Pollution Control Board, they have tried to figure out the level of turbidity, vegetation and other parameters from space.
In this way, water quality maps have been developed. V Venkateshwar Rao, project director of National Remote Sensing Centre's Water Resources Information System, revealed that the stretch of the river between Kannauj and Kanpur has been chosen for the pilot project. It has also developed an app to help the community report pollution to the central body and this helps them crowdsource the data. All the information is available on its portal Bhuvan Ganga—Geospatial Support for National Mission for Clean Ganga.
Chronic underfunding in scientific research highlighted
The 104th session of the Indian Science Congress was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today at Tirupati. The theme of meeting this year is Science and Technology for National Development. In his speech, Modi talked about the importance of scientists to respond to change. He said that a deep-rooted curiosity-driven scientific tradition will allow quick adaptation to new realities.
He identified clean water, energy, food, environment, climate, security and healthcare as the important challenges that India faces.
General President of the Indian Science Congress Association, D Narayana Rao, talked about how science and technology holds the promise to transform India.
He also highlighted chronic underfunding and understaffing in this sector and stated that it was important to redefine the role of science in national development in the time of globalisation. He said that technological independence is needed along with political independence.
Union Minister for Science & Technology & Earth Sciences, Harsh Vardhan, said that drastic changes in our thinking are needed to bring about fundamental changes.