Western India Science Fair 2010

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 16, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The better part of today morning and early afternoon was spent at the Nehru Science Centre, Worli attending the Western India Science Fair. Now, in its 23rd edition, the fair has been conducted every year in Mumbai. This is one of the few opportunities that students do get to show off their talent in hands-on projects. As for the student projects, I saw that students have picked up on themes relevant to today – anti-terrorism, renewable energy, waste management and agriculture.

The guests did walk into the hall a full 40 minutes late. The inauguration began with an opening by Anil Manekar. He spoke about the Fair being a great platform for students to showcase their creativity and also learn the important task of science communication, by communicating their theoretical and practical understanding of science to the visiting members of the public. This, he stressed was vital and was the need of the hour.

We then learnt that the 2009 edition of the fair saw 120 thousand visitors to the Fair.

The Chief Guest of the evening [thanks to Srinivas for correcting me] was Dr. H C Pradhan of the Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education. I have made his acquaintance as a higher secondary student when I wrote the Physics Olympiad. I visited his offices (he was Assistant Director then) on the recommendation of my late Professor Prasad Iyer (in Mathematics) of Atomic Energy Junior College. He was really helpful at that time and he is still as humble and soft spoken today. He shared with students who he said were “really good with their hands” avenues such as the Olympiads and the Intel Fair. For the teachers in the audience, he also went into some detail on teaching and its modern forms. He said that project based learning was now believed to be better than Teacher based learning. He said that learning and hence the student had become more important than teaching and hence the teacher’s job was now to provide more opportunities to the student for learning. He told them that the next step is likely to be peer-to-peer learning. He urged the participants to go home and share their experiences with fellow students in their schools and in their neighborhoods.

Of all the student projects that I witnessed, I enjoyed one on rain water harvesting, one on testing water for fecal contamination using a Rs. 24 Hydrogen Sulphide strip, one on aqua robotic reconnaissance system (based partly on 26/11 terrorist strikes), one on Maglev trains (the fascinating thing about this was that they used their Nokia mobile phone battery to power the model 🙂 ), one on robotic excavation system (based on recent news of the Chile miners), an elaborate satellite-assisted coastal monitoring system (based on 26/11 terrorist strike), a system for converting plastic waste to useful substances like wax, fuel etc.

There was even a section for educators on some of the interesting ways they taught to science to students. Didn’t spend much time here as I was hungry :).

GSLV-F06 launching the GSAT-5P on December 20

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 16, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I had earlier written about the possible launch date of GSAT-5P as being December 20. This is now confirmed. Yesterday, ISRO posted photos and descriptions [PDF] about the GSLV-F06 and the GSAT-5P.

A little bit on the satellite. Unlike the satellite it is replacing, the GSAT-5P is a pure communications satellite. It does not have the meteorological payload that INSAT-2E had. The 2310 kg satellite will be placed in a geosynchronous transfer orbit by the GSLV-F06. The satellite with its C-band transponders will provide continuity of telecommunication services.

The importance of this launch is not because of its payload but rather because of its launch vehicle. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is a completely new launch vehicle unlike the PSLV, which has now been tried and tested over the years. It is tasked with launching 2-4 tonne class satellites that the PSLV is not designed to handle. The problems facing the programme have been faced by other rockets in its class and are not un-precedented. However, it has been worrying ISRO because it has impacted ISRO’s strive for self-reliant systems. The delay will cause India to fall back on support on Astrium’s Ariane launch vehicles.

For the technical personnel, such times are uncomfortable. Questions are raised on the personnel’s capability by the management and it is a difficult time for all concerned. However, this is how people learn in rocketry and science. In a recent interview, I was informed that the way the Sriharikota spaceport works right now it is capable of doing only 3-4 launches per year. ISRO has been working to improve this launch rate with its Chairman making the claim in early 2010 that they hoped to do 10launches this year. The same claims have been carried forward to 2011. I wonder if this has impacted ISRO’s ability to test the rocket without a payload or with dummy payloads like SpaceX did. I had raised this question earlier as well when ISRO’s GSLV with indigenous cryogenic engine failed and fell into the Bay with its payload.

GSLV is a machine with contributions from many people each one providing critical components. The failure of even one component amongst the bunch can lead to the catastrophic results. Before this launch, I have depressed myself a little. I hope and pray for the team of GSLV-F06. Godspeed!