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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Science in action

Every year many lives are lost in accidents at unmanned railway level crossings. These lives could be saved if the Indian Railways adopted a simple innovation envisaged by a Class IX student. Ajit Kumar Choubey from the Bhumihar Brahmin High School in Buxar, Bihar, demonstrated his model of a railway track made out of used ballpoint pens at the 38th Eastern India Science Fair held at the Birla Industrial & Technological Museum (BITM) in Calcutta last week.

“This is a simple circuit which gets closed when the train approaches the crossing and it opens as soon as the train passes by,” he explained enthusiastically as his proud father looked on. Arvind Choubey said his son had been creating things out of waste materials ever since he was six.

BITM director S.K. Emdadul Islam stressed that the fair served as a platform for innovative children who created models or came up with ideas of scientific and technological solutions to their day-to-day problems. It sought to encourage hands-on learning and link science with real-life situations. “Although the country churns out lakhs of graduates in science and engineering, very few are really employable as they don’t have the skills to solve real-life problems. However, we have children from remote villages who have the ability to apply common sense for the benefit of society,” he said.

Choubey’s wasn’t, however, the only socially relevant innovation at the fair. There was also a fraud-resistant teller machine that could dispense food and other essential goods under the public distribution system. Swetapadma Mishra, a Class IX student from Indrapur, Odisha, designed a plywood box modelled on an automated teller machine (ATM) with two slots — one for a magnetic card (which can be recharged from the panchayat office) and another for 5-rupee coins.

The machine — named Anna Hazare Public Distribution System — dispensed kerosene from one outlet and solid goods (rice or sugar) from the other. “I have applied a wiper motor used in car windshields to dispense rice and a tiny pump to deliver kerosene,” explained Mishra who had valuable help from Shiba Shankar Sathua, a teacher at the Government High School, to build her dream machine.

Mishra won the Jagadish Chandra Bose Trophy, the first prize at the fair which was attended by 195 schools from 10 eastern states. Incidentally, Sundergarh is one of the few areas in the country where the public distribution system works well.

If Mishra tackled the national scourge of corruption, Puja Kumari Thakur, a Class 10 student of the State High School in Chaibasa, Jharkhand, had a solution for that other big problem — environmental degradation. “In the villages near my home, coal dust and iron ore fines, generated in the course of mining, are dumped. The remains of the minerals enter rivers and contaminate the water,” Thakur said. So she conjured up a novel brick constituted with iron fines, coal dust, cement and sand. It doesn’t need to be baked in a kiln —just drying the mixture in the sun for a week is enough.

“These bricks were thoroughly tested and found strong enough to withstand enormous pressure. It can be used for buildings,” says Thakur’s teacher and guide Amode Kumar Mishra. If such bricks were manufactured in large scale, not only ould the problem of dumping waste materials be solved, it would also help in low-cost housing.

Siddharta Roy, director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), who was present at the fair, held that anyone who wanted to pursue a career in science needed to be hands-on. “Scientists such as Jagadish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray created their own instruments required in scientific research,” said Roy who added that he had “learnt to innovate instruments for experiments on this very ground”. He, however, lamented that the current education system didn’t encourage children to be innovative.

The machine — named Anna Hazare Public Distribution System — dispensed kerosene from one outlet and solid goods (rice or sugar) from the other. “I have applied a wiper motor used in car windshields to dispense rice and a tiny pump to deliver kerosene,” explained Mishra who had valuable help from Shiba Shankar Sathua, a teacher at the Government High School, to build her dream machine. Mishra won the Jagadish Chandra Bose Trophy, the first prize at the fair which was attended by 195 schools from 10 eastern states. Incidentally, Sundergarh is one of the few areas in the country where the public distribution system works well.

If Mishra tackled the national scourge of corruption, Puja Kumari Thakur, a Class 10 student of the State High School in Chaibasa, Jharkhand, had a solution for that other big problem — environmental degradation. “In the villages near my home, coal dust and iron ore fines, generated in the course of mining, are dumped. The remains of the minerals enter rivers and contaminate the water,” Thakur said. So she conjured up a novel brick constituted with iron fines, coal dust, cement and sand. It doesn’t need to be baked in a kiln —just drying the mixture in the sun for a week is enough.

“These bricks were thoroughly tested and found strong enough to withstand enormous pressure. It can be used for buildings,” says Thakur’s teacher and guide Amode Kumar Mishra. If such bricks were manufactured in large scale, not only would the problem of dumping waste materials be solved, it would also help in low-cost housing.

Siddharta Roy, director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), who was present at the fair, held that anyone who wanted to pursue a career in science needed to be hands-on. “Scientists such as Jagadis Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray created their own instruments required in scientific research,” said Roy. He, however, lamented that the current education system didn’t encourage children to be innovative.