The Telegraph
Thursday , March 3 , 2011
Since 1st March, 1999
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Focus on utility at science seminar

Scientific innovations should have tangible utility in everyday life and end up in the industry, feel scientists and professors from India and abroad attending a conference in the city on “Frontiers of Science”.

The two-day conference, which started on Wednesday, has been organised to come up with a blueprint for the role the sciences can play “to help India attain the leadership status predicted for her in the foreseeable future”.

“In Canada, we recently found that our scientists were coming up with more innovations than any other country. If that was the good news, the bad news was that hardly any of them had any practical utility in society. That’s low value for innovations. You don’t want that,” said Nigel Lockyer, the director of TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics on the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

“Growth versus ecology”, “biological sciences at the new frontiers” and “investing in excellence” were some of the issues tackled at the sessions.

Speaking on “science policy from a Canadian perspective”, Lockyer said the ongoing effort in his country to move major laboratories to university premises was aimed at encouraging innovation by students.

Research at the government level and identification of the areas of science that needed to be addressed was the key, he added.

Other foreign delegates who made presentations at the conference were Rudiger Voss of CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory), who spoke on capacity building, and Philippe Leburn, a former head of CERN’s accelerator technology department.

Among the Indian scientists, Indraneel Mitra, professor emeritus, department of surgical oncology, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai, while speaking on the future of biology said the subject had lost its vitality, having become synonymous with molecular biology. “This reductionism has to stop. We need to look at things from a holistic point of view to come up with innovations relevant to society,” he said.

He called 1945 to 1975 the “golden period of biology”, citing several innovations, including the discovery of the polio vaccine and the pacemaker.

On the topic of “science capacity building”, Sushanta Dattagupta, the director of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, said there was need for “coupling” of institutes with universities. “Researchers would benefit with fresh, young minds asking them questions. Otherwise, very often the researchers lose their edge with time.”

Also present was Harshvardhan Neotia, chairman, Ambuja Realty Development, who spoke about the need for balancing economic growth with ecological equilibrium.

Bikash Sinha, the director of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, and S.K. Jain of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India were among the other speakers.

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