Low R&D despite space successes

Low R&D despite space successes

Despite the success of the Indian space programme, the scientific community laments that not enough young people are entering research and development, affecting the country's long-term scientific goals. 

According to Praveer Asthana, who heads the Mega Science Division in the Department of Science and Technology (DST), although legions of young science graduates gravitate towards medicine and information technology, few choose to move into research and development, which he described as a critically undermanned sector, resulting in slow innovations. 

Going by the DST's latest data (from 2015 onwards), India has just 2,82,994 people in research and development while China, in comparison, has nine lakh people and the United States 12 lakhs. India's publication output and its share in the world, by the field of science, amounted to an average of 4.3%, according to a 2016 DST study. 

"In future years, we are going to require a continuous influx of young people to help sustain our scientific endeavours if Indian ingenuity is to be bolstered," added Ranajit Kumar, the head of the Department of Atomic Energy's (DAE) Nuclear Control and Planning Wing. 

This is easier said than done, according to Dr Asthana who explained that government-mandated science camps held annually in the hopes of attracting at least 50,000 students fall short by nearly half every year. 

Some officials see mega-science exhibits as a means to close this gap. One such exhibit, named 'Vigyan Samagam', is set to begin at the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum in Bengaluru on July 29. 

The ambitions of the exhibition, according to officials of the DAE and the DST which organised the event, is to showcase India's involvement in eight collaborative, international mega-science projects — amounting to crores of rupees in investment, the cooperation of over 50 Indian institutes with international scientific organisations such as CERN and Caltech and thousands of scientists and technical personnel. 

The primary aim, however, is to draw fresh talent from among students, and for this, the organisers have banked on the sheer technological magnitude of the projects. 

The projects range from a facility for anti-proton and ion research to a thermonuclear experimental reactor, which can solve India's clean energy requirements, to a 30mm telescope, which is set to emerge as the most advanced and capable ground-based optical and infrared telescope in the world, which Dr Eswar Reddy of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics described as a "huge step for India". 

"This telescope will help us determine the rate of the universe's expansion and help find life on other worlds," he said. 

He added that six out of 12 Indian companies manufacturing components for the telescope, which is to be sited in Hawaii, US, are based in Bengaluru.