August 1st, 2005


(no subject)

Science, Anyone?

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) offers some of the top school students in India a chance to work with real scientists doing cutting edge research in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology. A cousin of mine got a chance to attend an interview conducted at IISc aimed at choosing candidates for this program; his qualification was that he was one of the all India toppers in the CBSE 10'th standard exam (and he is a *really* brilliant guy). The candidates were asked what their favourite subject was and what they would like to study in the future - almost all of them replied `computers'. Nobody wanted to do Physics or Chemistry or Math or Biology - it's `Computers' all the way!

You can't really blame the kids for this. There are many `social' factors at work. Most important perhaps is the poor image of the scientist as projected by the society at large. I was crazy about Chemistry during my school days - I had a small lab of my own where I conducted all kinds of silly experiments involving dangerous stuff like Sulphuric acid. After 10'th standard, all my friends branched off into `entrance coaching' for two streams - medicine and engineering. The general opinion of family, friends and everybody around me was that if you have some `stuff' in you, you will do either engineering or medicine. Only those guys with birdy brains would do a Bachelors in Physics or Math or Chemistry! Although nobody forced me into appearing for the engineering entrance, I subconsciously imbibed the idea that the only way to demonstrate my `intelligence' was to go for Engineering! I thus abandoned my first love and got into `Computer Science and Engineering'.

We have a really serious situation here. The only way a large country like ours can progress technologically is by building a strong base in basic sciences - anybody who tells you otherwise is either misinformed or is trying to fool you. Has anybody thought why the US and the European nations still dominate the cutting edge of computing technology? It's because these nations have the scientific prowess to `invent the future'. Sophisticated research in Physics and material science results in the design of microprocessors which can pack more and more transistors; research into quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize the way we compute ten years later. Who is doing all this stuff? The `software engineer'? You bet not!

We need software designers to bring in all the $$. But we can't ignore science and the scientist. Our best and brightest students should be motivated to pursue Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. The mad rush for an `engineering' degree and the exodus of talented guys to software shops should stop.

A small twist towards the end. Many of the students who were so passionate about `computers' in their 10'th standard, by the time they are ready for engineering admission, would back off and choose something like Electronics or Mechanical engineering. They would be told by some enlightened friend or neighbour that there is no `scope' for software, and, anyway, you can always learn computers `by-the-side'; after all, its just like typing, isn't it? So simple that even grandma can do it.