In response to the demand from enthusiastic students and eager parents, IISER Pune hosted its first in-house Summer School for students of grades IX to XII from in and around Pune. The aim was to give the students an exposure to various disciplines of science in a fun way through interactive lectures, videos, demonstrations, hands-on experiments, research-lab visits, etc.; thereby making learning an enjoyable experience. More than 100 applications (including some from Baramati, Bhandara, Nasik, and Sholapur) were received, of which fifty students were selected. They were joined by thirty students from Assam who were visiting IISER Pune as a part of a national programme called Ishan Vikas Shibir. Each day of the 5-day camp was allotted to a different discipline of science, which was covered by scientists from IISER Pune and some invited experts.
The School was inaugurated by Director, Prof. K. N. Ganesh who talked to the students about what constitutes science, how it is carried out and the joy in doing so, and how various disciplines are inter-related. Dr. Sheela Donde, in-charge of outreach activities at IISER Pune and organizer of the programme, explained the main theme and gave an overview of the entire event.
Day 1: Mathematics
The first session was conducted by Dr. Anisa Chorwadwala who talked of “Fun with maths”, explaining the concepts underlying the Isoperimetric Problem as an example of Shape Optimization. Dr. Baskar Balasubramanyam explained the basic concepts behind Diaphantine equations, and how they can be developed to solve complex problems. Using simple games like tic-tac-toe, Dr. Chandrasheel Bhagwat explained how to derive an algorithm for a ‘winning strategy’ for any game such that “You can always win…!” In the first hands-on session of the afternoon conducted by IISER Pune students (Jyotirmoy Ganguly, Soumendra Panja, Wadikaur Rahman to name a few), the participants built polyhedrons of a variety of angles, faces, shapes and sizes using Zome tools. The algorithm for solving a 2x2x2 Rubik’s cube was explained in the second session, with students individually working on the cubes with the help of volunteers. Both these workshops were thoroughly enjoyed by the students.
Day 2: Biology
Dr. Nagaraj Balasubramanian gave a great overview of various types of cells in the human body, their shape and structure, how they move, and how they attach to surfaces. Using videos of cells taken in his lab, he brought out the differences between appearance and importance of cells seen in 2D (light microscopy) versus 3D imaging (confocal microscopy). Dr. Arvind Natu spoke about “Opportunities in Science”, elaborating on admission criteria and programmes at IISER Pune. Post-lunch, Dr. Sheela Donde spoke on “Learning and Memory”, detailing various features of the human brain. Using videos she explained embryonic development of the human brain, how nerve cells communicate, and molecular mechanisms of short term and long term memory. Dr. Krishanpal Karmodiya organised laboratory experimental demos on model organisms in biology. Students had the opportunity to observe stained bacteria and colonies, feeding behaviour in Hydra, Drosophila cultures, and heart-beats in chick embryos.
Day 3: Earth Science
Prof. S.S. Rai gave a detailed exposition on the earth’s crust and mantle, causes of earthquakes, measurement of their intensity and energy, and the inability to predict them. In his session on climate science, Dr. Goswamy talked about conditions required for formation, growth and movements of clouds leading to rain, snow or hail storms, and their effect on the local climate. Dr. Gyana Ranjan Tripathi spoke about geochemical aspects of weathering of rocks, the reasons for weathering of the Himalayas, estimation of weathering, and dating of rocks. Dr. Natu spoke on “What we learn from nature”, emphasizing how several technological advances including the material used for bullet proof vests, Velcro, supersonic trains, and smart phone colour screens, have been inspired by nature.
Day 4: Chemistry
The day began with visits to chemistry labs where the principle and uses of instruments like UV and Visual Spectrophotometer, Refractometer, X Ray Diffraction, etc. were explained to the students. Ph.D. students of Dr. S.G. Srivatsan (Pramod Sabale, Anupam Sawant, N. Ashok and Sudeshna Manna) explained the principle of polymerisation and uses of gels. They showed simple experiments to make nylon polymer, polyacrylamide and agarose gels, along with other demonstrations. Citing several examples from the drug industry, material science, nanotechnology, and space science, Prof. Ganesh gave a beautiful overview of how chemistry is the mother of all sciences; it is at the core of all that happens in nature, of all life forms, and all natural and man-made materials. Dr. Shabana Khan demonstrated with explanations, 20-odd experiments in basic chemistry. Several demos like gas explosion, elephant toothpaste, synthetic beer, chemiluminescence, silver mirror, etc. left the students enthralled. Fourteen students attended an impromptu “sky gazing” session organised by Summer School volunteers in the late evening.
Day 5: Physics
In an interactive session lasting over three hours, Dr. B.D. Chakradeo, retired Associate Professor in Physics from CHM College Mumbai, conducted a series of experiments to explain simple laws of physics relating to motion, optics, pendulum, gravity, magnetism, etc. Several students participated as volunteers for performing the experiments. Thirty-four Physics teachers from 18 schools and colleges also participated in this workshop, taking away novel ideas for teaching the subject. Post-lunch, Dr. Bhas Bapat divided students into groups of eight, and gave them two problems to solve in the physics lab. One was the quintessential candle experiment for determining the proportion of oxygen in the air, and the other dealt with determining the value of ‘g’ using the pendulum experiment. Each group presented their results, followed by brainstorming for arriving at a consensus hypothesis. Students learnt how to identify the flaws in their experimental design and realized that the same observation can have multiple interpretations.
In the Valedictory Function attended by Prof. Ganesh, Dr. Bhas Bapat distributed participation certificates to the students who had attended all five days. The Ishan Vikas students gave a befitting finale by performing traditional Assamese folk forms like Bihu dance and vocal recitals.