Monday, August 5, 2013

The promise of physics in India

Physics World recently ran a special report about Physics in India. The government is investing heavily in science through a range of worthwhile initiatives. But, the challenges are substantial. Here are a few things that stood out to me.

The Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) admits about 100 graduate students every year. More than 10,000 take the entrance exam which is held in about 20 cities!
Although India has hundreds of universities and research institutes it seems that only the IITs and a handful of universities give an undergraduate education that is adequate preparation for a Ph.D.

TIFR is opening a new campus in Hyderabad. This involves hiring 250 faculty members in the next 12 years!
This will be larger both in space and faculty numbers than Mumbai.

This is in addition to the International Center for Theoretical Sciences being established by TIFR in Bangalore.

Students who do decide to pursue science Ph.D's have often resisted considerable cultural and family pressure to pursue engineering careers instead.

The five new IISERs [Indian Institutes for Science Education and Research] are combating the rote learning culture by including a substantial component of research in the undergraduate curriculum.

The cultural obstacles for women in physics are considerable, as discussed in a frank interview with Shobhana Narasimhan.

A few trivia.
The Tata Institute was set up with money from Tata but now is solely dependent on government funding. [This is in spite of the fact that the Tata group now has a market capitalization of almost $100 billion!].
During the rise of Nazi Germany, the director of the Indian Institute of Science, Raman [i.e. who discovered the Raman effect] tried to hire Max Born but is was opposed by local faculty.
After Homi Bhabha, the founding director of the Tata Institute, died in a plane crash, his office was closed off for thirty years.

While on the subject of India, The Economist has a fascinating article, Out of the Gloom, about how solar electricity is having a significant positive effect on the economic and educational development of rural India.

Addendum. Here is a helpful summary of some statistics about science education and research in India.  Although, as can be expected from Nature it mindlessly makes some comparisons based on metrics.

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