The Hari Putar Dialogues - 45
(Business Standard : 18 February 2009 ; Bangalore: For the first time in the history of Indian space research, a satellite developed by a university in India will be launched by the Indian Space Research Institute (Isro) during the next flight of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Tentatively scheduled for launch in March-April this year, the vehicle will carry a small remote-sensing satellite completely developed and fabricated by Chennai-based Anna University, sources in Isro said. The high-resolution pictures and data obtained from the IRS series of satellites are used for various applications such as drought monitoring, wasteland management, urban planning, mineralogical mapping, flood-risk management and management of National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS), among others.)
Putar: There is a report in the Business Standard today about the planned launch of a satellite developed by an Indian University. This has been made by the students at Anna University.
Hari: Really Putar? That's excellent. What is it called?
Hari: That's an excellent name. Anu means young or small I think and sat is of course short for satellite. It could of course also have been called Annasat since it has been developed by Anna University.
Putar: But there is another reason why it's been given that name.
Hari: What's that?
Putar: It's a micro satellite. It weighs only 35 kilograms.
Hari: 35 kilos only! That's a little more than the baggage allowance for a passenger on an aircraft.
Putar: It makes sense though. Students cannot hope to have so much hardware available so as to create a bigger satellite.
Hari: Where is it being launched from? Have they also designed a mini launching bad.
Putar: Perhaps it may happen in the future, but as yet they are doing the launch from the Sriharikota space port under the control of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
Hari: It's something to be proud of, but not complacent about. Other Western universities have been making satellites much earlier.
Putar: That's true. In April last year, ISRO launched 10 satellites of which two were big satellites built by ISRO. The remaining eight were nano-satellites built by foreign universities including the Canadian University, Dutch University and one university in Japan.
Hari: Exactly, so we shouldn't be complacent. But tell me, Anna University is relatively less known as compared to some other premier scientific research institutes in India. What are they doing?
Putar: It is understood that IIT Bombay and IIT Kanpur are also in the process of building micro-satellites. The discussion, however, is in the initial stages.
Hari: The world is on the brink of many scientific advances, and it's important that India devote attention to its scientific endeavors.
Putar: Exactly. The launch of Chandrayaan to the Moon was an important and great step but we have to keep with it. Just two days ago, Infosys Technologies chairman and chief mentor NR Narayana Murthy called upon Indian scientists to focus more on research and innovation to catch up with their counterparts in the developed countries.
Hari: It's all very well to make these exhortations, but scientists must also be recognized and rewarded for their efforts. What is Mr. Narayana Murthy doing in that regard?
Putar: He is doing something, Papaji. Infosys Technologies Ltd. announced on Tuesday that it has instituted prizes to honor outstanding Indian scientists in mathematics, physical sciences (physics and chemistry), engineering sciences, life sciences (biology and medicine) and social sciences. The annual prizes, of Rs. 50 lakh each, will be awarded by the Infosys Science Foundation, a non-profit trust.
Hari: Well done.
Putar: N.R. Narayana Murthy said the award would be funded by a corpus of Rs. 21.5 crore, which was raised through personal contributions made by seven executive directors of the company. This would be supplemented by an annual grant of Rs. 2 crore from the company. Mr. Murthy said that though India had emerged as a 'global player' in space and rocketry sciences and in developing telecommunication technologies, 'there is considerable need to enhance the focus of higher education.'
Hari: Indian Universities must achieve yet higher standards and these awards will help.
Putar: Mr Murthy pointed out that only two Indian universities figured in the top 100 universities of the world in 2007. In comparison, there were 34 from Japan and 18 from China in the top 100.
Hari: We need to institute other awards in the physical and social sciences, and in literature.
Putar: The Government has its awards for recognizing contributions by artists and scientists but sometimes there are question marks raised about the fairness of the selection process.
Hari: That's the most important thing. The selection must be fair. India has to change into a meritocratic society. That is absolutely essential for our progress. It's good that these awards have been instituted, but the selection of those deserving must be fair and not tainted by any corruption.
Putar: All Indians realize this problem. The selection process would be stringent, Mr. Murthy said. The jury would include leading scientists. For instance, the jury for the prize in mathematical sciences would be headed by Professor S.R. Srinivasa Varadhan, winner of the Abel Prize, which is regarded the most prestigious international prize in the field.
Hari: I'm relieved to hear that.
Putar: Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: There is so much hype about the chances of Slum Dog Millionaire winning some Oscars, isn't there?
Hari: The film has created history, hasn't it? Never have so many Indians been nominated for an Oscar. For Best Music, for Best Supporting actress, and now I hear even for Sound Effects.
Putar: But do you know when we will really create history?
Hari: When will that be?
Putar: When we have our own international awards which recognize excellence in different fields and scientists and artists from all over the world will dream of getting those awards. Do you think we are up to it?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.