“I am a toymaker,” Arvind Gupta cheerfully introduces himself. Gupta, one of India’s leading science popularisers, is being modest. This ex-alumni of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, in fact, received a TWAS-ROCASA (Regional Office for Central and South Asia) regional prize on the opening day (18 October) of the TWAS annual meeting. Gupta, a former electrical engineer, has been making toys for the past 25 years and his students science centre operates from the campus of the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune.
Gupta’s passion is toys, more so toys made from trash. He believes the best thing a child can do with a toy is to break it (“children are the last curious cats we have,” he says). In fact, I would urge you to check out his toys website: http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/toys.html.
So what have toys got to do with a meeting of serious and senior scientists? For one, Gupta’s passion for science popularisation is winning accolades both nationally and now internationally. As he told me over dinner last night, there are thousands of bright, inquisitive young minds in developing countries, for whom poverty is the major barrier to a decent education. Their poverty keeps them out of the exciting pursuit of their scientific curiosity and learning as they cannot afford fancy science books or have access to nice school laboratories the urban elite’s children enjoy.
This is where Gupta steps in. His technique of using toys to explain science covers topics from astronomy to beginner’s biology, pressure, light, electricity, magnetism, even ‘Newton Unplugged’ and many more.
Gupta is also a staunch believer in ‘copy left’ philosophy (in which authors forgo copyrights and make their work freely accessible to all.) His website hosts a collection of 2500 science books — his and those that he simply buys and puts up on his website. They have been translated into 13 Indian languages so that poor students in remote areas with no access to well equipped public libraries can read them. As he explains to the original authors, what matters is that their books are being read by hundreds of thousands of poor children with an interest in science. And they end up agreeing with him!!
May Gupta’s tribe increase.
T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net