By Parnil Yodha:
Science is rational and empirical study of the structure of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. But through the years, in practice it has confined to a mere theoretical study of the physical world due to variety of reasons. National Science Centre (NSC) endeavours to rediscover the empirical essence of science with a plethora of interactive modes of teaching that rekindles the spirit of the subject through a fun and frolic hands-on approach.
National Science Centre which stands near Pragati Maidan in New Delhi is not like museums that only showcase enclosed exhibits with a description board but rather it involves the visitors profoundly through two-way interactive exhibits.
While contemplating the exhibits, you get onto the ride of a rattling rocket that successfully transports you to the fantastical planet, ‘Science’. Here, science flows in the very essence of everything, simple to complex that leaves you wondering in amazement.
When you step into the Centre, the melodious tone of a ‘string less harp’ welcomes you as you swirl your fingers between its two steel pillars. It appears like sheer magic but off course it has science behind. The movement of fingers between the pillars breaks the link between the several infra red sensors and receivers located at the top and the base of the harp, thus, striking a particular sound note.
Your next step leaves you paddling in a virtual illusionary pond which rhythmically ripples at the very instant that you enter it. This marks the inception of the first gallery of this Centre called ‘Water-The Elixir of Life’.
This wonder world of water then unfolds an array of exhibits that cover significant issues related to water, both inside and outside us. It narrates to us the tragic story of water from its pristine form to the form that we have today.
It meticulously discusses issues such as water portability, usage, cycle, wastage, scarcity, pollution, stress, conservation and their impact on life forms through the modus operandi of interesting demonstrations, colourful charts, interactive models and computer presentations. A special emphasis is given on Yamuna, the life-line of Delhi and the grand action plan to clean up this holy river.
Then, the exhibition elucidates water issues related to human life namely water’s inevitability for life existence, fraction of water required for life, water borne diseases and the like. The exhibition ends with a computer quiz on water and a computerized pledge to conserve water and another pledge to save Yamuna called ‘Aao Jamuna Me Jaan Dalein’ in which visitors can enumerate themselves to vow for these noble causes.
Now, an escalator takes you up to the third floor amidst the cacophony of an adjoining network of nylon “Energy balls” that automatically get lifted to certain height to gain potential energy, and then move downwards, rapidly, travelling all kinds of spiral paths made-up of steel wires, thus, performing work to convert their potential energy into other forms of energy.
On the third floor is a gallery called ‘Our Science and Technology Heritage’. This gallery beautifully depicts the evolution of science and technology along with growth of art, architecture and culture.
Science behind Jantar Mantar, Nakshatras (Zodiac signs) and Sun chariot wheel like one which is at Konark sun temple, all three that were used to calculate time in ancient times.
Then, you leap directly to the times of Indus valley civilization with the exhibition encompassing live-looking mannequins depicting life and culture of Harrapan people. This proves with facts that science and mathematics were a part and parcel of the lives Harrapan people. Whether it was the layout of the Lower town and the drainage system or it was use of equal-sized baked and sun-dried water-proof bricks, all had sheer science behind them.
It enlightens you upon some astonishing facts about that how science and maths had already gotten developed on Indian soil centuries before they actually reached Europe viz. the knowledge of atom, trigonometry, measures of length, weight & time, word numerals, existence of zero & decimal system, metallurgy, iron smelting, zinc smelting (an Indian contribution), coin making, and glass technology.
Ancient Indian architectural science also finds a place in this gallery through Ashokan legacy, mainly a replica of the Iron pillar; rock cut architecture, Deccan temple style, wood craft, and cannon art & technology.
The next gallery is Human Biology- the miracles of human life. It delves into human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, structure, evolution and its comparison with other living organisms through colourful diagrams, flow charts and paradigms
It covers topics that include ‘From Bing Bang to Smart man; sub cellular world- namely, ‘Story of a cell’, ‘Journey from cell to life, stages of embryo etc; animal and plant cells; molecular human weight; genetics- namely, sex chromosomes, sex determination etc; different vision- that includes visions of a normal human, myopic, hypermetropic, frog, dog & horse; the five senses, uniqueness of human life and so forth.
The second section of this gallery is based on biotechnology. This entails natural diseases, namely influenza, small pox, malaria & plague; life style diseases, namely hypertension, asthma, heart attack, liver cirrhosis, depression, diabetes, low vision, stroke, spondylitis, obesity and mouth cancer; vaccination- its invention, usage & types, and medicines- antiseptics & antibiotics. A feature has been done on AIDS- its discovery, impact on humans, treatment and deaths and cancer- its causes and advanced treatment.
Different interactive educational games have also been installed to grab the attention like ‘Can you guess the next number?’ ‘Balance yourself’ ’How steady is your grip?’, ‘Can you identify yourself?’ and many more. In a game called ‘Which is heavier?’ three different-sized boxes have been placed and the visitors have to judge which is the heaviest. We as usual think that the largest is the heaviest. But the striking thing is that the smallest is the heaviest. This proves that our brain makes decisions based on previous experiences. Towards the end computers for unmanned quiz on human biology have been installed.
Then, the visitor climbs down only to get onto a giant roller-coaster that rides him through the Pre-historic or the Jurassic era. This gallery has scary live-looking animated robotic dinosaurs that move their necks and create the most horrifying hair-raising sounds that you almost get goosebumps. Amongst them, the robot of Tyrannosaurus Rex or as it is notoriously known as T-Rex is the scariest as it gapes with its sharp dreadful teeth peeping out while violently moving its neck. This thrilling exhibition tries to trace life on earth, from Dinosaurs to Homo sapiens.
The next gallery is known as Fun Science. The only reason behind its name is that makes science fun and interesting through its array of incredible hands-on exhibits that fascinate visitors, mainly children. The idea behind this gallery is to discard bookish- approach to science and encourage the use of experimentation, observation and demonstration to teach concepts of science.
The fun hands-on exhibits include, ‘Transfer of momentum’, ‘Centrifuge’, ‘Where do you feel comfortable’, ‘Planetary motion’, ‘Chaos’, ‘Impossible mixture’, ‘Floating ball’, ‘Identify the magnet’ and the list goes on. ’Transfer of momentum’ as the name suggests talks about how momentum gets transferred through the medium of seven balls aligned in a row each pivoted with strings one side when you the balls.
’Where do you feel comfortable’ comprises two seats, one covered with nails arranged very closely to form a plain surface and other with semi-circular balls, with nails and balls forming the surface where a person is supposed to sit. Strikingly, you feel more comfortable on the nailed chair because the surface area of this chair is more; therefore, the pressure exerted gets reduced.
Then another exhibit called ‘Floating ball’ conveys the “Bernoulli’s principle”. The ball placed upon the nozzle starts floating as the air starts pumping out of the nozzle when we switch it on. This happens because the high speed air jet creates a drop in static pressure along its path. The surrounding air at higher pressure rushes into this. Low pressure from all sides floats and holds the ball floating in its position.
‘Impossible mixture’ comprises a tube that contains liquids that are immiscible, irrespective of how much you move it. This is because these liquids have very different densities, just like water and oil that makes the heavier liquid stay at the bottom and the lighter one floats on the surface.
The next gallery elucidates ‘Information Revolution’ that includes generations of computer, binary gates, digital information revolution, convergence, Bluetooth, LASER, optical fibre, video conferencing etc.
The last gallery named “Emerging Technologies – A look into the future” takes you to the future. It brings light on a variety of disciplines viz. nanotechnology, glass ceramics, polymers, telemedicine, cellular telephony, gels, Oceanography etc.
The wonder world of science mesmerizes you to the extent that you begin to find science, which was just a short while ago appearing as nuisance, the most interesting subject ever and you start noticing science everywhere and in everything around you as you step outside the centre.