Science and Technology? developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano?technology, bio?technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
State of Science and Technology Research and significance
Our lives are being transformed by technology daily. It is a reality that new tools like smart phones and the Internet and much more lies under the surface. Novel devices, materials and technologies have brought enormous benefits to our physical well-being in the context of medicine, housing, nutrition, security and sanitation, and to our mental well-being by transforming communication and socialisation.
Issue – Concern
Though we are happy to purchase smart devices and use medical equipment, we are less curious about how those technologies came into existence.
For a country with rich history of science and research this is a state of irony.
It is also ironic because India played a remarkable role, even under colonial rule, in planting the seeds of basic research from which they grew.
For example, a currently promising breakthrough in testing for cancer, diabetes, asthma and malaria arises from ‘resonant Raman scattering’ and has its roots in C.V. Raman’s research.
Curiosity drives social benefit
The spirit of inquiry and humanism is what lead to evolution in civilizations. Hence it is a part of our fundamental duties in our constitution.
The simple fact is that transformational technologies arise from basic science.
Abraham Flexner, founder of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, observed that “throughout the whole history of science, most of the really great discoveries which have ultimately proved to be beneficial to mankind have been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.”
Like us, Flexner lived in an era when new inventions were transforming society — in his case these were radio, television, telephones and telegraphy.
These transformations back to the path-breaking research on electromagnetism by James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz, who sought to understand the fundamental laws of nature rather than work directly for the ‘public good’.
Hence it is more curiosity and spirit of questioning that drives inventions, innovations than working for larger public good.
Some best illustrations of research and inventions-discoveries
The process by which fundamental research results in practical applications cannot be mapped out in advance.
It is well known that in the late 1890s, Wilhelm Roentgen, experimenting in his laboratory, accidentally discovered a type of ray that could penetrate the human body, the ‘X-ray’.
At the time, several wars had created a stream of wounded soldiers in need of treatment. There was no easy way to locate bullets lodged in the body, so surgeons had to poke a probe into the soldier’s wound and wiggle it around to detect the bullet. This was excruciatingly painful and unsanitary.
Medical researchers made incremental improvements, but these were suddenly rendered obsolete by Roentgen’s discovery that one could see through the human body. Thus, his research found immediate application, and saved more lives than all the people working on diagnostics for bullet wounds.
In the case of lasers, the path from discovery to invention was longer, but the applications today are more wide-ranging. In 1917, Albert Einstein discovered that when an atom is energized into an excited state it can radiate light in two ways: by spontaneous emission and by stimulated emission.
This raised the possibility that photons (tiny quanta of light) could be emitted coherently, like soldiers marching in step. However, application of this concept had to wait until the late 1950s when physicists Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes in the U.S. and Nikolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov in the then Soviet Union suggested a mechanism to create coherent radiation — the laser, as it was eventually named. Two years later, Theodore Maiman constructed the first working prototype laser.
Indian readers would be interested to know that soon thereafter, C. Kumar Naranbhai Patel, born in Baramati and educated at the College of Engineering in Pune, invented the carbon dioxide laser at Bell Laboratories.
This variant has played a key role in cutting and welding and as a laser scalpel in surgery. Today, the impact of lasers is incredibly wide-ranging — from dentistry, cosmetic surgery, eye surgery and tumour removal, to cutting, welding and drilling, to optical communications, guidance systems and data retrieval.
Significance of Research Institutions
None of this would have been possible without understanding the interactions of photons and atoms via relativistic quantum theory and thermodynamics.
It is noteworthy that the work of Schawlow and Townes was sponsored by the industrial giant Bell Telephones, yet the publication nowhere mentions any practical application. Maiman worked for another major industry, the Hughes Aircraft Company.
These corporations were enlightened enough to understand that the path from basic science to application must be nourished like a garden, not engineered like a bridge.
Impact on inventions
Pure research in mathematics has also led to socially beneficial inventions. Here again there can be famous examples of how inventions have later on lead to best life changing experiments.
Prime numbers, the building blocks of all numbers, play a key role in number theory — the ‘purest’ branch of mathematics and the field in which Srinivasa Ramanujan’s genius flowered. Mathematician G.H. Hardy (who brought Ramanujan to England) wrote: “I have never done anything ‘useful’. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world.”
But Hardy was wrong. ‘Public Key Encryption’, on which today’s password-based security systems are built, relies on the difficulty of factorising a whole number into primes. Once encryption became vital in daily life, centuries of mathematical insight into prime numbers became socially relevant. India’s contribution did not end with Ramanujan.
In 2002, Prof. Manindra Agrawal at IIT Kanpur and two undergraduates published a breakthrough result in ‘primality testing’, with likely implications for cyber security.
To secure our country’s long-term future we have to generously support fundamental research, which provides the foundation and pillars on which technological applications are built. Fortunately, India today has a strong intellectual base spanning all areas of fundamental science.
But governmental involvement needs to increase substantially for us to be competitive. Basic science in India awaits sizeable initiatives from private industry too.
The Nobel Laureate, David Gross, recently observed that if India does not dramatically ramp up support for pure science, we will soon become “a user economy, service economy, buying goods made elsewhere, buying inventions invented elsewhere.” Fortunately, we are in a good position to avoid this fate, but we must act now.
Connecting the dots:
STEAM (Science Technology Engineering and Medicine) are seen as not so rewarding occupations in India. Critically analyse the impact of the same on the economy and country’s higher education landscape.
TOPIC:General Studies 2
Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
Relation between India and America ‘First’
No change of stance from being a candidate to President
Moments after the new US President assumed the office as 45th President of USA, his sole goal has been focus on ‘America First’.
This means that whatever USA does will have USA at its heart and rarely for larger global good.
The present US president has two personalities: transactional and ideological
The transactional personality being that all international relations are based on give and take where something is gained and something is lost.
There does not exist any larger moral goal such as promotion of democracy, free market or human rights.
The ideological personality of the President sees the world threatened by Islam, especially existence of Judeo-Christian civilisation. Thus, he believes in alliances to be build and wars to be fought to secure their survival threatened by Islamic terror.
According to President Trump, no measure is too extreme in pursuing that objective of countering Islamism, as demonstrated by the attempted ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.
India’s engagement with America
Relationship between India and America would travel non-similar paths as new US President would be open to dealing with India with an ideological frame of reference and a pragmatic, transactional one, simultaneously. However, what needs to be seen is the terms of deal and issues surrounding it. Some tentative suggestions that India should be watchful of:
The defeat of Islamism could be common ground between US President and PM Modi who share ideological as well as pragmatic viewpoint.
However, the contention point would be Indian government’s continuing crackdown on U.S.-based Christian charities operating in India.
In the transactional mode, there could be challenges faced by two as both the Heads of States have promised economic betterment or more precisely, job creation. The growth of bilateral relations between both nations have involved movement of U.S. jobs to India, and of Indian workers to the U.S.
Though the recent ties have been warm, India is not top of the mind for the new US administration.
Thus, the onus will be on India to catch the attention of new administration while the US President opens multiple battlefronts domestically and internationally. Else, the status quo can be maintained for a while with continuing bilateral relation on numerous areas such as cyber security, intelligence sharing, space, disease control, maritime surveillance, agriculture, education and climate change.
Where India needs to look out
The Trump administration is locking down on misuse of H-1B visa by bringing in reformist measures in its allocation eligibility.
The business model of Indian IT giants like Infosys, Wipro, TCS is based on their ability to locate a crucial part of their workforce in the U.S. who in turn support the operation of jobs carried out in India.
However, due to political resistance to offshoring of services in US, these companies have hired Americans in their local workforce in recent years. So a crackdown on H-1B visas may not necessarily affect such companies as the Americans are anyways supporting the operations that are in India.
But now, anti-H-1B campaigners have changed their focus and are targeting the business model instead of migrating workers. They want that companies should not relocate the jobs as restriction on workers coming to the U.S will not serve the purpose unless there is a system that allows work to be taken out of USA.
The Trump administration looks willing to carry forward the ongoing cooperation between the two countries in defence.
Also, it is willing to go a step further and favourably look at India’s pending request for Avenger armed drones. Right now, Obama administration has cleared all defence deals with India except sale of 22 Guardian unarmed drones to be used for maritime domain awareness.
After Obama administration designated India as a major defence partner, India’s requests for high technology are now considered with a ‘presumption of approval’ as opposed to ‘presumption of denial’.
However, each request is individually scrutinised and the decision is largely a political one. This will want USA to get in return assurance of India being US partner in tackling China.
With respect to India, it has been observed by many that India-U.S. relations is a case of American generosity. A section of U.S. establishment has always argued for extracting more in return from India.
Here, USA intends to help India expand its power and prosperity to serve its highest geopolitical interest in Asia and globally.
Recently, the U.S. Pacific Command Chief reiterated that India should now sign the COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) that would enhance joint surveillance of Chinese vessels.
Though there is a chance that President Trump would like to put pressure on China through regional powers and allies like Japan, Korea, and Australia as they have most at stake and proximate capabilities.
The American generosity to India in defence will likely demand more from the relationship with India.
India’s demand for more pressure on Pakistan by US to take action against terrorist groups can have reciprocate demand from Trump administration to send Indian soldiers to Afghanistan. America has wanted India to send its troops to fight third party wars.
Back in 2003, when India had closer relations with USA, the then government had considered sending troops to Iraq but it was aborted after domestic opposition. Hence, America has grumble against India’s restraint in sending its soldiers to fight wars elsewhere.
Right now it is not clear if Trump team will be pro-active on India’s bid for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It is now being also known that America doesn’t command same power like it had earlier. However, it is believed by many that India and USA’s relationship will foster with both its PM and President respectively prevailing their pragmatism over ideological affiliations. As pointed out by a former state department official, “Mr. Modi’s Make in India approach and Mr. Trump’s Buy American, Hire American can go together”.
Connecting the dots:
Will change in US administration likely to bring in change in improved India-US relationship? Analyse.