Monthly Archives: August 2012

The first session..

…went well, I thought. The class seemed very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and they were interactive when they should have been, so fingers crossed. Fewer freshmen than I expected (maybe 40%?).

I managed to coax coherent answers out of 178 students about the most important and interesting scientific questions of the age.  I did that by breaking them down into groups. Pretty large groups it had to be, given the time, and that’s not physically easy given the old fashioned seating arrangements (rows of fixed seating, how 20th Century) and the poor acoustics.

Anyhow, the answers, paraphrased:
The most important questions:
(1) What will we do when the oil runs out?
(2) When will the world end?
(3) How to cure cancer and diabetes?
(4) How to do energy conservation (solar) more efficiently?
(5) Global warming (3 groups; is it man-made, can we stop it, when will it kill us?)
(6) How to cure mental disorders?


The most interesting:
(1) Is time travel achievable?
(2) How and why are we here?
(3) Is there life on other planets and is some of it visiting us? (4 groups)
(4) How do we perceive things?
(5) What are black holes?

When I threw it open, individual students also asked about stem cells and zombie infections. And one student at the back sounding mighty annoyed brought the house down: why is there no male birth control?  I am not sure about that, but I do wonder whether there is much demand. Would any woman trust a man who says he is using birth control?

The questions show a lot of overlap with last year’s. To me, the most interesting new question is ‘why we are here’. No idea how to teach that.  But I’ll make a start Thursday.

Indian summer

I got back from India yesterday, in time to start SiOW 2012 tomorrow. I wish I could take the class on a trip to India. The places we work – the places where malaria is – are not the places tourists go. Yet among the trash and the smells and the grime and the very poor, there are advertisements for schools and colleges that offer math and science as a way out. And while we were there, the Indian prime minister was talking enthusiastically about investing in science as a way to maintain the phenomenal growth of the last decade. It is such a contrast to the Presidential campaign happening here.  The Indians see math and science the way Americans did in the 1950s.  I wonder whose century the 21st Century will be.

Basant Nagar beach.jpg

One of our field sites: Basant Nager, Chennai, S. India