View of India: ISF facilities energize the scientific and cultural landscape

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On July 14, the Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) inaugurated its new facilities. It aims to make Bangalore a great collaborative space.

To put things into perspective, when Infosys turned 25 in 2006, its founder, Nagavara Ramarao Narayana Murthy, started thinking on contribution to science and engineering. Therefore, Murthy, along with some of Infosys’ board members, started EWB as a nonprofit trust in 2009. EWB instituted the Infosys Award, an annual award, to honor the outstanding achievements of researchers and scientists in six categories: Engineering and Computer Science, Mathematical Sciences, Social Sciences, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Humanities. The prize includes a 22-karat gold medal, a citation and a scholarship of US$100,000 (or its equivalent in rupees). “As people interested in science, math and engineering, we need to think about how science, math and engineering can solve our big problems. I understand that such important issues cannot be solved by science, math and engineering alone. It requires a cultural transformation of the Indian mentality,” Murthy said.

The current need is to use the power of the human mind to find quick, innovative and affordable solutions to these and other major problems facing our country. Our science, math and engineering researchers are the nation’s frontline warriors in our war against our big problems and they must be encouraged. Of course, all of this can happen if young minds are made to think along these lines. This and more worked in the spirit of the core team and it was felt that ISF needed to have a modern, comfortable, technological and productive home in the city with easy connection to the public transport system so that Students and teachers interested in science and scientific research can congregate at ISF and participate in science-related events.

The new EWB space is positioned as a place of dialogue to encourage the meeting of minds and the exchange of ideas. It is an addition to the scientific and cultural landscape of Bangalore and India in general. The new facility could be a way to expand its business and strengthen its identity. “The EWB office aims to be a place for collaboration, events and conferences in science, arts and engineering. The vision is to see Bangalore as a great space for collaboration. Bangalore is probably the only city in the world with deep roots in engineering and science,” added Kris Gopalakrishnan, President of Infosys Science Foundation.

Leading educational institutions like National Law School of India University, Indian Institute of Management and International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore; liberal arts colleges; a large pool of IT talent; a community of startups and a large number of Indian and world-renowned R&D labs are among the highlights. “The next 25 or 100 years of India’s independence could be spent creating and applying knowledge for public use. Research should move from laboratories to the market to solve social problems. New workable models can be created not only for India but also for the world,” Gopalakrishnan said.

This may call for encouragement in the form of investments. India’s gross R&D expenditure is 0.7% of its gross domestic product, which is well below that of many global economies. Investment in research could be increased to improve employment levels and the economy as a whole. A move in this direction is the Science Gallery Bengaluru (SGB), which is a non-profit public institution for research-based engagement aimed at young adults. It works at the interface between the natural and human sciences, engineering, and the arts through a complex of public laboratories, ever-changing exhibits, and mentorship programs. SGB ​​was established with the founding support of the Government of Karnataka and three academic partners: Indian Institute of Science, National Center for Biological Sciences and Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. “Science Gallery is a space of fundamental knowledge. It aims to bring people from all walks of life into its fold and the ambition is to scale to solve problems,” observed Jahnavi Phalkey, Founding Director of SGB.

Research should be focused on solving societal problems. “Let me state some of the important issues that we need to address quickly,” said Infosys’ Murthy. “Can we increase the productivity of our farmers fivefold? Can we find an inexpensive and sustainable solution for the purification of our polluted air and our polluted rivers? Can we find a solution to the shortage of drinking water? Can we design a non-invasive solution to measure blood sugar and non-invasive tests to detect certain types of cancer requiring biopsy? More such thoughts: probably a plan to cure cancer without chemotherapy; a solution to predict a flood or drought a few months in advance to help farmers; a way to produce large, error-free software systems, or to find inexpensive but ultra-strong concrete to build roads capable of withstanding wear and tear for 100 years; a solution to the chikungunya and dengue viruses, or a plan to lift India from a lowly 101st out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index.

Let’s face it, not everyone can do research. But everyone can be made aware of the problems and have the opportunity to express themselves; Bangalore can play a role in initiating public spaces for discussion and dissemination of knowledge. “Public spaces contribute to the political-socio-economic development of the city. They contribute to the stature of the city as a welfare of the citizens,” said Arundhati Ghosh, Executive Director of India Foundation for Arts.

Public spaces must be built on a sustainable basis. “You have to visualize how public space can unfold and it has to be inclusive in nature,” said V Ravichandar, honorary director of the Bangalore International Centre. In conclusion, public spaces could initiate dialogues between experts and the public. Hopefully such discussions would be fruitful.

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