Growing up with science | Daily News
Today is World Science Day:

Growing up with science

“Science for global understanding” has been brought up by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the theme for 2017, making it an ideal topic of discussion, an ideal act of relevance. The World Science day was named by the UNESCO to ensure that citizens are kept informed of the development of science.

In the current society, it is important to be aware how science, peace and development are interlinked. “With the discovery of scientific concepts and new, cutting-edge technology, there will be an eminent effect on a conflict-free society,” said Professor K. P. S. Chandana Jayaratne, Department of Physics, University of Colombo.

Science, as it is seen today, bridges the gap between ethnic groups, and even one another. The language of science being mathematics, there are no differences to it. That makes science an effective medium of communication to achieve harmony within our society.

Today, we are fortunate enough to have the barrier of language broken by science. With one click, one touch, one is able to translate any text or voice into any language that they understand. If one considers China as an instance, it is a known fact that not many Chinese citizens speak English. They use hand-held translators – abundantly available technology – to grow as a society. “They publish research, they’re a scientifically advanced nation,” said Prof. Jayaratne.

By using science to understand one another, our nation can move towards a promising development, he remarked.

Where do we stand?

How deep has science reached its roots within our society? Have we, as a nation, reached the place where we need to be? “Within the young generation, more or less, yes,” answers Prof. Jayaratne. They are on par with international level, using technology. Devices such as computer and hand phone open you to the vast ocean of scientific knowledge through the internet.

But the older generation is somewhat reluctant when keeping up with the fast pace of development.

It makes it difficult for the country to move towards development when only one group is advancing, he remarked.

Nowadays, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)/drones are used in some countries to carry out tasks like spraying pesticides in a farm. Such measures save time and much less labour is required to accomplish tough duties.

“The scientific illiterate fraction of society, may it be old or young, is like the sticking glue that holds back the development,” Professor Jayaratne added.

Solidarity and sharing knowledge

The need to connect Sri Lankan citizens with the international scientific community and among themselves is essential. As an outcome of the endeavours taken, international conferences, funded by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research are being held in Sri Lanka, each year. International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics brought 400 scientists and students, both national and international, together.

“By such activities our students get inspired and that is what matters,” said Prof. Jayaratne. “We should take the student population into consideration and prepare them for inventions and innovations.”

Among numerous endeavours, Vidatha Centers have done a large amount in sharing scientific knowledge. “Knowledge is, to some extent, transferred to the public,” confirmed Prof. Jayaratne. Vidatha Centers are implemented in a programme that ensures transfer of new technologies that has meaning to the rural communities. They are manned by young scientists who are willing to enlighten the public. Four hundred scientists were educated through these centers on lightening protection.

Sri Lanka Association for Advancement of Science plays an important role in bringing scientific knowledge to the public. “Many scientists volunteer to educate students on district level on scientific topics – Nano-technology, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, physics, and biology, among others. Quizzes and competitions are held on all-Island level, as well,” said Prof. Jayaratne.

Information and knowledge relating to this endeavour can be found on SLAAS.lk.

The role of the scientist

The need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues is crucial. These issues may differ from society to society. For instance, one major issue that Sri Lanka faces, today, is the unbalanced patterns of rainfall due to increasing global warming. This causes extreme conditions such as floods, landslides and droughts.

“And inventors are trying to give early warnings of these disasters,” stated Prof. Jayaratne. Disaster Management Center has been contributing to resolve this issue. “Committees are needed in village level to identify disasters and learn how to bring evacuation plans into action.” Prof. Jayaratne also suggested that more science needs to be involved in tasks such as town-planning.

And today, we also face health issues concerning kidney functions. Water purification plants have been commissioned in Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)-prone areas but the issue “has not been addressed properly.”

The role scientists play in broadening our understanding of the remarkable, fragile planet we call home and in making our societies more sustainable “should not be limited to scientific discoveries,” said Prof. Jayaratne.

Educating the public

In Sri Lanka, the research conducted isn’t being brought to the awareness of the public. There is a communication gap between the scientist and the citizen, said Prof. Jayaratne. “And if the newly emerging scientific knowledge is brought to the general public, a lot of discoveries will be more effective,” he added. Countries like the United States and China have means of bringing scientific knowledge to the public in ways they understand. “Television channels like Discovery educate the public.” But in Sri Lanka, the role of media, in bringing science to the public, leaves something to be desired.

“There ought to be a government policy which opens media to allocate space/time for science,” the professor remarked. “Television, radio, print and social media need to contribute more.”

Media should help “develop a scientific culture in the society because otherwise, it would hinder the sustainable development of the country. Media focuses almost solely on politics and music and this is not something to be happy about.”

The government needs to prompt media to take action. It is also the duty of private institutions and individuals to step forward to move the society further, he said. And these groups and individuals need to be inspired to take action. “If it continues this way, Sri Lanka will have to suffer a lot more than the other regions,” said Prof. Jayaratne.

This is a task we, as a society, should take into hand. As individuals and as a whole, this journey belongs to each of us, and our future generation.

The pace is forever picking up and we, as a nation, should keep up with it. Science is everywhere, if only the eye is curious. If we look more closely, we can make the future brighter. 

 


 

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