TODAY -

Importance of basic science research in nation building

Ngangkham Nimai Singh *

 Manipur University Library at Manipur University (MU), Canchipur :: April 2012
Manipur University Library at Manipur University (MU), Canchipur in April 2012 :: Pix - Phurailatpam Banti



We study science to understand nature and to question why our world is the way it is. Professor Abdus Salam, celebrated Pakistani Nobel laureate in Physics once remarked "Scientific thoughts and its creation is the common and shared heritage of mankind".

It simply reflects the universal nature of scientific knowledge, with no permanent dominance in science by a single nation. Though the overall conceptual part of scientific research is global in nature, its practical implementation needs a region specific science policy framework. Here lies the famous quotation "Think globally and act locally".

In the history of science it is practically impossible to find a piece of technology that cannot be traced back to the work of scientists motivated purely by a desire to understand the world. It emphasizes the need for the study of basic science for meaningful participation in the cutting-edge research activities at the global platform.

James Clerk Maxwell, the famous English scientist had developed in 1865 the mathematical theory of electricity and magnetism, popularly known as 'electromagnetic theory' which is the first unified theory, without any concern about the practical utility of the work.

In fact, the knowledge was never targeted to a specific application. In course of time, it finally leads to many useful applications such as radio, television, mobile phones, internet etc. The work of Albert Einstein on his theory of relativity was based on his curiosity to understand the dynamics of space and time, and this leads to many applications including mass-energy relation which helps in understanding the energy release in atomic bomb based on nuclear fission and hydrogen bomb based on nuclear fusion.

The birth of quantum mechanics which explains the subatomic world, has the same story. Modern innovative technology is the direct product of quantum physics. In fact, at present the Quantum optics and quantum computer are seeds for new emerging technologies of tomorrow.

In the present global scenario of science policy, it is generally considered that the developing world and poorer nations are expected to focus only on applied problems that can prove direct results to the nation's economy. For developing countries and poorer nations to work on pure and basic science, is often viewed from outside as indulgent and wasteful.

Therefore, many government-funded projects are largely based on applied sciences to boost the economy. This is more in developing countries as the research in basic science, is not encouraged because of its less economic value.

However, the bias on basic science in the name of less economic value is not a very good concept. In applied science, the goal is merely to use research as a tool, but research in basic science is to become a valuable and self-sustaining pursuit in its own right.

Research in basic science will generate completely new knowledge which can lead the heart of modern economy. It may not give us an instant result but it will give us a deeper understanding about the world that changes all the time. In fact, new focus on basic research will produce a lasting change in science of the region. It is a sort of "paradigm shift in scientific revolution". The formulation of General Theory of Gravity by Albert Einstein in 1915 as a new theory of gravity is itself an example.

Research in basic science also offers an opportunity for scientists of poorer nations to stand on their own feet, without the need for international supports to assess the scientific questions of their own nation and to contribute to the universal quest for knowledge. It encourages the freedom of scientific pursuits.

The researchers themselves are encouraged to set the agenda for innovation and discovery to boost its research quality and innovation, in the process to strengthen the scientific foundation of the nation.

It therefore not only inspires young minds to study science but also provides a study stream of qualified people for business and industry where the high-tech, intellectual experience allows them to make a positive impact. The balance between encouraging basic research and demanding technological output must be guarded closely.

The United Nations Agenda 2030 which will last for 15 years, was officially enforced from 1 June, 2016. It emphasizes the support of the governments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and research in basic sciences. The scientific community urged Agenda 2030 to consider a minimum GDP percentage devoted by every nation to STEM education and basic research.

The UNESCO G8 forum on Education, Research and Innovation, emphasizes the interconnection between Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation. Such new partnership which is generally christened as 'Triangle of Knowledge' is the key to sustainable development of a nation. In short, sustainable development of a nation can only be achieved through proper implementation of triangle of knowledge - a synergy between education, research and innovation.

Higher education is described as the driving force for human progress, and there is a need for an innovative society in order to prepare its people to embrace global changes in the era of 21st century. With the emergence of globalization, there has been a growing demand of quality higher education and research all over the world.

Globalization also carries a philosophical paradox. In fact globalization has brought both opportunities and threats to the existing higher educational institutes and traditional universities as they require some immediate measures such as international collaboration and cooperation among the institutes, networking and partnerships, faculty exchange program and academic mobility at all levels, effective implementation of ICT in higher education and research sectors to meet the global competencies.

In the context on the discussion of the problems and prospects on higher education in North East part of India, the following relevant observations are highlighted. In this region there is a huge regional disparity resulted from the increasing technological gap and digital divides with the rest of the country.

Such disparities are major obstacles for imparting quality education and basic research in this region. This region requires at least some dedicated research institutes of national importance to tackle local specific research and development (R&D).

For meaningful participation in the cutting-edge research activities at the global level from the soil of this region, the establishment of dedicated research institutes in basic science and technology in this region is very much necessary. This will definitely fill up the gap in the process of globalization of higher education and basic research in this region.

There is a very strong appeal from the people of this region to the policy makers of the Government of India, for the establishment of institutes of national importance such as IIT or IISER in this region in the near future for effective participation at the national and international level.

The region qualifies for such initiatives for nurturing her rich human resources and these new initiatives will definitely neutralize geographical barrier and other regional disadvantages. It all depends on the firm commitment of the state government and its continued pressure on the central government for such initiative.

The region deserves special attention on basic science research from central policy makers. The Research Institute of Science and Technology (RIST), Imphal, which was initiated a few years ago, is a sweet dream for our nation building.


* Ngangkham Nimai Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a Professor in Physics at the Department of Physics, Manipur University
He can be contacted at nimai03(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 03, 2020.



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