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A National Science Day FAQ

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February 28 is celebrated as the national science day in India to commemorate the discovery of the Raman effect.

What is the Raman effect?

Light is scattered by molecules. Mostly the colour of light is not changed by scattering. Very infrequently, however, the colour is changed: this is the Raman effect (also called Raman scattering).

Why is the Raman effect important?

Change of the colour of light is related to the change in energy. The amount of energy change is very specific to the molecule from which the scattering takes place. As a result, it is a very sensitive chemical test. So much so that the American Chemical Society recognizes it in its list of historical landmarks. It was also one of the early experiments which established the quantum nature of light.

Where was this work done?

The work was done in Kolkata in 1928 in a laboratory funded then by private donations, called the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Sciences. In the same laboratory Raman and his very distinguished collaborators performed several other important experiments which established the quantum nature of reality, and led to the award of a Nobel prize to C. V. Raman. By funding this laboratory, public participation in science established our modern view of reality.

Is there public participation in science in India today?

In one deep sense, yes. This is how young students are still motivated to study science. All scientists were once members of the lay public. Their early mentors, such as members of their families and school teachers are often not scientists but members of the lay public.

In another sense, unfortunately, very little. The main route through which private funding is channeled is in the form of awards to well-known scientists, and not through funding given to young researchers. The reason is possibly that this pattern yields immediate recognition for the donor at little risk.

Is it necessary for the public to engage in science?

Science is too important in our daily life for it to be left entirely to a small set of people who are funded by the government (for example, the science academies in the country routinely advise the government on many matters of policy). In recognition of this fact, most research institutes in India perform outreach activities to the best of their ability. Independent fora (some already exist) can help to multiply these efforts.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

February 28, 2012 at 5:00 am

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