On Board the Science Express
It’s the Indian Government’s science fair on wheels—the Science Express is a train filled with scientific exhibits, and it prompts orgiastic demonstrations of science-love from schools wherever it goes. When it halted at Ranchi on 14 August, it drew a crowd of 80,000 students and teachers, as per The Times of India. By December, the Science Express will have stopped at 52 railway stations across India.
This year, the 12 bogeys promote the rich variety of wildlife and plant species in the country. (Did you know that Kerala has 6,000 documented species of insects, with more yet to be named? That the Purple Frog, which is purple, was only discovered in 2003? ) Other exhibits feature environmental issues, such as solar energy, carbon footprints and recycling.
One afternoon, Manoj Wadia, a science teacher with a Gujarati school in Mumbai, had queued up at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus with 31 of his students for two and a half hours. The line behind them comprised an estimated 1,000 children and teachers. Wadia declared matter-of-factly, “I want to promote environmentalism among children.”
When Wadia’s students entered the air-conditioned train, they didn’t know where to look first—at the multimedia kiosks testing their knowledge of ecology, the life-size models of wild animals, the photos of microscopic textures taken with electron microscopes, the LCD screens with slideshows of jungles, or at the kiosks bearing puzzles about the names of wild creatures.
Some bogeys were dedicated to wildlife hotspots such as the Western Ghats or rainforests of the Northeastern states.
“Look, this is mucor,” said a teacher in a burkha, pointing to an image of the fungus commonly described in textbooks. The teacher looked at the image as at a close friend.
Close by, a few students were stumping the teachers, however inadvertently. “What is that?” a student from the Gujrati school pointed at a life-size model of a predator. “It’s a fox,” the teacher said. “No, a wolf,” said another teacher. Then both hurried away from the student. Neither knew the Gujarati word for hyena, which is what the animal was. The name-tag was in English. How about a special train translating science into India’s many regional languages?