Talking to Prof. C.N.R. Rao
Please tell us in brief about your education background?
I did my undergraduate studies in Bangalore in Central College and obtained a Masters degree from Banaras Hindu University. I then went to the US for studies (for Ph.D and postdoctoral work).
At what stage you decided to become a scientist?
Idea of becoming a scientist got into my head when I was very young, when I was in school after listening to Prof. C V Raman and talking to him. Actually my decision to become a scientist was when I was an undergraduate. I also become enthused about the kind of chemistry described by Linus Pauling after reading his book entitled “Nature of a chemical bond”.
How should teachers motivate students for innovations in science?
My school teachers were outstanding. My college teachers were reasonable but the atmosphere for education was good. For example, in Banaras Hindu University while the teaching may have been ordinary, there were many people doing research. I would see many lights in the laboratories of BHU at midnight.
Teachers have to motivate students in various ways. Teachers are not to meant to just teach what is there in the text book but to teach what is not there in the text books. By the way we teach, students must develop the right attitude and get motivation.
It is very important for the teachers to talk about history of science. Talking about scientists and how they made major discoveries is necessary. Unfortunately students do not even see photographs of great scientists about whose work they study.
What is your take on present scientific scenario in India? How should our government help the scientists (in terms of experimental facilities and infrastructure) in taking it forward?
The present scientific scenario is disturbing. There are a very few outstanding institutions and outstanding scientists. Thus, everything that the government can do for improving this situation would be most welcome. The government has to provide more funding for what I call “small science” done in research laboratories and educational institutions, so that some of our institutions become comparable to the best of the institutions in advanced countries. In addition to the government, industry also has to contribute to research in institutions.
What in your opinion is better for the country- students going abroad and bringing novel technologies to the country or staying in India and developing newer technologies?
There are enough institutions in India for students to get educational training and research experience. The number of such institutions is not too small today. It may be necessary to go to abroad for a Ph.D only in certain cases. This is unlike in the early days (when I was young) when we had very few institutions where we could carry out the kind of research that I wanted.
We are constantly getting to hear in the news that Indian Universities are way beyond in International University Rankings! What is the reason for this and how can we improve the quality of the Indian higher education?
It will be a long time before our Indian universities will be among the top universities of the world. We need to invest much more to make the infrastructure better. We need to have better faculty and much better research from these institutions. We should try everything possible to support a few of these institutions to a level where they are able to compete with universities abroad. I also feel that we should not worry too much about rankings, although it may be good to have high ranking. IITs should try hard to become something like the MIT in the United States. They again require much more support. I must also mention about our scientists and engineers have to learn to work much harder and work on problems which are more challenging.
How do you see the quality of science and research technology in Indian institutions and where does India stand as compared to other developed nations?
As far as the quality of science and research is concerned, India is not doing too well. While the number of papers is increasing, the quality has to improve much more. India’s contribution to the top 1% of research in the world is less than 1%.
I have read somewhere that every year on your birthday you honour two Science teachers who have made outstanding contribution to their profession. Why do you prefer to honour Science teachers only? What is the motive behind?
My wife and I run an education foundation to which I have donated nearly 50% of the income that I have had from various awards. One of the activities of foundation is to honor the science teachers from all over from India on my birthday. On that day, we also have an outreach lecture programme for students followed by the award ceremony and a music concert. The foundation also runs a number of educational programmes all over the country.
You have been the advisor in Scientific Advisory Council to several Prime Ministers. Can you share some pleasant experiences with them to our readers?
I was Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council or something equivalent to a few prime ministers. This has been a wonderful experience and all the Prime Ministers were very good to me and never turned down any of the major recommendations. I have enjoyed working in this capacity.
Lastly, remembering our great scientist and former president late Shri Dr Kalam’s book ‘Vision 2020’, he had mentioned that India can be a developed country by 2020. Are we on track to realise that vision? What more needs to be done?
India can become a developed country with a strong foundation in science & technology, if we do the following:
- The right kind of investments of the government in crucial sectors.
- Industrial contribution to various science & technology as well as education.
- Moral support of the entire community in making country educationally and scientifically advanced and economically progressive.