As teens many of us begin to lose our love for basic sciences when those subjects become ‘dry’ in approach, well, from the student perspective. We, among our friends begin to quip, “I was loving physics until they started to mix up symbols and alphabets! Now my text book looks like a plate of leftovers… completely messed up! I’ve no idea what my teachers blabber.”
I’ve too had similar personal experience until I rediscovered the fun of learning science in my college library. The door I stepped in was ‘popular science’. Writing popular science is actually an art, a tough one to cling on, at least initially. The primary challenge in popular science writing is over simplifying the concepts which are otherwise tough to understand. It’s actually translating a hardcore scientific idea or concept into laymen language, making the content more accessible to the readers.
Popular science writing aims primarily to inform about either the fundamentals of a specific branch of science or to brief the latest advancements in that respective frontier of science, to the general public. Popular science writing settles with a language that substitutes one with full of scientific jargon, with a language that’s rich in metaphors. Over the years this has slowly evolved into an art among popular science writers. Analogically it could be likened with the parables used in religious discourses where the underlying meaning is expressed through a story.
If Carl Sagan through his writing amassed readers worldwide, Professor Stephen W. Hawking, through his ground breaking ‘A Brief History of Time’ almost took popular science writing to the next level having the ability to reach readers who didn’t have the flair for reading science, then. It is extremely difficult for an extremely intelligent mind to think ‘simply’. Prof. Hawking however is exceptionally better at it. The language he has invented is so simple that he is able to explain very complex idea so simply that the reader – either from a scientific or non-scientific stream – never finds it difficult to connect him/her with the text.
Popular science writers successfully use metaphors- which are otherwise, used only in poetry and other creative writings- to emphasis a scientific idea/concept. If not for these inventive metaphors they use, one need to seek the aid of complex jargons or equations to do the same. It would then become dense academic writing that only the members of the scientific community concerned alone will be able to understand it.
Why is Popular Science the need of the hour in India?
India is a country currently blessed with enormous youth power. But blame it on the consumer technological boom, Indians by large show extreme interest in embracing gadgets and gizmos while relatively showing minimal interest in knowing /understanding the technologies behind those. A sizable Indians who do show interest leave the country for good to make bucks on foreign lands. Over the years the interest of among the pupils on science streams is dwindling at an alarming rate. Most of them dream about computer programming and go in pursuit of other engineering fields. Everyone loves to mint quick money, after all.
The current education system, which has a strong inclination to rote learning, has literally lost its charm for kindling the quest for science among young minds. The current science classes in classrooms are so mechanized in the ways one could not even dream of initiating the tryst for science. Popular science books could be the best alternatives in the present situation. They are capacious enough to provide the ‘fun’ part of knowing and learning which are hardly possible in classrooms.
The more young India deviates from science streams the more future India will depend on other nations for its scientific needs. Scientific independence and autonomy is the need of the hour in every discipline of science and imagining a future India will always remain unachievable if this part is ignored.
Gift your child any popular science book that suits his/her age and interest, this summer and motivate him/her to read it. If possible join them in reading and relive what you have probably missed as a child.
Happy Reading! Keep Thinking!