First Observatory for Eastern India : Dr Harsh Vardhan

Harsh Vardhan
Harsh Vardhan

Eastern India’s first observational astronomy institute is to come up in the Ayodhya Hills of Purulia district of West Bengal. Land for the facility has been acquired and necessary clearances have been obtained.  Announcing this in Kolkatta today, Union Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Harsh Vardhan said S.N.Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences (SNBNCBS), will be implementing this project. The centre supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has already recruited a couple of talented, young astronomers.

Researchers in this prestigious institution, founded in 1986 in the memory of the great mathematician and physician, have also achieved breakthroughs in application-based basic sciences.

Dr Manik Pradhan, a scientist of the center, displayed to the Minister his success with developing a non-invasive, diagnostic method to detect H-Pylori and peptic ulcer infections, Type-2 Diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome through breath analysis. This obviates the necessity of undergoing costly and painful forms of traditional diagnostic methods. The process of patent application is on, the scientist disclosed to Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Another scientist, Dr Samir Pal, demonstrated to Dr Harsh Vardhan the process of detecting jaundice by measuring Bilurubin levels in the human eye. This is done by shining a beam of white light using a simple LED lamp into the eye. A connected computer measures the light absorbed by the eye –the less the better.

The Minister was satisfied that these instruments would find high use in the world market. “They would reduce the out-of-pocket expenditure of patients. Most importantly, neonatal jaundice deaths, which comprise 18 percent of newborn mortality in India, could be reduced as many new mothers disallow timely detection through the traditional method of drawing blood which is painful.

On the new Astronomical observatory to be set up, Dr Harsh Vardhan opined that the establishing of an observatory in eastern India was long overdue. The country’s first astronomical observatory was founded in St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata in the 1880s. It had state-the-art equipment of that era and Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose spent many hours there as a student. Subsequently many private observatories came up but could not sustain themselves.

SNBNCS is one of the five DST centres to benefit from a Rs 500-crore package announced by the new government for research in basic science-driven technology. This is under a scheme announced in last year’s budget for setting up new Technology Research Centres.

Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “The outlay for DST has been enhanced by 32 percent in this year’s budget. That is because Prime Minister Narendra Modi realizes that no country which is today an industrial power could get there without solidly backing basic science research. Our government’s vision of making India a global manufacturing hub cannot be realized if basic science research does not give the theoretical innovations with which Indian processes acquire cutting edge competitiveness in the world market.

He elaborated: “For the 23 independent autonomous institutions and professional bodies under DST, the Plan and Non-Plan allocations amount to Rs 872.5 crore. About Rs 300 crore has been allocated for multi-disciplinary research. For mega facilities in basic science and research Rs 99 crore has been earmarked.”

The Minister visited the Salt Lake campus of SNBNCBS where he planned the future projects of this important institution with its Director, Dr Sibaji Raha, and other senior officials.

He recalled that Dr S.N. Bose had famous teachers like Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Sen. While in school, a master had been so impressed by the young Satyendranath’s way of solving mathematics problems that he was awarded 110 out of 100 in an exam.

Later the minister also visited Bose Institute, another premier national science research centre founded by Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose himself, which is to get a new campus soon. Work is progressing fast on a 15-storeyed “Unified Academic Campus” coming up in Sector-5 of Salt Lake City neighbouring Kolkata.

He later told reporters that the campus would be ready by March 31, 2016.

“I would like this new campus to take care of Bose Institute’s needs for the next 25 years. We would now be able to conduct our academic courses under state-of-art settings. The faculty strength could be increased from 78 at present to 120 with proportionate increase in student strength,” he remarked. wishes the very best.