Ramamurti Shankar, chair of the physics department, gave a public lecture in New Delhi, India last week before an audience that included Indian President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a number of teachers and professors, and 500 high school students.
Shankar’s talk was part of a global conference on physics education celebrating the international World Year of Physics 2005. Though he said he does not usually attend international symposiums, the topics and timing of this meeting were attractive to him.
“Since I’ve become chair, I’ve grown more interested in science and physics education and issues like attracting more women to the field,” Shankar said.
The World Year of Physics is a United Nations-endorsed international commemoration of Albert Einstein’s groundbreaking papers about quantum mechanics, special relativity and Brownian motion written in 1905.
Shankar said he enjoyed delivering his lecture, organized in part by the Apeejay Education Society.
“It was most meaningful and pleasurable,” he said. “I would always rather talk to students and be able to hear their feedback than just lecture at them.”
He said the audience was more receptive and attentive during his talk than he had expected.
“Children in the Third World have a much more positive view of the sciences, I think,” Shankar said. “It was one of the more striking things I noticed. While in the Third World, students think of scientists as curing diseases and helping people; In developed countries they often view scientists as Dr. Frankensteins who just might want to transplant your brain with that of a monkey.”
Shankar’s visit to India was funded by both the University and the National Science Foundation. Though he has no immediate plans to take another trip, he said he would be glad to give similar lectures to young students in the future.