by Anand Ramachandran, with a nod to Samar Bagchi and Partha Ghosh
It was a concert like no other –a huge crowd at Kolkata's renowned Salt Lake stadium thoroughly enjoyed the first ever live 'Science Experiments Concert', where assorted scientists, professors, lab assistants and students performed a series of dull experiments, recorded their observations, and collected lab fees.
The show, titled 'Aim, Apparatus, Procedure', was the first in a planned series of concerts where performers from subjects such as Applied Physics, Chemistry, Pure Math, Microbiology, Agriculture, Meteorology and Geology will enthrall nationwide audiences by carefully observing controlled environments, gathering empirical evidence to prove random theories,and cooking-up fake data to compensate for faulty apparatus.
A scientist, in front of wildly cheering fans, performs a simple chemistry experiment, and writes down his observations.
The concert began with a performance by Dr.M.S.Swaminathan, who got the crowd on their feet when he peered through a microscope and scribbled furiously into a notebook. He followed up by figuring out a couple of formulations for increasing the potency of potash-based fertilisers, before ending his act with a complex experiment that involved the use of some beakers with coloured liquids, a round-bottomed flask, and numerous large files.
Dr.Sheela Shankar followed up with a scintillating display of mental math as she wrestled with the daunting task of finding the next mersenne prime number, to chants of 'Mn = 2n − 1, Mn = 2n − 1' from a vociferous audience . She also treated the crowd to an impromptu lecture that proved beyond
doubt that eating large quantities of lady's finger (okra to friends)would dramatically improve mathematical ability in humans.
The highlight of the evening was when Prof. B.K.Shinde, after delighting the cheering crowd with the popular 'Pile of Plates' experiment combined with a hi-tech laser show, performed a thrilling stage dive to demonstrate the effects of gravity.
Members of the enthusiastic crowd raise their hands for a chance to give the answer to a challenging maths conundrum that would have stumped Salman Khan. (not in picture).
“I've always maintained that our scientists and academicians offer tremendous entertainment value. Here's proof.”, said scientist-president Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. He also expressed the hope that the organisers would next time take special efforts to involve thousands of disinterested schoolchildren in the event - so that security and logistics could pose more of a nightmare.
“This is great – science is being finally being recognised as a performing art.”, said A.V.Balasubramanian, a keen advocate of science since his school days. “Of course, it is”, he countered when faced with scepticism from others at the gathering. “ You perform experiments. You perform tests. Even in science exams, performance is what really counts, isn't it?”, he asked, winning the argument with practiced ease.
This has given fresh impetus to the age-old debate of “Science - Art or Science?”, throwing up a whole new set of arguments.
“If science is an art, then Kenny G's music is jazz!” said Jai Shankar Iyer, sworn man of science and jazz, but not necessarily in that order.
“Heavy metal. Hard rock. Lots of chemicals. Performers with weird hairstyles. This is just like any regular concert! ”, said Bipin Das, wearing a T-shirt that said 'PLUTONIUM. THORIUM. BISMUTH' in large, blood-soaked letters.
“This is against our culture! We are against all western concepts like sex, drugs, art, and science! ” screamed a Shiv Sena member, making a quick exit before anyone could ask him for further explanations.
However, most of the feedback the event has generated has been very positive.
“I think it's a good way to get young people interested in Science” said noted science lover Abitha Anand, taking time off from her meeting with wildlife photographer S.U.Saravanakumar. “It's certainly more entertaining than 'Quest'. What a blade THAT was!”, agreed Saravanakumar, himself a qualified biologist, while admitting that he always supported the “Bose Team” against the “Einstein Team”.
“This science stuff is really cooooool! I wonder why I've never heard of it's before!”, cooed an excited Priyanka Chopra. When asked why she liked science, she replied “ Because . . y'know, it's like, so cooool! Y'know – it's. . .um . . very . . well, it's cooool!”, and giggled as if she had said something funny, let alone coherent.
Organisers are also relieved that the event passed off peacefully – without any disturbances involving shocked professors, angry cops or Rakhi Sawant.
The success of 'Aim, Apparatus,Procedure' has, as usual, spawned of a number of similar entertainment ideas, including live telecasts of company audits, ramp walks featuring IAS officers, and a reality show based on the daily life of vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.