Whatever the project, CERN, Thirty Metre Telescope or International Linear Collider or any other mega, global science project, the scientific community has to justify to the Government of the day why India needs to participate in the project, why Government needs to fund Indians scientists’ participation and how India will benefit. A clear plan and proposal with objectives and outcomes and required funding has to be prepared and submitted to the ministry concerned – Ministry of Human Resource Development or the Science and Technology Ministry and to the Planning Commission. An expert committee is set up by Government to review the proposal and post-review, Government agrees to a particular scale of funding. It is during the review and interactions with the expert committee that scientists need to explain and justify why the Indian scientific community needs to be part of a big project.
We have to convince the committee that there is benefit and outcomes in one form or the other from participation. The Government asks us questions like what the direct and indirect outcomes and benefits of the project and research are, whether it will advance and generate new knowledge, whether participation in mega projects has the potential to train students in the country in basic research, whether it will benefit us technologically, whether it will advance the field of science in the country, whether Indian industry can get involved and benefit from the participation, and whether we have enough people with the right qualifications to participate in such projects. So we have to answer a lot of questions to get government support and funding.
What are the justifications we scientists give? We tell Government that that participation signifies that the country is at the frontiers of knowledge creation and part of knowledge breakthroughs and that there would be generation of new knowledge that would add to the existing stock. Interestingly, the Government accepts knowledge creation or generation or advancement as a legitimate outcome or benefit of participating in big projects such as CERN or Linear Collider or Thirty Metre Telescope. While there are applications to basic research, knowledge creation is its central and most immediate outcome. Countries across the world accept basic research and knowledge creation and advancement as a basic necessity, they see it as a civilisational value. India too is of the same view. That is why it does not come as a surprise if the Indian government funds basic research. Also, India has a very strong tradition of funding basic research from the time of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and to this day has kept to that tradition even if it is right to say that applied research gets more funding than basic research.
We also tell the government that large projects such as CERN or ILC are fundamental human endeavours and quests looking for fundamental answers to questions of how the universe came into, which all countries support, and that India cannot be left behind in quests that seek to answer questions of birth and being. The endeavours may lead to new knowledge of the world we inhabit and India has to necessarily be one among the players in the world to have created some part of this knowledge. Government is willing to accept this argument understanding that philosophical quests too are necessary and that a role in such quests enhances status of its people.
We also tell Government that we need to be in the middle of cutting-edge research to get access to cutting edge technology that results from the research apart from knowledge creation. For instance, because of participation in the CERN project, an Indian company, Bangalore-based, learnt the technology of manufacturing precision jacks that have been used in the CERN collider. Another company provided magnets. Such participation opens doors for industry to learn new technology, get projects and develop business in the world of science, particularly physics. We also tell them that by participation we create a body of people trained in fundamentals of science, who can then train the coming generation of students and keep the country’s academic standards high.
We also forward the argument that the quality of science discussed, debated and taught in the country goes up. The committee listens to all this and comes to its conclusion and agrees to fund upto a scale. When it comes to funding, definite questions of benefits are posed – if the funding sought is large, the insistence on practical outcomes and benefits is greater, if the funding sought is small, Government is willing to fund pure research – research for research or knowledge sake, saying it can afford it. Energy research has been getting plenty funding compared to basic research in particle physics. The benefits from the former are obvious, while in the latter, benefits take the form of knowledge initially, and may be after 10 or 20 years, applications. Definitely we need more money for basic research to improve the conceptual stock in the country, but then Government hasn’t been entirely heartless about funding basic research. Government will definitely give scientists a good deal even if they may not give every last bit scientists ask for.
(As told to Prashanth G N)
Bangalore team on the ILC project
Physicists at IISC’s Centre for High Energy Physics (CHEP) are participating in the International Linear Collider project. CHEP Chairman Prof B Ananthanarayan, Prof Sudhir Vempati and Prof Rohini Godbole prepare the theoretical justification for the project by writing papers on various physics questions that the ILC needs to answer. Having co-authored a paper on an earlier version of the ILC’s final design, the three physicists along with their students have offered critiques around the planned collision of particles and made theoretical contributions to the overall design by raising specific questions that the collider needs to answer. Prof Ananthanarayan and Prof Vempati told Talk that exploring dark matter is one of the objectives of the project. “The world is not aware of many aspects of dark matter, its origin, formation and properties. We have to answer questions like why it is present, what does it hold, where does it begin, where does it end. Some clues to these fundamental questions will be hopefully answered by the experiments at ILC.”