Geniuses from Illuminating India

At the Science Museum a new exhibition celebrates the great achievements of magnificent minds from the subcontinent of India. Called ‘Illuminating India’ this is a wonderful temporary exhibition with some very interesting revelations. I would recommend to anyone who is keen on science and history, as well as Indian culture. The Science Museum has made a great effort to bring their creativity to a celebration of India through this exhibition.

One of the first things you see when you step in here is the history of Indian science told through 5000 years. The early Indians created some of the first horoscopes that we take for granted today. These were known as panchanga. The Indians used these for most auspicious days and for making decisions like marriage, moving house and making business and political decisions.

My specific interests in Illuminating India were on the contemporary and modern advances in science and industry. Among the star features of this exhibition was a 1:20 scale model of India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, chief workhorse of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The advances that India has made in space research since the 1990s has spearheaded the commercial satellite sector and private space launches. As a space geek I find this the most fun part and it shows just how advanced a developing country can become in a short period of time. ISRO has launched satellites for UK, USA and Canada.

There were two components of two different spacecraft here which were based on a science known as spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is what is used to determined the physical and chemical composition of natural objects. I found that India’s first noble prize winner was responsible for modern spectroscopy. He’s name is C.V. Raman and his science has been put into a practical application for the X-ray spectrometer on the Chandrayaan 1 space craft that visited the Moon in 2009, and the Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer on the Mangalayan spacecraft that travelled to Mars in 2013.


What amazes me is how the Indian’s are able to pull off a highly technical space mission on a budget that is less than a blockbuster sci-fi film. The exhibition makes it clear that Mangalayan cost just £50 million compared to the film Gravity which cost £76 million. Critics of the foreign aid have used this case to argue for the stopping of aid in India. On a shift at the museum I explained to a visitor that the reason for the continued aid to India isn’t just a government issue, it’s a charitable issue. The way the modern aid system works is that the money the charity spends on helping people isn’t being used by those charity agencies to join in with India’s economic miracle, it’s just feeding it’s own poor. If we want to help India then we should invest in giving those aid recipients the resources to join in with the country’s economic miracle. To do that we need to help organisations like ISRO to open up opportunities for those people so that they can become independent of aid.

But lets try not to make a political issue out of it yet. India’s industry and transport links are also celebrated here and it is recognised from three items that I think are good examples. First there is a montage of pictures of the Tata Steel company, then there is a 1982 auto-rickshaw and a model of one of India’s early steam locomotives that served on the East Indian Railway in 1923. There is a framed flag of India which reveals the name of the wheel on the Indian flag. As it happens that wheel is known as the Ashaka Chaka – ‘eternal wheel of law’. I found an interesting contraption that looked like an early home entertainment system from 1896. It was called a bioscope. It was a peepshow device with a gramophone on the top that was carried around and shown to people around India to show short films.

When we think of India’s success of globalisation we tend to imagine the call centres for IT services and product helplines. But there is more to it than that. India has done quite a lot for the IT and electronics industry, and the Science Museum shows it’s well. In 1982 the Sun Microsystems computer company was founded by four Indian engineers, including one named Vinad Khosia. Sun helped to develop servers for large scale computing networks and also developed the Java language that is used in the World Wide Web.

Two Indian engineers worked for Intel in the 1990s and brought two significant innovations that we use today. First there is the Intel Pentium processor, which is likely to be in your PC, which was developed by Vinod Dham in 1993. This has become one of the company’s best selling processors that is used in many budget PCs. In 1996 another achievement from Intel was invented by Ajay Bhatt which has become the dominant computer accessory connector – the USB, the Universal Serial Bus.

One of my heroes Albert Einstein played a part with Indian science. He corresponded with a physicist called Satyendra Nath Bose and one of these letters is encased in the gallery with unique handwriting. Dated 24th June 1924, it tells of how Einstein embraced Bose’s study of quantum statistics. This was instrumental in predicting subatomic particles. There is one type named in his honour called the Boson.

It looks like India’s scientific achievements have really shined a light on the world. This subcontinent of India is full of bright minds and great abilities that is now one of the great powers of the world. It has once been the jewel in the crown of an empire and it is now a major Commonwealth player. I am proud to say that I have Indian friends and that I can share this story that I have learnt with them and to the rest of the world.

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