Philosophy of Sunday Sessions

What is the urge to explore the unknown, proverbial cause of death for cats and name of a recent Mars rover sent by NASA? The answer is ‘Curiosity’.

Curiosity is the want to have more knowledge about something which you feel you don’t know enough already. If you were growing up at the same time as I was, you must have watched loads of antiques of Dexter and Dee Dee. Famous scenes from that show are Dee Dee curiously pressing buttons in the laboratory leading to disastrous outcomes. The tendency to press buttons, even if they are in a high-tech laboratory and could potentially flatten half the town, is the same that has driven innovation and brought our civilization to where it is today.

This is how the scene was, followed by a gigantic explosion.

Curiosity is built into our systems. But it has to be triggered from time to time. These triggers are not the same for everyone. For some, it boils down to how a subject is presented to them. For others, irrespective of the presentation, they develop enormous interest in it.

Those of us who are well-read, who are in sync with current affairs, and are continuously consuming knowledge of various things in some form or the other, find no shortage of such triggers. But some are not as fortunate. May be the topics they were exposed to were either presented in a drab way or were ‘taught’* to them. May be they were never exposed to the topics they could have been deeply interested in. For example, a school student may have pursued a career in quantum astrophysics if he was given a brief tour of the bizarre world of behemoth black holes and teleporting electrons. But instead he only read what was there in the textbooks and ended up doing accounting instead. I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong in choosing accounting. But this argument can be applied to numerous such ‘advance’ subjects.

Now of course there are channels like Discovery which broadcast great documentaries. But how many school students actually watch them? How many actually could, even if they wanted to? Between mummy’s daily soaps, dad’s news bulletins, school ,and tuition classes it is difficult for even the most curious kid to actually find time to watch any of the ‘good TV stuff’. And then of course there is the problem of language. An Asian-american explaining fabric of space or a chair-bound mathematician describing time dilation in English can be intimidating for a student of vernacular medium.

This brings us to the actual beginning of the SS.

On 4th July, 2012 CERN confirmed detection of a particle which matched the properties of ‘Higgs Boson’, a particle in standard model of particle physics which was theorized in the 60s. It was a great achievement for modern science and a great feat of engineering in constructing the LHC. We (some people at A. B. Goregaokar English School, Goregaon, Mumbai + me) decided to communicate this discovery to school students. Yes, you read that right. Particle physics to school children. Some even from 5th-6th grade.

In some 3-4 sessions on the following sunday, we spoke children ranging from 5th standard all the way up to 10th standard. By the end of it I had completely lost my voice. But I was glad to have done my small part in the science communication. I won’t dare to claim that they understood what I was yapping about. The goal was not to make them interested in that particular field. Even if they grasped one word out of it, may it be ‘standard model’, ‘atom’ or even ‘Switzerland’ for that matter, would be enough to act as a ‘trigger’. It might have motivated someone to become a chocolate expert in one of the Swiss chocolate factories. (Switzerland –> famous for –> chocolates –> “Oh i love chocolates” –> “Is there a career I can do in it?”). Looks very far fetched, but you never know.

Response from our audience was so great that we decided to continue with it on every Sunday. Now you see where the name has come from. In the successive years we tried to think of a ‘better’ name for this activity, but we had already made a small brand out of it so we decided to stick to it.

The Sunday Sessions is still going strong. In the previous years we discussed topics from ‘Economics’ to ‘Forts in Maharashtra’. We discussed International Space Station. But while talking about experiments conducted in micro gravity, we also spoke about what astronauts eat, how they sleep, and how they use washrooms. When we spoke about 3D printers, we mentioned its possible application in colonizing other planets such as mars. When we addressed Curiosity mission we also showed the moment of overwhelming emotions when the scientists at the NASA control room heard the magical words ‘Touchdown Confirmed’.

Sunday Sessions is not just another platform to give lectures upon lectures of science and allied subjects. We strive to highlight the joy of learning, the excitement of discoveries and setbacks in failures, what the masters did and where the visionaries are headed. We try to unfold this world which layman ignores in his daily hustle for bread and butter, one topic at a time…

*taught is used in the sense of cramming knowledge into someone’s brain, and not the noble pursuit of dispensing knowledge.

Feature art by: Aloysia Gomes


One thought on “Philosophy of Sunday Sessions

  1. It’s great to read this, especially from the place we are right now, where practically the cutting edge scientific and technological minds of India are supposed to be (if only though!).
    I guess we too need to spark up, or more aptly reboot the curiosity in us.


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