Crucible Steel from India: A Major Metallurgical Accomplishment of Antiquity

Dhwani presents a talk and demonstration by Prof. S. Ranganathan, IISc,  at 5pm on Thursday, 13th April at Kanada Auditorium, on wootz steel , a high-carbon steel alloy that was developed in (South) India several centuries before the common era. In these times when misinformed claims about the scientific and technological achievements in ancient India abound, it is essential that we know about the actual achievements of our past.

Prof. Ranganathan is a renowned expert in the field of metallurgy, and has (literally) written the book on wootz steel. He is eminently suited to enlighten us about this technological achievement from the subcontinent. Prof. Ranganathan has promised to bring sample specimens, including knives and swords, for us to see. An abstract from him follows.

India is celebrated for many metallurgical accomplishments in antiquity. These include lost wax casting of bronzes in Harappa, the extraction of zinc, the rustless iron pillar and the wootz steel. Among them the most spectacular achievement is the legendary wootz steel which was used to fashion the Damascus blades. This advanced material of the ancient world had a historical dominance for over two millennia and a geographic sway over three continents. The development of the materials paradigm arose from a quest to understand its superior properties by Western scientists. Modern materials owe a lot to this insight.

The talk will emphasise the development of the crucible method for making molten steel and the processing of the brittle ultra high carbon steels into ductile materials. As part of our research the celebrated Konasamudram in Telangana will be presented. Merchants from Persia travelled to buy wootz. Our current research is aimed at experimental reproduction of wootz steel and its characterization using modern techniques such as EBSD and high resolution microscopy.

About the speaker:

Srinivasa Ranganathan is NASI Platinum Jubilee Fellow, Homi Bhabha Visiting Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. His interests cover physical metallurgy, history of science and materials heritage. He has coauthored a much acclaimed book on India’s Legendary Wootz Steel: An advanced material of the ancient world. The DST Programme on Indian Digital Heritage – Hampi benefitted from his guidance. He taught the inaugural  course on Science and Civilization in India to IISc Undergraduates in August 2011 and a course on Materials Heritage and Conservation at the Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan in 2012. His current research interests are High Entropy Alloys. The first journal publication on Alloyed Pleasures- Multimetallic Cocktails by him was published in Current Science in 2003 and led to the first book in 2014 on High Entropy Alloys coauthored by him He is a Fellow of four Indian Academies of Science and Engineering and the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). The Indian Institute of Metals, the Electron Microscope Society of India and the Indian National Academy of Engineering have conferred on him Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively.


A Brief Look at Happiness Across Non-Western Cultures

Dhwani presents a special talk by Helaine Selin, formerly of Hampshire College, Massachusetts, USA, on Saturday the 25th of March, at 5:00 pm, at AMRL Conference Hall.

From Ms. Selin’s Wikipedia page:

Helaine Selin is well known for being the editor of Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures (1997) which is one of the first books which allows readers to “compare a variety of traditional systems of mathematics and cosmologies.” Mathematics Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Mathematics (2000), is considered by Mathematical Intelligencer as a companion to the Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. The journal, Mathematics and Computer Education, wrote that Mathematics Across Cultures filled a gap in the history of mathematics and was “an exciting collection of papers on ethnomathematics.” Selin’s editorial work, Nature Across Cultures: Views of Nature and the Environment in Non-Western Cultures (2003), was considered by Polylog to be a “valuable source for intercultural philosophers.” Selin edited the Encyclopaedia of Classical Indian Sciences (2007), which she said she worked on for six years.

The Encyclopaedia of Classical Indian Sciences was co-edited by Ms. Selin and JNC’s own Prof. Roddam Narasimha. An abstract from the speaker follows.

The talk is mainly taken from a book I edited called Happiness Across Cultures.
It concerns (1) the relation of happiness to culture; (2) whether there is a
difference between happiness, contentment, quality of life, well-being, etc.; (3)
the connection between equality and happiness; (4) what the role of comparison
is; (5) if there is a connection between gender and happiness; and (6)
adaptation: how does people’s ability to adapt help them be happy? I shall focus
a bit on India, but as India is so different from the rest of the world, it shall only
be a bit. The talk is not meant to be a guide to being happy, but an academic
discussion of how the people in the non-Western world view happiness.

Micro-Management of Waste at JNCASR

JNCASR decided, a couple of years ago, to implement a waste segregation and recycling system with the help of an organisation called ProWaste. Dhwani played a part in this. Dhwani will host Ms. Nupur Tandon, the founder of ProWaste, and Ms. Jahnavi Sharma, as they discuss the progress made at JNCASR.

Venue: Kanada Auditorium
Time: 5:30 pm, Thursday, 29th September, 2016

An abstract from the speakers follows.

The talk aims to address the issue of waste and its micro-management: what is
micro-management of waste and how does it help reduce pressure on landfills?
With a brief introduction of waste in Indian context, and the changed perception
towards it, we will discuss the case study of JNCASR. We will discuss the
association of Pro Waste with JNCASR, and offer a reflective outlook on the
journey till now. We will talk about the quantum of waste diverted from
landfills, the recyclables generated, and the money earned for an emergency
fund for the housekeeping staff. Generic guidelines for waste handling shall be
provided. Also, importantly, we will discuss what further needs to be done for
effective waste management at the campus. To make the talk success it is
important for it to be interactive in nature as we welcome suggestions and
pointers to make the waste management program a sustained success.

National Education Policy

Dhwani is pleased to host a talk and discussion on the Draft National Education Policy 2016, by Professor Amman Madan of Azim Premji University, Bangalore, on Thursday the 15th of September 2016, at 5pm at Kanada Auditorium.

Prof. Madan’s study and research focus on the sociology of merit, and education and social stratification. He worked at JNU, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, IIT Kanpur and Tata Institute of Social Sciences before joining APU. He is also associated with several NGOs and is part of the editorial collective of the Contemporary Education Dialogue.

An abstract from the speaker follows.

The current government in the Centre has been moving towards a revised National Education Policy. Such policies are important public statements of the priorities of a state and, while never being implemented fully to the letter anywhere, do have a considerable impact on subsequent developments in their field. They should therefore be subject to widespread debate and discussion by experts – education researchers, policy analysts – and by different stakeholders including academics, non-academic staff, school teachers, students and members of the general public.

This talk will engage with the latest MHRD document in the public domain which describes proposals for the New Education Policy, “Some inputs for draft National Education Policy 2016”. It will try to highlight some shifts and continuities with the previous National Education Policy 1986, as revised in 1992. There are many aspects which deserve discussion, but my talk will restrict itself to three: (a) the question of saffronization and whether this has been promoted in the MHRD’s document; (b) social inequality and how the present proposals have tried to deal with it and (c) privatization of education and how the inputs document looks at it.

“Some inputs for draft National Education Policy 2016” is available from the MHRD’s website:

The National Policy on Education 1986/92 and 1968 are available from the NCERT website:

GM Crops: Ban or Boon? A talk by G. Padmanaban

Norman Borlaug, the architect of the Green Revolution, won the Nobel peace prize in 1970 for creating a new strain of wheat which grew with shorter stalks and would therefore not topple over. This advancement is estimated to have saved a billion lives by making the planet food-secure. Borlaug did his work the old-fashioned way–by grafting and selection. The next generation of life-saving advancements in agriculture may well be made in the laboratory.

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture is a hotly debated issue between regulatory agencies, scientists, and environmental activist organisations like Greenpeace. The broad scientific consensus on the safety of GM food has failed to change the minds of anti-GMO activists. Anti-GMO activists point to other issues:  Should multinational corporations control the means of production of food in our country? Do farmers have a right to be able to plant the seeds they harvest?

Dhwani is pleased to host a talk by Prof. G. Padmanaban, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry and former Director of IISc, on Wednesday the 17th of August 2016, at 5:30pm at Kanada auditorium. Padmanaban is perhaps most famous for work showing that curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric, has anti-malarial properties. He is also well known for his ability to communicate science, and for being a trenchant critic of pseudoscience, and is ideally suited to talk about this subject. A note from the speaker follows.

GM Crops: Ban or Boon?

G. Padmanaban, Dept. of Biochemistry, IISc

Growth in agriculture in India is not keeping pace with population growth. India has to address the issues of food and nutrition security. Although India ranks high in terms of production of cereals, pulses, oil seeds and horticultural crops due to use of large amount of land, it has low ranking in terms of productivity. Therefore, technology is needed to improve productivity, which would include soil and water management. It is equally important to look at technologies governing the plant genetics in terms of productivity. Plant breeding technologies have been used over the ages to improve crop yields. The advent of genome-based technologies have revolutionalised plant breeding. Marker-Assisted-Breeding (MAB/non-GM) uses appropriate DNA markers to breed specific plant characteristics and to accelerate the whole process and transgenics (Genetically Modified or GM) involve the introduction of newer genes into the plant by gene-cloning methods to obtain desired characteristics. The former involves transfer of large chunks of DNA between compatible parents, while the latter can be done with just one or a few genes without any species/sex barrier. MAB requires appropriate mapping populations to start with, since it involves crossing between two contrasting parents. Drought-resistant maize has been generated using MAB technology. Successful examples of GM technology are in terms of pest resistance and selective elimination of weeds. The major crops globally commercialized are GM Corn, Soybean and Cotton. GM rice is a tantalizing possibility on the horizon.

Research and smaller applications are available with a large number of crops. Plants resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses as well as with improved nutritive quality have been generated. India has benefited substantially with the introduction of Bt Cotton, which contains a gene(s) from Bacillus thuringensis to protect against Boll worm infection. There is an embargo on the commericialization of Bt Brinjal developed in India. 29 countries have been growing GM crops. The technology is also under going changes rapidly with the introduction of specific gene modification strategies without involving trangenes. In India we still do not have a regulatory frame work to handle such technologies, although whole sale gene modifications using gamma-radiation have been in use as a standard practice!

There are also concerns with the introduction of GM crops in terms of health safety, biodiversity and resistance development by the pest. There is a strong scientific base to address all these concerns. However, there is a divided opinion among the public on the introduction of GM crops. This speaker believes that more often public are misled by wrong and misinterpreted data and GM technology has tremendous scope to contribute to food and nutrition security in the Developing countries. At the same time, it is not a magic bullet to solve all problems facing Indian agriculture. For example, we do not have an appropriate monitoring/counseling extension service to help the farmer in the use of GM crops for cultivation and this has already resulted in a trend for resistance development in Bt cotton. An appropriate combination of MAB, GM and crop rotation technologies with regulatory approvals on a case to case basis would help Indian agriculture substantially.

(Un)Sustainable Food Consumption Dynamics in South/Southeast Asia: Changing patterns, practices and policies among “new consumers” in India and the Philippines

The decades after the market liberalisation of the 1990s have seen a significant change in India’s middle class, especially in our cities. Younger people than ever before are now richer earlier in life than ever before. With higher incomes and changing demographics, patterns of food consumption and waste have also changed in urban India. How do these changes affect people’s lives? What kind of environmental impact do they have?
Megha Shenoy, an adjunct fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), works on answering these questions. She is currently working on a project in collaboration with Sichuan University, China, to examine changes in policies and practice related to waste management in Bangalore – specifically focussing on residential bulk generators. She was part of a team that studied food consumption patterns in Bangalore and Metro Manila for a research project titled ‘(Un) Sustainable Food Consumption Dynamics in South/Southeast Asia: Changing patterns, practices and policies among “new consumers” in India and the Philippines’. On Thursday, 21st July 2016, at 5:30 pm at Kanada Auditorium, Dr. Shenoy will screen six short films based on findings from the research project, followed by a discussion. A short abstract from the speaker follows.

A series of six short films based on findings from the research project ‘(Un) Sustainable Food Consumption Dynamics in South/Southeast Asia: Changing patterns, practices and policies among “new consumers” in India and the Philippines’.

These films highlight findings from surveys on middle-class populations in Bangalore and Metro Manila. From Bangalore the three short films show – (i) how food stock is managed at home, (ii) the growing trend of eating out, and (iii) food waste management efforts in the city. In Metro Manila they highlight (i) growth of organic food consumption, (ii) defining Filipino cuisine and (iii) the growing trend in eating out.

These films made by Helena Ziherl and Reto Steffen from the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) are available on Research on which these films are based on, was coordinated by Suren Erkman (Coordinator), Marlyne Sahakian (Co-coordinator) and Shalini Randeria (Co-coordinator). This project was conducted by a large team (arranged alphabetically based on first names): Abby Favis, Christine Camata, Christine Lutringer, Czarina Saloma, Gopal Karanth, Laura Burger Chakraborty, Loïc Leray, Lorraine Mangaser, Malavika Belavangala, Megha Shenoy, Sunayana Ganguly, Tiphaine Leuzinger, Uma Rani.


Renewables in the Indian Electricity Sector: How fast and how much? A talk by Shoibal Chakravarty

Global climate change caused by human activity is the greatest challenge facing us today. Among the things we as a species can do in order to rectify what we’ve done to our planet is to stop the use of fossil fuels like oil and (especially) coal. In recent times, the technology involved has improved enough that solar electricity is about as cheap to produce as coal-fired electricity .

Will the wholesale adoption of renewable energy (if it is possible) guarantee access to electricity to the 30 crore people in the country who have little or no access to electricity? Will we be able to avert the power cuts that we are subject to, even in our cities?

Shoibal Chakravarty, an assistant professor at the School of Natural Sciences and Engineering, NIAS, works on answering these questions. His work involves the modelling and analysis of all aspects of energy use and production as they relate to climate change and to the basic equity of access to energy. Dr. Chakravarty will talk to us on July 13th, at 5pm at Kanada Auditorium, about where we as a nation as headed in our quest to replace oil and coal with renewable energy. The title of the talk and the abstract follow.

Renewables in the Indian Electricity Sector: How Fast and How Much?

Shoibal Chakravarty,

School of Natural Sciences and Engineering, NIAS

In the recent Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) at the COP 21 in Paris, India set herself very ambitious targets for electricity from renewable and non-fossil sources in 2030. These go hand in hand with the ambitious renewable energy targets set for 2022. This talk will discuss the impact of this massive expansion of intermittent renewables in the electricity sector, and technological and policy solutions like demand response, generation ramping and scheduling, energy storage and efficiency that will enable this transformation. We expect that the most important challenges will not be in capital outlays for generation but in transmission and distribution. A significant increase in wind turbines and solar PV facilities will require a robust, flexible and responsive electricity grid. We will also briefly discuss the models of the Indian electricity grid that will be required to provide a test-bed for technological and policy experiments that will inform policymakers and experts in the field.