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In the 1990s, the city’s foremost research scientists would hold forth on their area of expertise to loyal audiences gathered at the Mythic Society’s monthly talks in the Corinthian-pillared Daly Memorial Hall on Nrupathunga Road. “That was just one of the many venues for the science and the city to engage. It seems like there was less traffic and more engagement with the sciences back then,” says Mukund Thattai, a professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). “While braving traffic for a theatre or stand-up show seems to be accepted as rewarding, our commonly-held, school-student notion of the sciences prevents us from making it to our Kodigehalli Campus for a talk by a scientist,” he adds.

The tradition of the public lecture has been kept alive within the institutions (NCBS shares its campus with sister institutes, the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms), but it seems to have lost its spot in the city’s schedule. That, according to Mukund, is what they’re hoping to change with a new programme that brings science to the people. “Under the umbrella programme – Science and the City – we plan to change this perspective,” he explains. “On campus, over the past few years, we’ve rotated our speakers to include non-scientists, historians and philosophers of science to help sensitise our students to a world beyond their lab bench.”

All The Good Science Puns Argon

Through Science and the City, these nerds will be scheduling talks at venues like book shops and cafes across Bangalore, but also inviting people to host a talk in their apartment’s community hall. “We feel that the latter format will remove the barrier that comes from the classroom-style of most of the lectures,” Mukund says. One of the drawbacks of the lecture format, he says, “isn’t that it might rely on technical language or that the topic is super-specific, it is that there’s only one-way flow of knowledge followed by a couple of questions”.

He’s counting on this space generating a different kind of discussion. “We want people to ask questions about science that they might have after reading something in the newspaper or online, or even general doubts that they may have,” he says. “Here’s the opportunity to directly ask those questions to actual experts working in those fields. The intimacy of the format will be the thrill.”

The “in-your-apartment-block talks” are kicking off, so if you’ve got a community hall, can arrange for a projector and mic, round up a bunch of interested people and put some snacks on the (periodic) table, then get up in this form. “We’re hoping that even if ten percent of attendees are pleasantly surprised and get interested, they might show up to our regular programmed talks too,” Mukund says. Before he heads back into the lab, one more thing: “These talks aren’t aimed at getting kids excited about science, but rather a way for working research scientists to access and directly talk to working adults and an older generation.” Science, he hopes, will stop seeming foreign and formal, so “that one can see science beyond the results, understand process and the person doing the work.”

Getting there: Sign up to host this free talk at your apartment’s community hall, just fill in this form.

This story was contributed by Joshua Muyiwa, a Bangalore-based poet and writer.

Photo credit: HcgServiciosSanitarios

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