Science Outreach

I got interested in Science outreach while at IIT Bombay. I was part of a cohort of 36 girls in a batch of 550 students (yes we were outnumbered quite significantly). However, it helped us bond and take part in competitions where women were previously not present.

For example, I got interested in taking part in robotics competitions. My first one was at Techfest 2005, where a friend and I participated in Rescue, Yantriki. In this competition we designed a simple yet effective robot to pick blocks, fill and cross a moat which was well appreciated. We placed in the top 16 teams out of 50.

Yantriki Techfest

I was also a finalist in Scitech, one of India's biggest technology quizzes at Techfest 2005, and was among the top 6 in the 400 that participated.

Bolstered by this I stood for and was elected to be the Technical Activities Secretary for my hostel (Hostel Ten: for the undergraduate women at IIT Bombay). As Technical Activities Secretary I was responsible for all the Technical activities at the hostel level. I doubled the budget allocated to technical activities, and as a result, was able to create a Tech Bank. This was a collection of tools and equipment required for technical projects, making our Hostel the first hostel to have an organized collection of tools and a bench vice. I was also able to increase the participation of the women in my hostel in technical activities to new levels with over 75% of freshmen participating in events at Techfest 2005. As a result of these activities I was awarded a Technical Colour for the year 2004-2005 by Hostel Ten.

Next year, a bunch of friends and I from different hostels came together to take part in I-Cleen at Techfest 2006. The event involved making an autonomous grid following machine that would lift and dump rice puffs. After competing with teams from all across India we won the event.

IClean TechFest

In my final year (2007-2008) I was appointed as the Institute Technical Nominee. I was the nominal head of all the technical clubs in campus, comprising 2 main clubs, including TechNic, 5 smaller clubs and a team of 50 students covering all Student Technical Activities in IIT Bombay. We were successfully able to lobby for an increase in the contingent size from IIT Bombay to Shaastra, the IIT Madras Technical Inter-college festival to 25 students from 15, with an increase in budget as well.

I continued these activities during my PhD as well. I was chosen to be an instructor for the School for Scientific Thought (SST). It is a program for high school students in the Santa Barbara area, where high school students can attend short 10 hour courses on special topics. The courses themselves are designed by graduate students of UCSB. The goal is to expose high school students to new areas of science, as well as research methodology. More details can be found here. This program is beneficial to graduate students as well, since we get trained in teaching methodology as well as getting to design a course from scratch.

In this program my co-instructor, Phillip Barton and I developed a 10 hour course entitled Sustainable Energy: Fact or Fiction?. In this course students discussed the concept of sustainability and the need for long-term energy solutions. We explored the physics of various energy sources, and the challenges for replacing the sources in a manner that is viable over the future. Playing with solar cars as an experiment, we analyzed their output and assessed their potential for solving our energy problems. The inherent variability in the output of alternative sources and the necessity of storage systems were discussed, with experiments being performed on batteries and fuel cells. In an effort to understand energy consumption, we walked through our daily lives and calculated the energy usage of our typical activities. Finally, students were exposed to various socioeconomic aspects of energy policy through a city simulation computer game, and given insight into important factors that need to be considered when making decisions about energy for future generations.

It was a good experience as it helped me understand some of the issues we face as scientists, which is primarily communicating the reasons for our research, which to the layman can seem abstruse and 'ivory tower' in its approach.