Novel ideas in science outreach receive the 4th IndiaBioscience Outreach Award

Navodita Jain

The 4thIndiaBioscience Outreach Grants (IOG) aims to amplify public engagement and science outreach efforts, fostering a broader impact on scientific communication in India. Winners include engaging students and amphibian enthusiasts through interactive games, promoting mental health awareness, mentoring students in Jammu and Kashmir, hosting a conservation-focused podcast, and enhancing scientific education for teachers. 

Winners of 4th IndiaBioscience Outreach Grant and Extension Grant. Poster designed by Moumita Mazumdar.
Winners of 4th IndiaBioscience Outreach Grant and Extension Grant. Poster designed by Moumita Mazumdar. 

A hundred new species of frogs, some as small as a thumbnail, were discovered in India in the past decade. The Zoological Society of India continually updates the biological details of these amphibians and defines their conservation status. Historically, it has been seen that active public engagement is necessary for a stronger push for conservation. To spark and sustain this engagement at a foundational level, Seshadri KS, Maria Antony, and Vidisha MK from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) have planned interactive games and puzzles for students and amphibian enthusiasts. Their efforts will be augmented by the acknowledgement and monetary support of the IndiaBioscience Outreach Grant (IOG).

The IOG, in its 4th edition, offers a reward of 1 lakh to the grantees and publicises the achievements of the project and their architects. TNQ Technologies and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) support the grant. 

The recently announced winners of the 4th IOG grants are motivated by the community they serve. Reeteka Sud and Anant Bhan, one of the winning teams, aim to bridge the mental health gap they have observed as neuroscientists. They regularly interact with mental health patients and their families at the Center for Brain and Mind, NIMHANS. Sud and Bhan are partnering with Project Encephalon, Vijay Nallawala (Bipolar India), and Shriya Naidu (FAST India) for this initiative. Sud says, 

Open dialogue around mental illnesses reduces the stigma that invariably accompanies a psychiatric diagnosis.

The IOG grant selection team has selected some brilliant ideas with experience in social welfare. Peer Abdul Haseeb Shah, Ajaz Ahmad Wani (University of Kashmir), Saima Beigh (Govt. Degree College Anantnag Kashmir, J&K), and Syed Mubarak Hussain (University of New Mexico, USA), scientists volunteering with a non-profit organisation, JK Scientists, hope to introduce a glimpse of the many professional opportunities available to students from Jammu and Kashmir. Shah adds, This mentorship program will expose students to the scholarships, internships, networking events, and job fairs that will help them navigate their educational or professional paths.”

One way to ignite ideas for social welfare is to enable thought-provoking discussions. Pankaj Koparde (MIT World Peace University) and Arijit Jere (Center for Environmental Education) plan to tease out previously unheard angles on conservation in their podcast — People of Nature. Koparde is an evolutionary ecologist and an expert in the biodiversity of the Western Ghats. Through the work at his lab, cleverly named the Chatur Ullu Lab, he has catalysed discussion on marginalised communities’ contribution to conservation and research efforts. His ideas on intersectionality in conservation offer hope. The podcast will cover optimistic stories of people working in remote areas and challenging environments. Koparde says, 

The social themes of our podcast include tribal conservationists, women and transgender wildlife biologists, scientists belonging to economically backward classes, and conservationists from under-represented regions like Jammu & Kashmir and Northeast India.

Another team of winners proposes an exponential and sustainable change by teaching the teachers. Pallabi Mitra, Gayatri Ramachandran (both from the University of Hyderabad), and Mustafa Inamadar (Biotech Talks) focus on developing scientific temper. Their target audience includes high school and undergraduate teachers, who will be the active agents of this development. They plan to introduce a novel pedagogical approach by enabling collaboration between teachers and science communicators, illustrators, and life science industry professionals. Mitra says, A workshop series on Advances in Life Sciences’ will help the teachers upskill and benefit the student community.”

4th IndiaBioscience Outreach Extension Grants

Two awardees will continue the momentum of their outreach activities. They have been awarded an extension grant of 1.5 lakhs to sustain their excellent work.

Chandana Basu and Garima Jain, founders at Genetiks4U and scientists at Banaras Hindu University, offered some exciting activities and released a magic advent calendar at the India Science Festival. The initiative was so successful that the team is planning to scale up. Nandini Chilkam, Co-founder of Learn with Comics, has enjoyed the experience, When our comics reached the children, their happy faces and explanations in their own words encouraged me and my team to work more.”

Aamchi Prayogshaala, a winner of the 3rd IOG, achieved the feat of bringing practical science to school kids in the Mumbai/​Thane region. With this extension grant, they plan to launch a Friends of Aamchi Prayogshaala Program” to involve dynamic changemakers to develop resources and conduct hands-on sessions in regional languages. Aamchi Prayogshala, a team of Mayuri Rege, Mugdha Belwalkar, and Sachin Rajagopalan from the Ramnarain Ruia College, is working towards awarding its volunteers college credits for their time. Rege, the founder, says, 

This initiative will underscore the importance of empathy and scientific social responsibility in future citizens of our nation.

All the winners present fresh ideas that resonate with the sensibilities of their audiences. Grants like IOG have a robust and multiplying impact on public engagement and science outreach. With plenty of scientific ideas to be communicated, IndiaBioscience hopes to bolster more such innovations and innovators of public outreach in the coming years. 

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