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When toons teach science

Saturday, 16 December 2006 - 10:10pm IST

Scientist PK Srivastava uses cartoons to popularise science among children and people sit up and enjoy even the boring lectures.

LUCKNOW: It would have been yet another “boring” scientific presentation.  But cartoons came to the rescue. P K Srivastava, scientist at Lucknow’s  Chemical Technology Division of the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), was on a flight to Singapore to deliver a lecture on the pharmaceutical industry. While others on board slept, he hit upon the idea of illustrating his lecture with cartoons to make it more interesting. It helped that he was an accomplished cartoonist. What took shape was a novel form of art — the ‘scientoon’.

The idea turned out to be a big hit. Srivastava had been allotted 10 minutes but the lecture went on for about an hour. The National University of Singapore even honoured him with a silver medal for the cartoon-aided lecture. “I was apprehensive that the scientists there might jeer at me for using cartoons for such a serious subject. But the resounding applause after my lecture removed my doubts,” said Srivastava. 

Sitting in his lab surrounded by chemicals, Srivastava is the most unlikely of characters to have the jocular vein. But once he starts talking about his ‘scientoons’, there is no stopping him. As he unveils one ‘scientoon’ after another through a power-point presentation on his office computer, one can easily see why he is such a hit with audiences wherever he delivers a lecture. He uses a scientoon on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky episode when he waxes eloquent on DNA finger-printing, and another on the “vanishing” tigers of Sariska while talking about wildlife conservation.

“These cartoons arouse interest even in topics like molecular biology and nanotechnology,” he said.

Srivastava’s ‘scientoonics’ has been accepted by the WHO, UNESCO, the UNEP, the Royal Swedish Academy which gives the Nobel prize and even the prestigious American Chemical Society. The Jaycees International honoured him with the “Outstanding Young Person of India” award in Puerto Rico in 1990. This was no mean achievement, he points out, as he was up against the likes of PT Usha and Pankaj Udhas.

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