The Scientist Post is glad to introduce one of India’s leading molecular biophysicist who is currently the chief scientist of Biophysics Laboratory at the World’s Largest Leather Research Institute – CSIR Central Leather Research Institute, Madras Dr. Aruna Dhathathreyan.I Her research activities include the study of the effect of molecular crowding, inter-facial viscosity on folding/misfolding, molecular assemblies of proteins and lipid-proteins on surfaces, unusual conformational changes in proteins.
She quotes, “A primary school teacher in a remote village in Ooty who is trying to bring his children to attend school after walking 5 km every day to reach school, all those teachers in government colleges who are trying their best to educate their students in spite of poor laboratory or institutional facilities, any individual who is motivating children to take up reading as a hobby-all these people are my inspiration.”
TSP: How were your educational experiences as a student during school, college and graduate days?
AD: At school, always eager to sit through science and maths classes. One of the few girls who dared to compete with the boys in Science exhibitions, Olympiad etc. Regular college student, introvert and shy to interact with her college mates initially. But had great time in the laboratory classes during practical sessions. This led me to believe that I was cut out for experimental work and not theory. Madras Christian College gave me the freedom and the environment to blossom as a researcher. The hostel life made me an extrovert!!
TSP: Who is the teacher you like and mattered the most? How did they make a profound impact on you?
AD: In school in class V it was my science teacher who gave me my first prized possession- ‘Biography of 100 great scientists’ for standing first in a surprise Physics test. She motivated me a lot. In College it was the Head of the Physics Dept., Prof. K. M.Karunakaran, who inspired us with his very new and holistic approach to quantum Physics. Both these teachers never criticized and never judged students even if the student was in the bottom of the class.
TSP: How science fascinated you? Have you ever-wondered to be a researcher during your childhood days? What inspired you to enter this field and why?
AD: The fact that science could explain a lot of things happening around us and also give us new insights into many of nature’s extraordinarily beautiful things-its flora, fauna and so on. Initially I only wanted to be like the teachers I admired. But I realized doing research was even more exciting.
TSP: What do you love most during research?
AD: The fact that it gives me an easy handle to understand what is existing in the universe-at least most of it. Also even understanding properties of materials from the first principles that we learnt long ago and seeing how it works most of the time! Even when it fails there is always a logical explanation for it.
TSP: What, according to your belief, you have found the most astonishing thing in your research/teaching life?
AD: Research and teaching are the only 2 things which seem to spread faster and better as you invest more into them. The fact that I can motivate a younger mind to go down this path seems to move me more than anything else.
TSP: What is your advice for students who wish to take career in science?
AD: If you want to take up science find out first if you are passionate about it. Science career is like trying to be a musician. Some are born musically talented, some can, with some effort learn to play some instrument. Some are so tone deaf that you give them the best teachers, best instruments and a lot of time and money they still cannot carry a tune even if it had a handle!! If you love science and are intuitively good at it, you have in you the makings of a good researcher. But first learn to be patient and understand what you like and what you like to do most.
TSP: What are the things which motivate and inspire you?
AD: A simple concept used to develop an elegant experimental tool. For example, the recent ‘expansion microscopy’ that is making the lives of biologists easy to view intricate neural networks. When we ask simple questions of complex issues and arrive at a plausible solution, which inspires me.
TSP:For you what is education, why and how much it is important? How education helped you to become what you are today? What is your message for the 58 million children out-of-school children?
AD: While reading, writing and arithmetic the 3 Rs are important for every child, making them self-sufficient, confident to face the world through good communication skills, practical knowledge and correct focus on the ground realities and problems that need to be solved on a day to day basis are important part of good education. I studied in a local school ( no convent education) where we played a lot, learnt a lot and had fun because our teachers made the lessons so. We learnt science, Geography etc. through some unconventional ways and till today my love for these subjects stem from these ways rather than the contents themselves. A system where even the last introvert child is made to develop the best communication skill set, where facing any problem scientifically becomes a priority – this kind of education system helped me a lot to be what I am today. I would tell the children learn everything and anything that is available to you. Learning is never a wasted exercise. And if you have a doubt, ask questions to anyone who will find the answer for you. But everyone wanting to get a degree for the sake of getting one is not going to help them or our nation.
TSP: Recently, Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian, who was behind the public attention among many citizens, won the Nobel peace Prize 2014, has been playing instrumental role in child rights. What are your views about him?
TSP: I think what Mr.Satyarthi has been trying to do for the children is really great and words would only limit the extent of this useful exercise. A nation which helps the children, specially to educate themselves need not fear for its future.
TSP: In your opinion what does India should develop policies to ensure all out-of-school children are into learning and school?
AD: Making learning compulsory for children at least up to class 8 should be the foremost policy. Second, making vocational training for skill sets, developing a market for these skills sets and finally giving every student on reaching 18 years a right to correct livelihood based on these skill sets are the issues government should be focusing on.
TSP: Who in the world today would you describe as inspirational?
AD: A primary school teacher in a remote village in Ooty who is trying to bring his children to attend school after walking 5 km every day to reach school, all those teachers in government colleges who are trying their best to educate their students in spite of poor laboratory or institutional facilities, any individual who is motivating children to take up reading as a hobby-all these people are my inspiration.
TSP: What is your success Mantra?
AD: This is a trick question. Success is defined differently by different people. Getting awards, being recognized for the work one does is for many ‘success’. There are others who are very good at what they do, but don’t really worry about the above issues. For them success may mean a great experiment, executed elegantly and the fantastic results they get out of this work! But whatever is success, be passionate about anything you do. Stay focused. There are always hurdles and difficulties, especially in a nation like ours. But I think if you are truly motivated to do your work, persevere and are prepared to learn all the time, I think success does come to you.
TSP: How do you see India 2030?
AD: India has the potential of a large population of young people in the coming years who are rearing to go. They have the energy, probably even the ambition to reach the top. But today most of them seem directionless, do not seem to have a clue of what India needs. If we could create great role models who are not ‘politicians’, if we could motivate them to solve their problem locally without depending on the government , if we could channelize their energy to focus on the issues that are bothering us today, we might become one of the top 5 nations in the world.
One thing which I wish to see, change and bring a difference in India is: I wish we were more professional at all levels, apply the rules of the game equally to everyone and help them to reach their full potential equally at least in education, we might become a nation to reckon with.
TSP: What are your views about our ‘The Scientist Post’ initiative?
AD: I think it is a good start. If you could reach it to colleges locally it might help –especially there are women’s colleges which languish because nothing ever happens there!