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Now... Voyage through time

IF NOBLE prize existed some two thousand years ago, Egyptians would have won the honour more than once with legends like Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Jabir Ibn Hayyan being the certainties. But sometime, time takes an eternity to arrive at the moment of justice. Ahmed Hassan Zewail is the latest instance to exemplify the paradigm. He is the first scientist from the Arab world to break the elusive barrier in 1999 with his path-breaking work in femtochemistry.

Zewail is in news again for giving words to his journey from the historical Alexandria to California interspersed with his mush with the landscape of molecules peeped on the scale of one-quadrillionth of a second in the form of "Voyage through Time" published in India by Centre For Philosophy And Foundations Of Science.

Zewail relates his experiences in a non-technical language or one can say it is the humane aspect of science that a man who has experienced both the developing and developed world on a different scale.

Zewail terms the U.S. as the land of opportunity but questions its ability to maintain a balanced social structure with constant establishment of `elite' institutions and even America's unquestioned leadership in science. His concern about dogmatism, which is a phenomenon not exclusive to the U.S. deserves praise. Science and religion are not in conflict, provided dogmatic thinking on either side does not dominate. Zewail's insight into the decreasing support to scientific research in the superpower, particularly, where the scope for immediate pay-offs and so-called relevance to new applications is relatively less, is really a revelation particularly when the discoveries of laser, transistor and computer negate this new found `ideology' in science.

His concerns for his homeland and suggested remedies have something for us to learn, as we share the same ailments. Illiteracy and population growth, according to Zewail, are the prime enemies attacking the nation and should be dealt with accordingly. He advocates a merit based educational system with machinery free of red tape interference to identify the very best students and allocating higher education only to those who deserve to be there. Also his submission that tuition should be charged to families who are able to pay and waived for financially strapped meritorious students has some message for Mandal circle.

Raja Ramanna, who released the autobiography, shared similar concerns. "We are on a threshold. In the next few years you will see many more inventions from India but Noble prize winners are not that easy to create. There should be high standard of infrastructural support plus absence of bureaucratic hurdles, which are far too many in our country," reflects Ramanna, who has just bid adieu to the elder house of Parliament.

Take this sojourn with the chemist for the right mixture of solutions.


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