From the law of inertia to more complex scientific theories, Ariwarasan has an experiment that explains it better.

This man in a van has been making science easy and fun for TN students for 9 years
Features Learning Tuesday, April 03, 2018 - 13:59

Ariwarasan has a few tricks up his sleeve. Only they’re not the usual magic tricks you would expect. These tricks will help you learn science. And Ariwarasan’s got about 1,200 of them. From the law of inertia to more complex scientific theories, Ariwarasan has got an experiment that explains it better.

Ariwarasan began his journey nine years ago in Thiruvallur district. Over the years, he has been camping in different districts, visiting government and government-aided schools in the vicinity on his ‘Vignyana Ratham’ or ‘Science Van’. The van is loaded with test tubes, chemicals, weights and whatnots – all carefully curated to explain science mysteries.

“The most important point of my journey is to expose children to the imaginative world of science. There’s a lot of aversion to this subject in general. People have always regarded science to be a difficult subject. The idea is to break this myth,” says Ariwarasan when TNM got in touch with him over the phone.

Having camped in Coimbatore for about eight months, Ariwarasan’s team has just wound up for the summer.

“We park the van in the district’s central zone. We then figure out a travel plan around the district and cover as many schools as we can. In Coimbatore alone, we’ve been able to go to 135 corporation schools, reaching as many as 26,000 children,” explains Ariwarasan.

9 years, 7 TN districts, 10.5 lakh students reached

In these nine years, the Science Van has been to seven districts in Tamil Nadu, reaching out to as many as 10.5 lakh children.

“Three years ago, when we visited a school in Ashok Nagar, we camped there for about 48 days. During this period, we had 4,480 students participate. The most interesting thing was, we also had commerce students requesting to be a part of our classes,” he laughs.

Ariwarasan shares that the bond he has formed with the children has been very gratifying. “I am in touch with many of them. I even sat with one of them for college counselling. She has now completed her graduation and has recently joined Accenture. I’ve known her since she was in her eleventh grade,” he says. 

So what inspired Ariwarasan to become the “science man who goes around in a van”?

“I had completed my dual degree in Information Technology from College of Engineering, Guindy, when I got in touch with Dr Pashupathi, a food scientist. He is the founder of the Parikshan Charitable Trust and had envisioned the science van. I joined him in his endeavour to make science interesting for young students and since then there has been no turning back,” he says.

Vignayana Ratham has had many patrons over the years. “We had great support from the then Ramanathapuram Collector, Nandakumar sir, for about 2.5 years. Coimbatore Corporation Commissioner Vijaya Karthikeyan sir was also very encouraging. The schools are also very forthcoming.”

Parikshan Trust also organised paid science camps in the city to help raise funds for its journeys.

Answering ‘hows’ and ‘whys’

In a hall filled with eager young faces, Ariwarasan asks a simple question: When boiling an egg, how do you tell if it is cooked or raw? After a few feeble “it sinks in water”, “it floats in water” responses, he calls for two volunteers to join him on stage. In a demonstrated act, Ariwarasan then explains how the law of inertia a.k.a. Newton’s First Law is used to tell this difference.

“I make both the kids spin and then I stop one of them by placing my hand on his/her head. This explains that in a raw egg, the white and yolk are two separate entities and when you spin the egg, both white and yolk spin. When you stop the egg from spinning, however, only the white stops, the yolk inside continues to spin. The workings are different if the egg is boiled.”

When students responded with the “water” answer to tell raw eggs from boiled ones, which even the author believed to be true, Ariwarasan explains density. “Traditionally, farmers used this concept of density to tell good paddy seeds from the bad ones. If the seeds sink in salt water, they are good to be sowed. But this is not the case with the eggs – in normal water both the eggs sink and in salt water, both float.”

By intertwining such ideas, Ariwarasan breaks down several concepts, capturing the children’s interest. 

Ariwarasan explains that all the 1,200 experiments were charted out by him, with 20-25 being his own ideas. This knowledge is then shared with teachers. “I don’t want them to reinvent the wheel.” The idea of his experiment-based teaching is to encourage children to go home with these concepts and test the ideas for themselves.

He also shares that over the past couple of years, he has noticed an encouraging pattern emerge in these government and government-aided schools. “A more practice-oriented approach is being adopted by teachers across the state. Even three years ago the approach was different.”

Ariwarasan also has sessions with the teachers during which he insists that being strict will usually have the adverse effect on students. He also shares links to rare e-books to help teachers expand their knowledge.

At one point Ariwarasan had two science vans, but recently one of them broke down. “As plan B, when the van is camped in one district and we get calls from a different district, I travel alone with my kit that has about 150 experiments. I’ve covered close to 1,000 schools in the state this way,” says Ariwarasan.

Along with science experiments, Ariwarasan also conducts organic farming classes, toilet hygiene classes and interactive sessions with village residents, among other activities.

“Ever since TVs were distributed for free by the government, people spend time less time outside and interaction with each other has also come down drastically. During my sessions I also talk about this,” he adds.

In his next leg, Ariwarasan plans to visit schools in Ariyalur.

For those who’d like to get in touch, he is available on +91 8754409917.

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