Students can experience and learn about the universe without having to step outside their schools.

The universe in classrooms Mysuru students mobile planetarium is making science fun
news Science Friday, December 23, 2016 - 16:09

A Mysuru college student's initiative is bringing the universe, quite literally, to rural classrooms in some regions in the state. 

Students can experience and learn about the sun, stars, solar system, galaxies and the mysteries they hold without having to step outside their schools. 

All they have to do is sit inside the "Cosmic Egg", a low-cost inflatable mobile planetarium, which is the brainchild of Prajwal M, who is pursuing his post-graduation in Physics from the University of Mysore. 

The planetarium, which can hold 20 persons at a time, is portable and very easy to use.

"It is built using low cost materials like tarpaulin and duct tapes. A normal table fan is used to inflate the planetarium and a projector, and an open source software ‘Stellarium’ is used to create the effects of space," explains Prajwal. 

He has also been given the "best leader" award for his initiative; it was presented to him by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi.

During his undergraduate days, Prajwal was part of a local science group called the Black Body Science Group. Volunteers of the group would go to government schools and make science-related presentations for students. 

It was then that Prajwal, who has been passionate about science since his childhood, started toying with the idea of making a planetarium.

The first planetarium that he created was almost the size of a room. "It was too big to carry around," he says. 

The old planetarium model; Screenshot: dcselead/Facebook

He then went on to apply for a leadership programme at the Deshpande Foundation. 

"I had seen a poster of their programme on the college notice board. So, I applied and wrote a proposal stating that I wanted to build a planetarium," he says. 

Prajwal's application got selected, he was provided Rs 2,500 and in 2015, he began work on the prototype of an inflated planetarium along with his friend Gagan. Together they have created five such planetariums till now, of which four have been given to government schools.  

"I used some of the material from the old planetarium. I was also given another funding of Rs 2,500 later," he states.

Prajwal says that around 3,000 students from 10-15 rural and government schools have been educated with the help of the Cosmic Egg. 

"The very first presentation of Cosmic Egg that we had made was in a blind school. Many students had never even seen the sun before in their lives because of low vision," he recollects, adding that the planetarium gave them a new experience altogether. 

Speaking about his interaction with students, Prajwal says he notices the clash of sometimes superstitious ideas with Science. 

"The children often confuse astronomy with astrology," he states.

For instance, while teaching eclipse, he at times gets asked how would their horoscope be affected by it. 

"While both astronomy and astrology use similar mathematics, their interpretations are different. And I teach them the difference between the two," he says.  

Prajwal receiving the award from Kailash Satyarthi

Teachers too have welcomed the introduction of the planetarium in their classes. The syllabus, for the SLC exams for Class 10 students, has a chapter on the universe. "Teachers normally skip the chapter because it carries only 4-5 marks. When I’d go to schools with the Cosmic Egg, some teachers would ask me to teach students the chapter," Prajwal laughs. 

Science is still mostly taught theoretically across many schools in the country, and Prajwal feels that teachers need to put in more effort to make classes interactive. 

As someone who believes science must not be treated as a subject that has to be learnt for exams, but that is an approach towards life, Prajwal says, "I've seen Class 12 students not knowing the order of planets. Many also believe in rote learning.”

Currently working on a prototype of manual paddy transplant, Prajwal wants to carry on his work in the fields of both science and entrepreneurship.  

Also read: Two writers are crisscrossing the country, telling inspiring stories of Indian women in science

Beatrice the Biologist: This ex biology teacher's science comic is winning the internet