Pushpa Gujral Science City, near Jalandhar, is one of the biggest in world. It makes the subject of science, considered tedious by many, a fun experience, writes Amar Chandel
AS a science student many decades ago, I well recall how tedious it was to understand various parts of the heart and then make a thematic diagram of it. Schoolchildren of today will find it a far easier task, particularly if they have visited the Pushpa Gujral Science City (PGSC) on the Jalandhar-Kapurthala road which has a model of the heart so big that several adults can walk in and out of it.
They can also have a look inside the human body through another life-size transparent model which has various parts of the body visible. While there, they can also educate themselves how a key-hole surgery is performed, how an MRI is taken and how dialysis is done.
These are only some of the thousands of exhibits at the science city near Kapurthala through which this unique project of the Government of India in collaboration with the Punjab Government (in 70:30 ratio) strives to educate children and adults alike about the wonders of science in an entertaining way.
The gallery on the human body is the latest to be added to the Rs 100-crore science city, named after the mother of former Prime Minister I.K Gujral and inaugurated in the year 2005. Also nearing completion are sections on cyberspace and virtual reality and the science of sports.
We could get a peep into these new sections in the making in which music plays as you move your hands in front of lights and floral patterns develop on the floor as you walk from one side to the other.
The sports section will explain how a cricket ball swings and what is the science behind the magical batting of Sachin Tendulkar.
The capacity to immerse the visitor into the fascinating world of science is there in other exhibits as well, whether it is the outdoor section on dinosaurs – the biggest in the country with some 40 models of dinosaurs of various sizes belonging to various eras — which appears as if it is a set of the film Jurassic Park, or the indoor one on fun science. More than explaining the various exhibits, the focus is on letting visitors have a hands-on feeling.
You get more than what you had bargained for in this "reality show" when you go into an earthquake simulator. The computer-controlled simulator demonstrates to you how much your city will shake and heave if there is an earthquake measuring say 5, 6, 7 or 8 on the Richter Scale. All this while the huge screen in front of you shows the picture of a street being rocked to the varying degrees by the tremor.
Speaking of the screen, the Science City boasts of the world’s brightest Large Format Film Projection System. It is housed in a dome, which is distinctive outside as well as inside. On the outside, it is covered with 25 lakh computer-designed tiles of one square inch each and looks like a giant globe. The earth-shaped dome has become the iconic symbol of the PGSC.
Inside, it has a space theatre with a 23-metre diameter screen — which is 10 times larger than a 35 mm screen — which provides 328 persons an immersible experience.
The film that was being run while we were there was on a boat journey down the Nile and it was so exhilarating and realistic that it was next best thing to being actually there.
Incidentally, it costs Rs 40 lakh to Rs 60 lakh to take one such film on lease for one year. This year, for the first time, the PGSC has obtained two films.
Another activity which causes a similar adrenaline rush is a three-minute ride in a 30-seater flight stimulator. It feels as if one is zooming through the stars in an alien universe or making death-defying leaps on a roller coaster.
Equally popular is the 3-D film show and the laser show in which characters appear in space right in front of the visitor to the accompaniment of the song "Sare jahan se achhchha Hindustan hamara".
A digital planetarium system displays and teaches lessons on the motions of the night sky, constellations, seasons, moon phases etc. One can move away from the earth and view the motions of the solar system from afar, or fly outside the Milky Way galaxy and beyond up to several light years away.
One of the most popular areas is the one on space sciences. Huge models of the space shuttle, Chandrayaan, the International Space Station and the missions to Mars and Venus etc make a fascinating viewing. There is always a huge crowd of visitors before the samples of food items which astronauts take to space.
Solar energy is utilised to run some of the exhibits. There are separate chambers to explain the functioning of hydroelectric and nuclear power stations.
As part of its social responsibility, the PGSC in collaboration with the Punjab State AIDS Control Society has launched Red Ribbon Express Bus to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS.
Many people of the area have family members living abroad. The PGSC will make them computer-literate so that they can stay in touch with relatives abroad through e-mail etc.
The science city, spread over 72 acres of land, is the largest in India. In fact, it is one of the biggest in the world. It is a pity that despite offering so much, it attracts barely 3.5 lakh visitors in a year whereas the number ought to be at least twice as much.
It has been done in mainly by a typical bureaucratic wrangle. At a distance of about 14 km from Jalandhar, it is outside the municipal limits of the city and the corporation is loathe to operating direct buses to this unique destination, in spite of the fact that the Punjab Technical University campus is also right next door. The buses going from Jalandhar to Kapurthala won’t stop there either.
With suitable travel facilities, the science city can attract visitors not only from Punjab but also from neighbouring states because there is no comparable facility anywhere in the region. In fact, it needs to be promoted as a tourist destination in itself.
The Rs 150 entry ticket (Rs 100 in the case of school children) is another dampener, considering that many find it too steep. Director-General R. S. Khandpur differs, saying that since the centre offers so many facilities under one roof, the fee is very reasonable, particularly because it goes towards the maintenance of the sprawling campus.
He points out that
while the governments of India and Punjab have provided money for
establishing it, it has to generate its own income to operate it.
Right now, proceeds from the tickets are the only source
The PGSC is trying to rope in business houses to sponsor various galleries. They are also being cajoled to put up advertisement hoardings but the response has been lukewarm so far.
In the last financial year, the Punjab Government sponsored the visit of 50,000 government school students to the centre. Sarv Siksha Abhiyan can also chip in. Private schools send their batches on their own.
There is a family ticket of Rs 450 which allows entry to two adults and two children. There is special concession for senior citizens (Rs 75) and the handicapped (Rs 50).
Then there is another scheme for seasonal tickets under which anyone paying twice as much (Rs 300 for an adult and Rs 200 for a student) can visit the city as many times in a year as he wants. This type of ticket may come in handy for people living in the vicinity (Jalandhar or Kapurthala).
There is so much to see that it is very difficult to cover the whole campus within a day. So, arrangements are being made to accommodate 100 children overnight, says Director R. Sharma. These children will also get the additional bonus of watching the night sky through powerful telescopes.
There is also an artificial lake for them with boating facility over a rowing distance of about 1 km. Besides, they can also view MiG-23 aircraft, Vijayanta tank and anti-aircraft guns.
A youth hostel for family accommodation is likely to be set up soon.
The centre has already spent Rs 93 crore out of its Rs 100-crore grant. But there is still tremendous scope for expansion. The Ministry of Railways will open a railway gallery, complete with a steam engine, a toy train for children and engine simulators. The Indian Meteorological Department is installing an automatic weather station linked to the satellite Kalpana. A satellite receiving station and weather forecasting system is in the offing.
Even when the centre is complete, it will not rest on its laurels, says Dr Khandpur. A vision group of renowned scientists is being formed to formulate a perspective plan for the next decades. After all, science is ever developing. The Science City wants to move forward in consonance.