Concepts of Physics (Interview with Dr. H C Verma)

Dr. H.C. Verma needs no introduction. All engineering aspirants best recognize him as the author of their Bible – ‘Concepts of Physics’. The idol for all JEE aspirants, the favorite of all students who have ever attended his Introductory Physics Class (PHY102 or PHY103) class, the godfather of all children from various underdeveloped localities close to IIT Kanpur, the pedagogical ‘Guru’ and a great social engineer- he is all of them.

Dr. H C Verma (http://home.iitk.ac.in/~hcverma) is a Professor in the Department of Physics at IIT Kanpur. Here are some of the excerpts of his interview with Mohit Kumar Jolly, who gets the pleasure to talk to him regards various facets of his personality.

NERD: Sir, you have been in this institute (IIT Kanpur) for almost two decades. What trend have you witnessed in technical and research activities over the time and student involvement in them?

Dr. Verma: The technical activities have gone up very significantly. When I was a student here, the only such activity I saw was through the Physics Society- talks by professors and paper reading contests. Now, students are getting more involved in research activities. They participate in SURGE and go out for summer training at various research centers and universities all across the world.

NERD: Your book ‘Concepts of Physics’ is nationally reputed and respected as the Bible of Physics. What was your motivation and inspiration for authoring that book?

Dr. Verma: (Laughs) I started teaching Physics at the reputed Patna Science College in 1979. I was asked to teach students in B.Sc., M.Sc as well as those in standards 11 and 12. I was a big fan of the book by Resnick and Halliday, but I was unable to motivate students of standards 11 and 12 for understanding physics by teaching with that book. It was indeed a shock for me.

Over the years, I realized that I enjoyed that book because I studied it in my M.Sc., when I was mature enough to appreciate its beauty. I looked for other physics books for my students but could not find one containing the same implicit beauty of physics. Finally, I decided to give a try at authoring one such book and took 8 years to complete it.

NERD: You have been taking various initiatives for innovative physics teaching at school level by devising many simple demonstration experiments for students. Can you please elaborate on your favorite experiment?

Dr. Verma: (Smiles) I have devised around 150 simple experiments and have an emotional attachment with all of them, but the one which has clicked the teachers the most is the ‘Dettol Bottle Experiment’. It demonstrates the internal reflection of light from a water surface in a dettol bottle.

We take a dettol bottle, fill it partly with water and make it turbid by adding dettol or soap. Then a laser beam is introduced through the sides, which gets internally reflected by the water surface. Due to turbidity, the path traced by the beam is clearly visible and the internal reflection of light can be easily seen.

Invariably, all the teachers who have seen this experiment have given it a loud applause, and as they have told me, similar has been the reaction when they have performed this in their class in schools.

NERD: ‘Bal Vigyan Mela’ has been a great success and appreciated throughout. What were the difficulties you faced in organizing it and what did you learn from them?

Dr. Verma: It was a gigantic task, but was managed well. The administration was very helpful. A team of 40 odd people was made to look after the academic part. 664 students participated in it, most of which were from classes 6, 7 and 8 of low-key schools from Nankari or Barasirohi. 120 experiments were demonstrated and then the final ‘Mela’ had 8000 visitors.

It was a beautiful experiment in education, where we demonstrated that science can be taught without the use of blackboard, equations, text books and homework, since we used none of them in this six-week long programme. All training was through interesting experiments followed by discussion. A total of 36 themes were identified, including air pressure, thermal conductivity, torque, mirrors and lenses, buoyancy, acid base detection and what not. Each theme had 3-4 experiments. After this 6-week training, each child knew as much science as any high school student will know.

The confidence and enthusiasm with which the children were demonstrating the experiments, explaining the science and answering the questions to the audience was simply great. They hardly cared whether the person they are teaching is a faculty at IIT-K. They were the real icons of the day, November 18,2007.

NERD: You have been the spearhead of social transformation through Shiksha Sopan. Are you in favour of introducing social engineering as a course for students so that the society as a whole can benefit from science?

Dr. Verma: ‘Jeevan Vidya’ group is trying something similar. They did it in some colleges in Madhya Pradesh. They will be the better personnel to answer such questions. I go more for the field work.

NERD: It has been felt that the very instinct for gaining knowledge is drastically low among students once they clear JEE. Do you think that efforts like ‘Anveshika’ can regain their interest in science?

Dr. Verma: The roots for this problem lie in the school education, which is unable to set a nice goal for the students. I receive mails from students of class 11 and 12 that the goal of their life is to crack JEE. These are all false targets. Once the goal is achieved, they have nothing to do.

The education in science has such a beautiful path to follow, but science is taught in history fashion in schools. The bigger joy of discovering nature is not experienced and put forth.

“Target of cracking JEE is a false target.”

Anveshika is essentially an open ended laboratory where uncommon experiments are set up without constraints of any board syllabus or examination. New experiments are continuously evolved as and when any idea strikes the students or the teachers. Students in classes 9, 10 and 11 need to work in such areas.

NERD: What do you feel has been the most important contribution by you to the scientific community in terms of your research area?

Dr. Verma: Science is a very vast subject and I really enjoy it. Even a small piece of discovery by me gives me immense pleasure and I feel myself to be a part of the great scientific community all across.

NERD: Your home page states that the present education system in the country lacks the basic elements of practical knowledge, ethical and virtuous values. What pedagogical techniques or improvements would you suggest at IIT Kanpur?

Dr. Verma: Well, as you see, it is too late for students as they are already forged by 15 years of school education. Yet, we can try. When I take the first year B.Tech course on physics, I perform small experiments in class to correlate theory with practical, and tell them stories about the interrelation of different aspects of education.

Just pumping in information is not the pedagogy to be followed with IIT students. They probably need no professor for it. But we give them too much of information and no education. The music masters teach one ‘Raga’ to their disciples and rest is left to their creativity. Such pedagogy needs to be implemented here too.

NERD: IIT-K is one of the best technical institutions of India, and yet we have no such central repository where technical publications by students and faculty over the years are at least listed. Don’t you find this to be a very pathetic situation?

Dr. Verma: It is a very good observation made by you and I hope your endeavor NERD solves it.

NERD: No platform exists in IIT-K where people working on various research areas can write for the general audience. NERD is such an initiative. What plans would you suggest to sustain it?

Dr. Verma: NERD is an attractive idea. There are two aspects involved with people involved in research- their own personal careers and the satisfaction of being heard by a larger audience. If they are provided an opportunity with not much time constraint, they will contribute to NERD and this would be beneficial for the campus community in general. I would personally love to contribute as much, and with 300 faculty members in IIT-K, you need not worry about its sustainability.

NERD: What do you think was the vision of setting IIT-K? How far we have realized it in half a century?

Dr. Verma: IITs were set up to develop a technological base which can drive India into a global competition. Yes, IIT-K is an international brand name now. I have seen a significant contribution of students recently in managing the show, despite the fact that they come after 15 years of forging.

NERD: You have been the apple of every eye throughout the country. What are your plans after retiring as a faculty?

Dr. Verma: (Smiles) Wherever I will be, I will be serving science and education. I will put a Teacher Resource Center where teachers of various subjects from schools and colleges can interact and learn to enjoy the subject they are teaching. During an IIP (Introductory Interaction Program) in Agra, I interacted with a group of teachers just for 6 hours, emphasizing the need for experiment based classroom teaching and demonstrating around 25 experiments at various levels (class 6 to class 12). Two of the teachers came to me after the workshop and told that they were proud of the profession they were in.

“The first authority to spoil a child is the teacher.”

The education system is not controlled by the government or the HRD ministry, but the first authority to spoil a child is teacher. Teachers have to be made realized that they are in a noble profession and shoulder a great responsibility. This has been my part time effort and I will dedicate myself completely to it soon.

NERD: Describe Dr. H.C. Verma in one line. What is your final message for the students?

Dr. Verma: (Thinks) I have experienced that science is very enjoyable. I try to integrate myself with education, science and society at large.

My message for the students that there is much more to explore in nature. Don’t focus just on the course content. If you can appreciate the implicit beauty of science and engineering, it will be great.

NERD: Thank you Sir! It was a great pleasure talking to you.

This interview was originally published in V1 N1 of NERD – the campus science and technology magazine of IIT Kanpur, founded by Mohit Kumar Jolly in 2008.

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