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Online edition of India's National Newspaper

Monday, Mar 30, 2009

Dedicating life to popularising science

K. Mani has written more than 7,000 scientific essays

K. Mani

Coimbatore: His response to questions on the Gnanavani in ‘ariviyal neram’ has at times
brought about a piquant situation. For instance, when he explained the deleterious effects
of muscular dystrophy, a farmer approached him for help as he has been suffering from
that for long. “When I told him I was not a doctor, he refused to believe me. Ultimately I
had to do some liaison work for arranging a clinical trial for him. Some people have
started coming to me even for counselling on listening to my explanations regarding
various medical issues,” K. Mani, a doctorate in Botany and a professor in the PSG
College of Arts and Science, tells G. Satyamurty.

Mr. Mani has virtually dedicated his life to popularisation of science.

He was the editor of Kalaikathir (a great contribution to propagation of science in Tamil


by former Vice-Chancellor of Madras University G.R. Damodaran) since 1990 till last
year.

The 57-year-old professor is among the handful in the horizon of Tamil Nadu, who have
been trying to enlighten the masses on science through the vernacular.
He has already authored seven books on various scientific topics and five more are in the
pipeline.

He has written more than 7,000 scientific essays, question and answer pieces, small
stories, etc. He has submitted 25 research papers and also delivered more than 150
lectures. Apart from Botany, he has qualified himself in Microbiology, Biotechnology,
Bioinformatics and Chemoinformatics.

Mr. Mani not only produced the content for Kalaikathir month after month, but also
prepared the technical terminology, root words, new words, and also the equivalents for
the Sanskrit words in Tamil. Similarly, his initiatives towards popularisation of science in
Tamil are mind-boggling.

With a team of 15, he prepared technical terms in Microbiology, organised four


workshops with Central Government assistance for science writers and undertook a State-
wide survey with the help of the Central Government to study the inclination of the
population in Tamil Nadu towards science.

He did not stop with Botany or other related subjects. His canvas is so wide and varied
that he could speak and write even on quantum physics, nanotechnology, archaeology,
anthropology and cosmic science to linguistics.

His way of disseminating scientific knowledge includes presentation of scientific puzzles


and even small stories.

He is said to have introduced various emerging subjects to Tamil. They include ‘nun min
anu karuvigal’ (Micro Electronic and Mechanical Systems), ‘aata kolgai’ (Game
Theory), ‘kuzhappa kolgai’ (Chaos Theory) ‘parinama ulaviyal’ (Evolutionary
Psychology), ‘quanta ariviyal’ (Quantum Theory) and ‘thugal ariviyal’ (Particle
Physics), just to name a few.

He has so far responded to more than 5,000 questions through Kalikathir, Dinamalar and
also Gnanavani. He is accustomed to explaining scientific improvements through pictures
and experiments as well.

“For instance, I ask my listeners to blow some smoke on a white kerchief. It turns brown
because of nicotine content. I tell them that is how even the lungs will get hurt because of
smoking.”

One among his major contributions is the collection of the names of 8,000 herbs
mentioned in Tamil books and their botanical names and also identification of
phytochemicals.

He has a patent for computer algorithms. He has set up even a Tamil website for
scientific Tamil - www.arivialtamil.org
A student of Pachayappa’s College, he was inspired by Prof. Sundaralingam and
K.P.Aravanan, former Vice-Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. His
interest in science grew during early 1980s.

“I should have read more than 2,500 books, all related to science including science fiction
of Michael Creighton, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C.Clarke, Ray Bradberry and HG Wells.”

“My sources of news include the National Geography, and the Scientific American.”

Apart from Tamil, English and Sanskrit, he has some knowledge of French as well.

Mr. Mani sticks his neck out to assert that knowledge of Sanskrit is essential to write
about science in Tamil.

“It is sheer hypocrisy to say that scientific Tamil can be written without the help of
Sanskrit. After all, Sanskrit is like Latin and Greek, the fountainhead of several
rootwords. And there is absolutely nothing wrong in compromising on this score. After
all, the word ‘nano’ comes from Sanskrit word ‘navam’.

After retirement, he plans to start an international ‘peer review journal’, which will
provide open access to all the research scholars to publish their works courageously.

“I am confident of achieving this with the help of my friends, students and researchers.”

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