Students on a Discovery of Sustainability
May 23, 2012
“Our economies are currently built with the assumption that everything that nature provides is free. But actually it’s not free, it has to be replaced. We consumers don’t understand what is the true value of the things that we are using,” stated Nobel Laureate Dr. Lee Hartwell.
Following his lecture on sustainability science to students of Standards XI and XII at the Amrita-DST INSPIRE camp, Dr. Hartwell was answering questions that the students posed.
“We need to pay the cost for pollution that we produce and the waste that we generate,” he underlined.
With this opening session, the students embarked on a five-day journey as they explored the various nuances of sustainability through invited talks and hands-on activities.
Teaching them more about pollution control on the second day was the Chairman of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board, Mr. K. Sajeevan.
Also learning about an approach to waste management that targeted zero waste, the students toured the recycling and composting centers of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math.
“Let us choose to minimize the amount of soft plastic and other non-recyclable waste we create,” the students pledged.
Ideas ranged from encouraging friends to not bring individually wrapped toffees/candies for birthday celebrations to totally avoiding the use of packaged snacks such as potato chips, which are anyways unhealthy.
“Composting is nature’s own method of waste disposal and soil fertilization,” the students learned. They toured the facility where they saw compost resulting from the natural breakdown of organic material in the presence of micro-organisms.
At the vermi-compost station, students learned about the earthworms and their service to nature.
“This workshop provided a lot of insight regarding eco-friendly practices,” remarked Alesha Nizar and Syama S., students of Angels Arc School, Kanyankulam. “We now better understand what sustainability really means, earlier we were only having theoretical knowledge about it.”
Gaining further insights especially into the world of research, the students had the opportunity to build their own solar cells on the third day of the workshop, using dyes derived from natural substances. The theory behind their Dye Sensitized Solar Cells was explained by Dr. C.O.Sreekala of the School of Biotechnology, who is currently researching ways to improve the efficiency of these cells by modifying dye substances used.
“Dye Sensitized Solar Cells transform solar energy into electrical energy by mimicking the process of photosynthesis,” Dr. Sreekala explained to the students.
Mimicking natural processes or bio-mimicry was also the theme of the invited talk on the fourth day, delivered by Dr. Harish Bhat, Scientist, Centre of Ecology, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore.
Among the many examples he mentioned was that of a mosquito repellant made from a chemical compound derived from the papaya tree. He narrated the story of the high school students who had chanced upon the discovery.
“One day, the students observed that mosquitoes were thriving everywhere, but completely absent under a papaya tree. They conducted a study and found out that a chemical emitted by the tree repelled the mosquitoes. They were able to isolate and extract the compound; they made eco-friendly and people-friendly candles from this to combat the menace of mosquitoes.”
“All of nature is a laboratory. If you see carefully, everything is intricately and carefully connected together. All the bio-diverse species are like nuts and bolts of this civilization. If even one nut mal-functions in an air plane, the entire plane can crash. Similar is our planet. Biodiversity is threatened today. If things continue to go wrong, our entire civilization can vanish.”