Scientoon & Scientoonics

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My interview to Mohit Kumar Jolly, Editor, NERD PDF Print E-mail
Written by pksri   
Friday, 16 April 2010 11:29

The Scientoon Man

A Scientist and Scientoonist

Interview with Pradeep Kumar Srivastava

Mohit Kumar Jolly and Utsav Kesarwani, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India


Dozing off during lectures is a common omnipresent phenomenon -especially if you find science to be dull and boring, and words like nanotechnology, spectrometry and metabolomics are Greek for you. It’s time to meet Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, who has ushered in a novel sleep resistant method to deliver lectures and teach science. Srivastava, Senior Scientist at Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, has been teaching science through cartoons. Yes- you heard it right! He has explained the whole concept of DNA fingerprinting, spectrometry and many others all through cartoons, and only cartoons, which he calls as ‘Scientoons’.


He has delivered over 680 lectures all across the world on Scientoons on topics such as environmental pollution and its impact on human health, development of drugs, waste management, biodiversity, water conservation, nanotechnology etc. 


He was awarded “The Outstanding Young Person of the World” award by Junior Chambers International  (USA). [This award is given to 10 persons across the world annually]. 


He was also invited to present a paper on Scientoons in 32nd IUPAC Congress at Stockholm, Sweden by the Royal Swedish Academy and Swedish National Committee on Science & Technology (which awards Nobel Prize in chemistry).   He was in IIT Kanpur for delivering a lecture on Scientoons, and NERD team had the privilege to learn more about scientoons. Here are some of the excerpts:


NERD: Please tell us about scientoons and scientoonics.

Scientoonist:  Cartoons are combination of caricature (distorted drawing) and satire (humorous comment). Scientoons are cartoons based on science that not only make you laugh or smile but also they convey lot of scientific information/data/researches/concepts in a simple, understandable and   interesting manner. They are one generation ahead than other science cartoons.


Each scientoon has two distinct parts- a box containing scientific information, data or new research results, and an attached cartoon, which makes entire information communicable to the audience. I coined this term on 26 May 1988, at National University of Singapore (NUS).


Scientoonics is a new science which explains various science subjects and research areas using scientoons. It is a novel way of science communication.


NERD: How did you come across the thought of inventing this new field? What was your motivation for the same?

Scientoonist: I attended lectures and seminars by many scientists/researchers with a large number of publications & awards, but most of them were unable to hold the audience during their entire lecture and make it enjoyable, i.e., there was always a communication gap between the speaker (an expert in a particular area) and the audience (who may not have all experts), and this resulted in audience dozing off by the end of the lecture.


When I had to deliver my first lecture on 26 May 1988, I wanted everyone in the audience to understand and enjoy what I was talking about. My topic was very dull and comprehensive- Development of Drugs & Pharmaceutical Industry in Developing Countries. I thought to deliver my talk through a novel type of science cartoons to make it more interesting and impactful. The time I was allotted was 10 minutes, but to my surprise, the chairperson did not stop me and I continued for 45 minutes.  The lecture was well received and I won a silver medal for the best lecture. This was my first award and then I coined the term- scientoon.


Later I switched to making scientoons related to areas of interest for the common man- pollution, global warming, climate change etc. and I earned more recognition & enthusiasm, and I continued making scientoons on a wide variety of topics. Now, whenever I design my lecture, I start thinking like a high school student, and then I follow a chain of sequence supported by scientoons to explain. I am also working to animate these scientoons and writing books. My first book ‘Scientoonic Tell-Tale on Genome and DNA’ has already been published.


NERD: You have delivered more than 680 lectures all across the world in past two decades on alarming topics as global warming, drug research, water conversation etc. through scientoons. What vision do you have in mind for this field of scientoonics?

Scientoonist: Many times, the way science is being taught, it looks very technical, less interesting and sometimes even boring, and it is because of this reason that students across the world are opting for more lucrative career options in business, commerce and IT. This trend is an alarming one because no country can progress without development in science. My vision is to change the nature of science education in the world. I want to setup an international institution of scientoons to teach everything related to this field.


NERD: You have been working on science communication and popularization, and delivered lectures in India, Singapore, Thailand, USA and other Caribbean countries. How do you compare the present state of science communication and popularization in India than that with the other countries?

Scientoonist: India is not far behind - the government is paying attention and needs to encourage more people. A radical change in methods of education is required so that people enjoy science.  Scientoons have also been included as a subject in the syllabus of M.Sc. (Mass Communication in Science and Technology) in many Indian universities-Lucknow University (Lucknow), Anna University, Chennai, Devi Ahilya Bai University (Indore), Makhan Lal Chaturevdi University (Bhopal) etc. Many other countries are also planning to introduce scientoons for science education and communication.


There are other modes of scientoons like plantoons,  puppet scientoons and radio scientoons. India is leading the world in trying to communicate science with experts of puppetry for topics like HIV, hygiene, public health etc. Scientoonics is also being aimed to teach advanced level topics like mass spectroscopy, DNA fingerprinting, nanotechnology etc.


NERD: WHO appreciated AIDS awareness and education to children through Scientoons. UNEP has published a report on scientoons for being used for environmental cause. How are scientoons being utilized so efficiently in such awareness campaigns?

Scientoonist: We need to educate not only the common masses, but also the policy makers sitting in government chairs. The theory of EA 2 (Education causing Awareness and Action) needs to be implemented well. For example, if we teach them about climate change and global warming, we make them aware and only after that, we can take necessary actions to protect the environment.


NERD: Your programs have been broadcasted on television on various channels Virginia 13-WSET TV (USA), National Network DD1 (India), Aaj Tak (India) etc as well as on radio channels like BBC (London) & All India Radio (India). Please tell us in brief about them.

Scientoonist: Water scarcity is an issue which shall affect everyone. On such topics, who doesn’t need to be told and educated? It was a big challenge to make people visualise about this condition through radio within a four-minute program. I gave a scenario of water scarcity and urgent need for its conservation, and told the story about the crow that died and told the frog to put pebbles in a pot (Refer: the Scientoon aside).


To convert it in radio scientoon, he with his colleague, Ms. Menu Khare, Program Exective of All India Radio, Lucknow who called few students & started reciting ‘ek kauwa pyaasa tha' (A crow was thirsty) on radio. One Dy Directors and his colleague at AIR, Lucknow started mimicking the recital in voice of a crow. All India Radio broadcasted this program through all the 210 stations same day same time and it gained a great response from listeners.


NERD:  Amongst all the lectures given by you, what was the most challenging topic you feel & why?

Scientoonist: The most challenging one was mass spectrometry as the topic is very technical.


NERD: Please share with us about some of your scientoons you are deeply attached to.

Scientoonist: The one I am deeply attached to is on ‘Apartheid’ (Refer: the Scientoon aside) and there are two reasons for it. Firstly, when I was honoured as the most outstanding person in America, this was the cartoon which was displayed and all the 800 - 900 black people who were present at the ceremony well appreciated this. Secondly, when in an award ceremony, I was moving amongst the crowd of more than 4000 people of a Puerto Rico, a caribbean country, a girl came to me and requested me to make the same cartoon. By the time I finished, she started touching me saying that she wanted to catch that something special in me. This was the biggest complement for me. This event also taught me the biggest lesson of my life- ‘Never judge a person by his appearance’. I also made the same cartoon in the VIP book of American Airlines and Air India.


NERD: You were invited to European Science Festival 2008 to give a talk on Scientoonics and we heard that you were struggling for your trip to get sponsored. What does this speak of the development, awareness and attitude towards the field in India?

Scientoonist: July 3, 2008 was the  great moment for me when I was invited to the European Science Festival with 25000 scientists from all over the world. I was allotted 90 minute session in the festival, but they could not sponsor my trip. I felt very depressed. USA supported everyone from its country, but I could not get any sponsorship from the institute or government. Finally, Dr. Manoj Patairiya (Director, National Council of Science and Technology Communication) went there through support from Government of India and gave the presentation.


NERD: You also proposed to set up an international institute to promote science education through visual media by bringing science graduates, cartoonists and communication experts on a common platform to generate tools for simplifying science education. What are the updates regarding the plan?

Scientoonist: Yes, it is my dream plan. I am in touch with many people in world related to same field to set up this institute with head quarters in India and branches everywhere. The Government of India should provide help for this cause. A medium is required to convey the information to and from experts in a simple way.


NERD: You have a galaxy of awards at your name- the Outstanding Person of the Year by Junior Chamber International (USA), Distinguished Leadership Award by American Biographical Inc. (USA) and International Brand Ambassador of the Young Scientist. What, in your opinion, has been your most significant contribution to science communication and popularization in India and outside India?

Scientoonist: I am very happy to see when people not having any science background understand tough subjects with the help of scientoons. Also these Scientoons influenced government to make reforms, for example, a scientoon on “Panchavati” influenced government to sanction 1.5 crores to various districts of UP to plant those 5 trees along with neem. (Refer: the scientoon aside). : I think one must be expert in communication. During my Ph.D. days I used to take classes of B.Sc. and M.Sc. which gave me good confidence to improve my communication skills which became my strength in the future. .

Scientoons have also played an important role in solving common public issues. For example, garbage in Lucknow was carried by uncovered trucks, and a truck driver driving at 50-60 km/hr was dumping garbage throughout the city. I spoke to many government officials in my talks about the problems arising due to them. On 5th June 2009, I told the Mayor of Lucknow Dr. Dinesh Sharma about this menace, and within a week, all trucks were covered properly.


NERD: You also received the national award for science writing by ISWA (Indian Science Writers’ Association), and have been appointed by DST (Department of Science & Technology) as an expert to conduct science journalism workshops throughout the country. How, in your opinion, the concept of a student science magazine, like NERD, can contribute to the current situation of science communication?

Scientoonist:  I am deeply impressed with the idea of NERD. It is the need of the hour that younger generation comes forward to solve the problems of science communication in our country. You should include more visual content in NERD to make it interactive. A regular column of scientoons matching with the theme of the issue can also be helpful in communicating science to non-experts and elaborating author’s talent as well.


NERD: Being a shy child from Rae Bareli & now a senior scientist in Chemical Division of Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow and popularly known as the Scientoon Man, how would you describe Pradeep Srivastava in one line?

ScientoonistI will never forget my roots and continue to struggle hard to popularize science and scientoonics and learn from everyone I meet.


NERD: Would you like to share some of your student life experiences?

Scientoonist: During M.Sc., I was unable to speak confidently. My teacher trained me to give a short talk of ten minutes to my friends. I practiced a lot and that made me confident and adaptable. I learnt to tune myself with audience according to their level, skills etc.


NERD:  What is your final message for the readers?

Scientoonist: Have confidence in you as you all can create the best in world, never give up even if you fail, have patience to bear failure. Learn from the  mistakes and come back to your job.



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