Ever wondered about the science behind Indian cooking or how archaeology and dance can be combined? Do viruses keep evolving? What’s the future of automated robots? How do insects inspire new technologies? How can we motivate and develop the next generation of Indian scientists? These were only a few of the many fascinating topics explored at FAST India’s India Science Festival 2022 (ISF 2022) held online from 8th to 23rd January 2022.

The third edition of ISF, themed around CONTINUUM – where have we come from, where are we headed?” was designed to take the festival participants through the past, present and future of science and technology and help them discover its vital and intriguing intersections with culture, history, politics and society through talks, panel discussions, fireside chats, games, contests, workshops and demonstrations – all which was absolutely free to attend. From scientists, policymakers, and teachers to journalists, writers, visual artists, magician, and entrepreneurs, from across the world came together for ISF2022. See the full programme here.

ISF 2022 featured 50+ events with 80+ speakers, and drew more than 15,000+ participants from across the globe!

“The diversity of the events really caught my eye. I really liked the fact that the speakers came from varied backgrounds and countries. This made for interesting events and different perspectives, many of which I would not have been exposed to otherwise.”

Festival attendee

ISF had a good impact because of 3 things: 1. It connected great scientist and researchers with many common people. 2. during lockdown, lot of students who seek career in tech and science might have got an idea about the field. 3. It is free of cost which made it easy for everyone to attend the virtual meet.”

Festival attendee

If you didn’t get a chance to be a part of the festival or would like to simply reminisce the good times at ISF2022, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in this highlights report. We also look forward to having you at the next edition of the festival. Until then, sit back and enjoy some of these delightful moments from ISF 2022!

ISF Book Talks

Popular science books play an important role in inspiring young people and enhancing public’s appreciation of science by conveying complex scientific concepts, discoveries and scenarios in an accessible and engaging way. This year, the festival featured a series of eclectic talks on recently published science books. Authors of books like Superior: The Return of Race Science (Angela Saini), India’s Space Adventures (Spoorthy Raman and Nirupama Vishwanath), Futurepreneurs (Varun Aggarwal and Nistha Tripathi), The Genesis of Technoscientific Revolutions (Venkatesh Narayanamurti), Reluctant Technophiles (Rakesh Kumar), Masala Lab (Krish Ashok), Actually, Colors Speak (Ipsa Jain and Minhaj Sirajuddin), Being You – A New Science of Consciousness (Anil Seth) and The Science of Science (Dashun Wang) – provided fascinating insights from their books at the festival. From sharing the genesis and evolution of their ideas that shaped the book, to their societal relevance and the many ups and downs that come with the territory of writing popular science books – these talks at the festival were a big hit among audiences of all ages!

Brains, Biofilms and Supernovas for kids!

Science festivals provide a unique opportunity for children and young people to directly hear from and interact with scientists and learn science by doing science. The kids’ corner at the festival included hands-on workshops and talks by educators and scientists, designed to ignite young children’s interest in science. From decoding the mysteries of the human brain with Dr Piyali Bhattacharya and her team from Presidency University, Kolkata, to tracing the birth and evolution of supernovas and stars with Aditi Chandra from Nisaba Education and deciphering the good, bad, and ugly aspects of microbes with Dr Karishma Kaushik, Pune University, and Snehal Kadam of Talk To A Scientist – these uniquely imaginative and immersive workshops captivated and inspired the young festival goers. STEM games experts Luma World organised a fun online puzzle hunt that tickled the young brains and left them wanting for more.

I was impressed by the children’s workshops put together at ISF, my child first attended the Supernovas workshop and thereafter asked me to sign up for the others too. We attended the session on biofilms as well building a brain – I must appreciate how facilitators went out of their way to make sessions more accessible to children, despite the limitations of a virtual medium. Would like to see a greater variety of events for kids at the festival.

Parent of an 8 year old workshop attendee at ISF

“I really liked the variety and creative angle of the talks. I also appreciate that the talks are available online via YouTube – I’ll be able to use some in future teaching.”

Speaker at ISF2022

The psychology behind magic

When an event starts with a person on the screen making a coin disappear, you know you’re going to be holding on to your breath the entire time. Renowned psychologist and magician, Prof Richard Wiseman, in conversation with science communicator Shriya Naidu, not only spoke about his research around understanding the psychology behind magic but also performed magic tricks as he explained the science of visual illusions and its relevance in our everyday life. The session was an eye opener – and a truly entertaining way to communicate complex yet fascinating science of human mind and vision!

“The fireside chats were the most enjoyable aspect for me. They were casual and fun, and I really enjoyed the informal aspect of it.”

Festival attendee

Robots at ISF

Haven’t we all wondered about whether robots will take over the planet? Professor of robotics at University of Edinburgh, UK, Sethu Vijayakumar in his talk, discussed the current applications and the future of automated robots and put our worries to rest. But what’s more – the audience got to see a demonstration of a humanoid robot, a dual-arm unit and a quadruped robot. Researchers and students from Prof Vijayakumar’s lab explained the working of these robots, as well as their applications in various industries.

“I have seen videos of humanoid robots in action before, but to see them working in real time felt quite different, it was amazing to watch their functioning and hear about their uses in the industry simultaneously.”

Festival attendee

Science in Media

Keeping up with the latest trends in the coverage and representation of science in mass media, the festival hosted a diverse range of sessions with leading science journalists on science reportage, risk communication, fake news and other related themes. In a fireside chat, author and journalist Angela Saini discussed with writer and journalist Sayantan Datta, the interplay of gender, race and caste-based discrimination in science and the role journalists can play in uncovering the imperfections and disconcerting realities of the scientific process, with an aim to make science a more inclusive, equitable and impactful endeavour. Deborah Blum, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Knight Science Journalism Program, USA, spoke about the challenges of reporting science during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Fact-checking expert Brooke Borel conducted an important workshop on fact-checking and its relevance in science journalism. Furthermore, in a talk titled What Makes Us Believe In Fake News? by Dr Sumaiya Sheikh, a neuroscientist and Editor of Science, AltNews.in, decoded the neuroscience of believing or debunking fake news.

It was a pleasure and an honor to be part of the excellent and very smart India Science Festival – we would love to partner again sometime!”

Deborah Blum, celebrated science journalist and
Director of MIT’s prestigious Knight Science Journalism Programme.
One of the fireside chats at the festival featuring journalists Angela Saini and Sayantan Datta

The SciComm Huddle

The festival organised a first of its kind of event in India – The SciComm Huddle – a 2-day pre-fest online conclave that brought together science communicators, engagement experts, educators, creatives, media professionals, researchers, and students, from around the world, to share skills, knowledge and experiences towards bridging the science and society gap. Learn more about this event here.

“I loved that the festival did different kinds of sessions for different age groups and for the SciComm professionals. There is no one else doing it for the SciComm professionals – so, there is definitely merit in the SciComm Huddle.”

Festival attendee

Spin Your Science

ISF is committed to supporting and nurturing science fiction writing through its flagship competition, Spin Your Science (SYS). This year, the competition received entries from India, the USA, Bhutan, Indonesia, the UK, and Sri Lanka. Judges for the competition included celebrated science fiction writers Shweta Taneja, Max Gladstone, Shiv Ramdas, and filmmaker Arati Kadav who also provided detailed feedback to the finalists. The festival also featured a curtain-raiser event with Shiv and Arati which covered the anatomy and process of science fiction writing and its representation in Indian literature and cinema. You can watch this session here!

“Glad to have been a part of ISF second time in a row. Let’s just say that on reading these wonderful entries and after having interacted with the finalists in the SciFi writing workshop, it’s safe to say that the future of science fiction writing is in very capable hands!”

Shiv Ramdas
Mentoring workshops of SYS finalists with SciFi writers Arati Kadav and Shiv Ramdas

Written out of History: Forgotten Indian Scientists

The trailer for Written out of History: Forgotten Indian Scientists, a series of short films showcasing the unsung heroes from the Indian scientific community, was unveiled at the Festival by its makers, National Geographic Explorer and filmmaker Munmun Dhalaria and biomedical scientist Dr Minhaj Sirajuddin. At the launch event at ISF 2022, the makers discussed the process of research, filmmaking and collaboration and emphasised why such films on Indian science and scientists are the need of the hour. You can watch the discussion at ISF 2022 here and the short film here.

Science and Comedy

This year’s festival took itself seriously but with a dash of comedy. Our flagship quiz competition, Inquizitive India, came with a twist! It brought together the worlds of quizzing and comedy, as actor, writer and stand-up comedian Kumar Varun (KV) hosted a fun science quiz. The quiz also featured computer scientist Dr Manu Awasthi and microbiologist Dr Mayuri Rege serving as experts, helping our finalists at difficult quiz moments. As the event progressed, it kept everyone on the edge of their seats, with each round being more exciting than the next.

Participants of the science quiz with the quizmaster Kumar Varun

“KV was hilarious! Have followed his work on YouTube but to see him engage with participants in a science quiz was very entertaining. Thoroughly enjoyed how interactive the quiz was.”

Festival attendee

It is quite unlikely to go through an entire day on the internet without coming across amusing memes. This is why the workshop on ‘Science Improv’ by Dr Mohit Kumar Jolly was lapped up generously by our festival audience. Dr Jolly, a scientist himself, discussed how improv can help scientists effectively communicate science, with tons of fun memes thrown in between!

Careers in Science

The events at ISF 2022 provided young people with the opportunity to explore several career options in science and receive guidance on essential career skills. An engaging session titled ‘How to Crack a Career in Science,’ organised in collaboration with IndiaBioscience, featured experts from a variety of fields, such as industry, media, academia, and government, and highlighted various careers in science, as well as an exercise for our audiences to reflect on their individual areas of interest to determine their next career move. Our PhD Program Booth, a three-part workshop organised with Cactus Communications, focused on upskilling PhD students in academic and popular science writing and networking for career development and advancement. Additionally, Talk Your Thesis (TYT) competition at the festival provided PhD students with a unique opportunity to present their thesis topic in an easy-to-understand and engaging format to non-science audiences and in turn received feedback from experts.

Session organised with IndiaBioscience

On the whole, ISF 2022 had something for everyone!

As we wrap up this year’s festival, we are reminded of the first brainstorming meeting that sowed the seeds for ISF 2022. Our heartfelt thanks to Ashish Dhawan, Varun Agarwal, Dr Karishma Kaushik, Subhra Priyadarshini, Praveen Khangta, Tarni Nath, Radhika Kalra, Bhavya Mehta, Dr Chagun Basha, Lakshmi Sampat Goyal for taking part in this meeting and helping us develop the goals and objectives for ISF and providing critical inputs for the festival programme.

A special thanks to our focus group participants (Abhigyan Ray, Anjali Tiwari, Mansi Patil, Somdatta Karak, Sonal Katyal, Promit Moitra and Parth Garg) for providing timely and critical feedback and inputs for improving the festival.

Last but not the least, a big thank you to our funders, partners and volunteers for their unwavering support without which this edition of the festival would not have been possible.

Before you go, don’t forget to check out our website for more information on the festival and our YouTube channel for the session recordings!

The highlights report has been compiled by Shruti Sundaresan and Sarah Iqbal with inputs from Pokhee Saharia.