Professor Lok Narayan Jha is one of several known figures engaged in promotion of Science in Nepal. He has contributed quite a lot for the development of national science education policy in general and physics in particular at the levels of University and higher secondary school education. Professor Jha is still active for the development of national science even after three years of his retirement from Tribhuvan University. He has also maintained formal academic connections with other universities, HSEB (Presently, the National Examination Board, Ministry of Education) and the Ministry of Science and Technology etc.Beginning with his teaching career as a Lecturer of Physics in 1970 A. D. he also served as the Head, Central Department of Physics and Assistant Dean, Institute of Science and Technology of Tribhuvan University for several years. Professor Jha completed his Master’s from Tribhuvan University and PhD from Delhi University on a research topic at the interface of Plasma and Nuclear Physics. He has successfully supervised there PhD thesis and the fourth one is in the process of submission for evaluation. He is often attributed as the living legend of the scientific background of the country. Here is the talk with the Professor by Scientific Mind’s Editor Nischal Shrestha and Associate Editor Subhash Sharma:
How do you view the current status of science and technology in Nepal?
National Scientists have raised somehow the quality, interest in Science and Technology academically among the young students by expanding science subjects and research through different applied fields. Whatever scientific research one observes within the country, most of those are the results of individual’s effort with negligible inadequate and casual support from the government organizations. This existing scenario may be because of almost non-existent national plan for science. How many expert human resources in particular field of science will be required in coming specified years in the country? How many jobs can the government afford to create? What types of S & T institutions are going to be established in near future? How many past –graduates (MSc) and/or PhD’S will be needed subject wise? These are but only a few such questions without any answer on the part of national plan. We wish to see one government agency to address such questions. It is an established fact that the economic status of a country cannot improve or take off without developing science. Science creates technology. National S & T is to be connected with planned academics and industries accordingly.
You are a Physicist. Why do you think people should study Physics?
See, Physics is the basic of all sciences also called the science of measurements. It is instrumental for the development of technology. Measuring instruments and tools to be used in every area of science are designed based on the principle of physics that teaches the skills of measurements. Physics not only deals with objects around us but also at infinitely large distance. Characteristic features of extremely tiny to huge sized objects with infinity varied structures, speeds, mass, states etc. as also their interactions creating natural phenomena make this field of science open to very large number of useful research areas. I am of the opinion that one can achieve everything he wishes by doing physics to lead a good life style. People may be very small in number, know me only because of my involvement in Physics. I began my Physics teaching career with materialistically zero physical facility and have achieved almost every necessary requirement of life at present. Parents of boys and girls on occasions seek advice for the choice of prospective subjects for their children’s further study from a wrong person like me who is committed and probably biased towards physics study. My advice on the subject remains one and only one i.e. Physics aided by Mathematics, the language of Physics.
What kind of support is government providing to the science?
There are few government S &T institutions like Ministry of S & T Environment, National Academy of S T in addition to science program in universities in Nepal. Quite some ministries exist within the country where good scientists are working on applied science. So I cannot say that government does not sanction budget for the promotion of science. But scientists at all those institutions as well as in the universities work in isolation and results of their research remain scattered. There is a lack of definite government plan to create conditions of collaborative works so that results are observable to the society. Budget for scientific research must be increased with priority. On one hand the nation has to compete academically with global institutions and on the other hand S & T applications are to be utilized in the economic development of the society. PhD programs in all the science departments of TU are going on with insufficient research materials and funds. Job opportunities for young scientists are deteriorating. In Panchayat era some of the government institutions used to create jobs for physicists in different types of jobs in Radio Nepal, Survey Department, Hospitals, Metro logy and Hydrology, Department of quality control, Weights and Measurements etc. Such opportunities have declined to almost nil in the past two decades. There is a need to increase such opportunities with a definite plan.
You are not just an expert in Physics. You have good experience in the administration and you are analyzing the current scenario of brain-drain in the country. How is brain-drain affecting the county?
The word Brain- Drain is often used by different sections of Nepalese society. They interpret it in terms national investment in preparing graduates who go abroad and never return and do not contribute to required national need of development. My view on the subject in the context of physicists is a little bit different. Hundreds of good potential young post- graduates are produced every year in the country. They struggle for any job opportunity to work. Privately run X+II teaching institutions provide them some work where a minor difference of opinion between the teachers and the management brings an unwanted situation of joblessness. Such jobs are mostly of daily wages type. Young physicists get frustrated. This situation forces them to go abroad for further study and PhD research .Hundreds of Nepalese experts with PhD degrees are working in different sub-fields of physics in USA, several of them wishes to return back to Nepal but “What will they be doing op return?” is a big question. This has been the scenario of brain-drain in the context of physicists. Nation has created this situation. It is nation’s responsibility to create opportunity with proper incentive and jobs urgently to attract our Nepalese experts for their home coming. So that their expertise be utilized in different sub-fields of research.
What should be done to develop nation through science and technology?
The first thing required is a national plan on the part of the government. As per the objectives of the plan, academics should be directed to prepare and produce the expert manpower in required numbers. Industries should fund and give employment to the graduates. The skilled manpower abroad will return slowly, and work if conditions are right.
We would like to talk about your PhD work. What were the most pleasant, exciting and frustrating moments during your Ph.D. research?
My work has been theoretical in nature involved with complex mathematics. When theoretical works or mathematical expressions get simplified or solved, a researcher gets excited otherwise, frustrated. It is so, a simple answer. The most pleasant moment has been an opportunity of my first visit to Europe, Switzerland in 1984 A.D. when one of my research papers was selected for presentation in a big international conference on plasma physics (ICPP) before the completion of my PhD. It was really a great pleasant moment.