On the need for building instruments

Lord Kelvin is supposed to have said

“In physical science the first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and practicable methods for measuring some quality connected with it. I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be.”

Yesterday, Prof. M S Valiathan, who delivered the Convocation address at IIT-Bombay, discussed how, as a country, we have fallen behind in instrumentation and equipment building, and emphasised the need for developing instruments and building them for our consumption in this country. At present, apparently only 15% of our needs are met by the domestic instrument industry and the remaining 85% is imported — leading to huge losses to the exchequer as well as subsequent problems in the upkeep and maintenance of these equipments. Prof. Valiathan also referred to one of his initiatives which has resulted in the report Strategies and a road-map for development of instrumentation in India (pdf) in his talk.  At a time when workshops are getting closed in many Departments, less and less theses are produced based on home-made equipments, and, majority of engineering graduates graduate without doing too many lab courses, I think, all of us in the Engineering education sector, should pay more attention to Prof. Valiathan’s ideas and the report of INSA.

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