India and the future of science

India might be the 12th largest economy but its place in the scientific world may be at risk, according to a leading Indian scientist who delivered a public lecture at UNSW.

India might be the 12th largest economy but its place in the scientific world may be at risk, according to a scientist speaking at UNSW.

Speaking about science in the past, present and future, Professor CNR Rao warned that India isn't producing enough PhDs to power its continuing contribution to scientific research and technology development.

According to Professor Rao, India produces 4,000 PhDs per annum, a figure that has stayed static for two decades. By comparison, the US last year produced 23,000 PhDs. The annual growth in PhDs in China is exponential, currently at 16,000 and nearly 10,000 in Brazil. Further, Professor Rao says bright graduates are being drawn to careers in banking, finance and information technology, rather than risk the comparative insecurity and lower salaries associated with scientific research.

He is uniquely qualified to speak on this topic. Born in 1934, in Bangalore, India, his early career coincided with India's independence.

Despite early government support for science and technology, and the establishment of important programs and infrastructure such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), Professor Rao found that there were few resources to support even basic scientific enquiry.

In 1958, he obtained his PhD from Purdue University in the US. He began postdoctoral research and travelled frequently between the US and India to obtain materials and scientific equipment for his lab.

"Whenever I went abroad ... I used to go all over the place with two empty suitcases," says Professor Rao. "I would come back to India with all kinds of chemicals. It was like a homeopath's laboratory: all these little bottles full of chemicals. Today, those suitcases would never go through customs!"

Over the next 50 years, Professor Rao's scientific career paralleled modern India's trajectory, starting from humble beginnings, to achieve great influence on global affairs.

Professor Rao is the National Research Professor and Linus Pauling Research Professor and Honorary President of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, India.

One of the world's foremost solid-state and materials chemists, he has contributed to the development of the field over five decades and is Chairman of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.

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