Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 12:02 UK

Science Express train draws the crowds

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

The Science Express
Students are making a beeline for the train

Jostling and rushing and pushing are characteristic features on trains in the overcrowded city of Mumbai.

And it was no different on platform number 13 at the city's main railway station Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) except that the visitors here were school students.

They were waiting to board "The Science Express", an Indo-German mobile science exhibition set on a train.

Twelve of the train's coaches display exhibits while the 13th coach has been turned into a "kids' lab" where children can participate in basic chemical experiments.

The train was flagged off from the Indian capital Delhi in October last year. So far, it has travelled through 41 cities, Mumbai (Bombay) being its 42nd destination.


It has covered far flung areas like Nagaland in the north-east and Jammu as well as many prominent cities.

At the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, more than 20,000 guests were expected each day on the sparkling white train.

Once on board, they can look at different aspects of science - from global warming to evolution of man, from potential sensors in cars to functions of human brain to the biggest bacteria in the world.

The Science Express
Organisers say the train will make children interested in science

Organisers say they expect more than 200 children will participate in lab experiments everyday.

Deployed on the train are science educators and "mentors" who assist the children in their experiments. And students on board seemed to be enjoying the attention.

Wearing gloves, aprons, glasses and holding tubes and containers at eye level, the children performed experiments for about half an hour.

"We have not done something like this before. Some experiments are part of our syllabus and it is fun to do this stuff," Pratik Kubal, a 16-year-old student of Gurukul School from north Mumbai said.

Puja Singh, one of the "mentors" said, "I love interacting with children. Sometimes I make chemical compounds sound like characters from a story. I tell them this chemical is a hero and that one is a villain.

"They will first fight and then make up and then it would be a new compound. It is great fun when you see a happy, surprised look on their faces."

Huge response

Viral Makwana - a science educator from the western state of Gujarat - who has travelled with the train since its inception says this has been a rare experience.

"No matter where you go, children are the same. They ask similar questions and express similar emotions. They may look different but their curiosity is the same."

An exhibit on the Science Express
The train has exhibits on different aspects of science

Mr Makwana says in smaller towns, children are also curious about the city life. "They asked me questions like how is Delhi or Mumbai? Do you live like us, they ask? And I have to tell them about our lives here."

RY Vaidya, one of the sponsors of the exhibition, says, "More than 1.2 million visitors have already been aboard. This will make students interested in science and chemistry. Most of the schools do not have such facilities like interactive displays and models."

Mr Vaidya says the train has generated tremendous response at all the places where they have stopped. In Patna, capital of the eastern Bihar state, a record 350,000 visitors turned up in one single day.

"We were travelling in an auto rickshaw in Patna and we asked our driver what were the places to visit. He took us to the Science Express train. It was a heart warming experience to know that it was reaching the masses."

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