When Culham’s Head of Technology, Elizabeth Surrey, fell into conversation with a fellow passenger on a flight from Bangalore to Ahmedabad she didn’t expect to spend a morning talking about nuclear fusion to Indian schoolchildren.
Elizabeth explains: “I was on my way to the IAEA Fusion Energy Conference in Ahmedabad in October, and sat next to Dr. Jyanti Ravi, the Commissioner and Principal Secretary for Health and Family Welfare in the Gujarat government. She asked me why I was travelling and was very interested in fusion (she is a nuclear scientist by training).
“Jyanti told me about the school for tribal children that she and her husband, Ravi Gopalan, had founded as a means of contributing to society, having both benefitted from their education. She asked me if I would be willing to visit and talk to the children about fusion.
“I agreed, and took a colleague, Matti Coleman, with me. In the end we visited two schools: the Chaitanya School (presided over by a friend of Jyanti’s) and the tribal school. About 100 children listened to us at the Chaitanya School, boys and girls, up to early teens. Matti and I took turns to describe what fusion was and how it might be harnessed to create energy and a little about our career paths into fusion. The children were delightful and asked excellent questions such as ‘how long will it take to have fusion power?’ and ‘how much will it cost to build a reactor?’.
“We then travelled further into the Indian countryside to the Ravis’ school. The pupils were away at their villages, but we met the four teachers (mathematics, physics, engineering and English graduates) and the support staff. The families of the staff all have roles within the school, which has its own kitchen garden, orchard and cows.
The children asked excellent questions such as ‘how long will it take to have fusion power?’ and ‘how much will it cost to build a reactor?’
“The setting was beautiful and peaceful, surrounded by green fields and trees and new dormitories were under construction to increase the number of pupils. After delicious refreshments freshly prepared by the school chef, Matti and I were each asked to plant a tree. I felt very honoured by this as it was the first (and probably only) time I have been asked to do this.
“I hope we managed to enthuse the children about science and engineering in general and especially fusion. The Indian fusion laboratory, IPR, is located at Gandhinagar, about 23km from Ahmedabad, and at least one pupil had a parent working there and knew about fusion.
“I am really grateful to Jyanti for offering me this opportunity and pleased that I decided to take the opportunity. Matti and I really enjoyed our visit, the children were a pleasure to talk to and you could sense the dedication of the staff at the tribal school. Seeing the contrast between urban and rural India was a special benefit that changed my perception of the country and people. Carpe diem indeed!”