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From the Editor

Shaastra: a channel of all knowledge

  • from Shaastra :: vol 01 issue 01 :: Jan - Feb 2022

Shaastra fills a vacuum: the magazine will report, illuminate and critique India's progress as a research nation.

Sometime early in this century, Indian science and engineering began to change rapidly. More money was spent on research, more institutions were built, and more students began to graduate with PhDs. Research output from the country began to increase rapidly, making India one of the top nations in terms of research output. And yet, two decades into the new century, we did not see any media publication that captured the changes in the country's research ecosystem on a regular basis. 

A year and a half ago, when we conceived Shaastra in its current form, all of us had felt the need for a magazine to report, illuminate and critique India's progress as a research nation. We chose the name carefully. In a narrow sense, the Sanskrit word shaastra can be defined as a set of rules about something. In a broader sense, it would mean knowledge. We borrowed the word in its broadest sense. At IIT Madras, where the magazine was born, that word has another association: it's the name of the tech festival that the institute's students have been organising for over two decades.

Over time, our aim is to develop Shaastra beyond being a magazine on Indian science and technology. As the name implies, all knowledge is within our purview. We will examine cosmology and healthcare, number theory and biotechnology, conservation and macroeconomics, venture capital and material science. We will look at the present and the future, with occasional forays into the past. Most of the time, we will stick to issues that define the future of India and the world. 

In our first print issue, T.V. Jayan writes about India's young space entrepreneurs and their ambitions. They are an unusual bunch, young and somewhat innocent, working hard to develop businesses in areas that are the domain of experienced professionals. India is one of the world's frontier nations in space technology. However, India has a negligible share of the global aerospace market. Although these new space entrepreneurs will not increase India's global market share soon, we may look back at their founding one day as a critical event in India's aerospace industry. 

Elsewhere in this issue, we write about topics that will be a recurring theme over the next decade: a major telescope, new batteries, nuclear energy, complex generics, vulture conservation. The James Webb telescope, which was scheduled for launch in late December (we went to press barely days earlier), is a marvel of engineering. After it positions itself in space within two months, astronomers plan to look back at the universe when the first stars were just beginning to form. 

In 'Raising their generics game', Gauri Kamath writes about the challenges of developing complex generics for the Indian pharmaceutical industry. India's generics industry has 40% of the market volume in the U.S., but it has been attempting a completely new set of products: complex generics, which could be a formulation with a complex ingredient, a complex route of administration or a complex manufacturing process. There is no straightforward way of establishing equivalence of a complex generic with the original product. Gauri writes about the challenges that Indian companies face. 

In 'Waiting for full charge', Manupriya reports on the research in India on batteries. As India moves towards using more and more renewable energy, it needs new battery technologies to make the transition easier. The efficiency of batteries has not improved significantly in the last 150 years since the lead acid battery made its debut, and they need to improve dramatically if renewable energy must be a significant part of India's energy mix. Lacking domestic lithium deposits, India needs to find alternative battery technologies as well. 

In 'This scavenger has come back from the dead', Richa Malhotra writes about the ongoing difficulties of vulture conservation. The population of this majestic bird, which was on the verge of extinction in India, has now recovered partially due to breeding in captivity and the ban on veterinary use of diclofenac. However, the birds are still under threat. Richa's story captures the need to make drastic changes in the way the world develops and approves drugs, testing them not just on the human population but on the entire plant and animal ecosystem. 

In 'Maths musings in COVID times', Dilip D'Souza writes about his experience in coming to terms with the mathematics of epidemiology. Even as he hopes that the pandemic will soon become a thing of the past, Dilip savours the way the virus has taught us about how pandemics happen and how this knowledge can be useful in the future. Yes, he thinks he will miss the mathematical smorgasbord of the pandemic. 


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