Physics Powerhouse At NITR : Prof. H.C Verma
This man has acted as a saviour for millions of high school students confused and terrified of physics. His method of teaching and explaining the subject makes it fun and interesting. The Monkey and Rope problem has been indented in the hearts of all the JEE aspirants, which also showcases the practicality of the books he has authored. He is an avid researcher and teacher, who has a created a niche for himself by connecting with the students from all corners of the country. Meet Prof. Harish Chandra Verma, one of India’s most famous and loved researcher, teacher and physicist. During his brief visit to NIT, Rourkela during December, Team Monday Morning caught up with him to get some insight into his life and work. Read on to find excerpts from the conversation.
Monday Morning: Tell us about your childhood and formative years at Patna Science College:
H. C. Verma(HCV): It’s a long story! (laughs) I spent my childhood in Patna. We belonged to a lower middle-class family so we didn’t have many assets; no money for school uniforms or books. We were fragile economically as well as academically. Yet fortunately, my parents never put me up for tuition classes so as not to “pollute” me. The potential was conserved and when I entered 11th standard in Patna Science College, things transformed radically. I did well in academics; then pursued my Bachelors in Science from Patna.
B.Sc. days were the golden days of my life.
The professors and teachers of the college were excellent. The enthusiasm that was generated in me at the time of studying there, led me to explore the whole of Patna. There was no internet those days, so we used to go from shop to shop; exploring books. This also led me to locate two shops where rare books were found, which I’d never seen or heard but stumbled upon while browsing through the whole stock.
MM: Please tell us about your days at Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), Kanpur while pursuing your Masters?
HCV: I did my Masters in Science from IIT, Kanpur and the experience there was very different from the one at Patna Science College. I was enjoying the learning process very much and had drowned myself in my targets; so I never noticed any noticeable changes that came on with shifting to another city. One of the major differences was the examination pattern; In Patna Science College, examinations were held after two years of studying but more regularly in IIT, Kanpur where exams were held every month. In the latter, I feel, one doesn’t get much time for learning freely. Instead, one’s learning is designed by the institute. It is, however, prevailing all over the world for sure.
MM: What made you go into the teaching profession?
HCV: It was a natural instinct, a natural choice. One doesn’t really have to think about the future if one really loves one’s targets. I loved teaching from my childhood days, although I had not done well in my initial days academically. I felt so because my teachers were very dedicated and committed to us. We respected them and their behavior, lifestyle, and care impressed me enough to follow that line. After completing high school, I did not appear for any competitive exams, like JEE. I straightaway joined a degree college for my Bachelors’ degree, followed by my Masters’ and Ph.D. degree after which I pursued my profession as a teacher.
MM: What have been the best moments in your teaching career?
HCV: It’s very difficult to pick the best because all moments are very exciting, nice and special for me.
Most days when I exit the class, I think that yes, today was the best day for me, because being in class; discussing things and holding the attention of around 400 students for 50-55 minutes, is not simple.
I am fortunate to get my students’ affection and attention. One has to work very hard for that.
MM: You wrote many books, out of which Concepts of Physics stands out. It has become a handbook for all the students aspiring to become engineers, in our country and abroad. Shed some light on your experience while scripting Concepts of Physics and the other books that you authored.
HCV: It was all about facing challenges. When I started teaching in 1979, at Patna Science College, I found that there was no textbook which appealed to our students. I used Resnick and Halliday as my textbook when I started teaching. I am a big fan of that book for the unique way it presents the various concepts but then I realized that the book was not suitable for the average Indian student. Talented people and students coming from rural areas and smaller cities had a very different lifestyle; something which Resnick and Halliday could never connect to. It took me about four years to realize this. So, I realized that if a book such as the Concepts of Physics were to be prepared, it will greatly benefit the society.
It took me eight years to prepare the textbook and that is the only edition, still being published and in use.
MM: What do you think about the current education and examination system in India? What changes can be incorporated into the system for its betterment and the students’ benefit?
HCV: The general theory is that anything can be improved. Yes, the system of conducting the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) needs a lot of reformulation. It creates a lot of false pressure; it is stated as one of the toughest exams. I know how many seats are available and we know the number of students appearing for the examination. So, the success percentage is already known. So, what do you mean by tough? At the end of the day, it is all a sort of “relative grading”. There is no rule that you’ll have to score say 70 or 80 percent. Even if there is a cut-off, it is quite low around 25% based on the difficulty of the question paper. From this, the top 3 to 4% of the students will be selected. There is nothing such as a tough examination or an easy examination. It is a false propaganda. Due to this, students are undergoing a lot of stress and tension and face health issues and so on. People like Educationalists, Psychologists, and Social Scientists will have to sit together and come up with a solution for this. Of course, coaching institutes are market driven so they won’t allow us to make these reforms (chuckles). We do not know how to fight the corporate world.
MM: What were the topics you researched about during your B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. days? Which is the one topic that fascinated you?
HCV: It is very difficult to say. In Physics, everything is exciting but one thing I didn’t enjoy was Electronics. At IIT Kanpur, Electronics is actually not treated as a part of Physics but rather a part of Electrical Engineering. Quantum Mechanics, Special Theory of Relativity and Nuclear Physics are some of my favorite areas.
MM: What are some of the notable Research papers that you have had over the years?
HCV: Having started my research career in 1977, my Ph.D. thesis was on “Studies of the Electric Field Gradients in Non-cubic Metals Using 57 Fe Mössbauer Spectroscopy”. I have had a total of 134 research papers over the span of my career. Some of them include, “Exact solution of the Schrodinger equation for a particle in a tetrahedral box” in 1982, “Cation distribution in Nanosized Ni–Zn ferrites” in 2004 and the latest one being “Ion-beam-assisted fabrication and manipulation of metallic nanowires” in 2015.
MM: What do you think is the difference between students graduating from their courses during your time and now?
HCV: I believe the toppers (the top 5% or so) have remained the same. But, a line is drawn there. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, I can say that at least 40% of the engineers that came out from IITs were good engineers but now the percentage has dropped to 15%. This is quite shameful and happens because, from the very beginning, learning is not being emphasized.
Learning and examination are two different things and when you prepare solely for examinations, your learning score goes down. Everything is examination driven now and hence the learning graph is not very good.
MM: What suggestion would you give to improve learning as opposed to just appearing for examinations? What changes would you like to see in the present system?
HCV: This should begin at the school level. I would like to see no pressure and a drastic reduction of the syllabus in the system. There should be a research element right from the high school level and more practical analysis. Students should be able to come up with something new. Essentially, there should be a shift of mindset from examination to learning, mainly self-learning. If we can promote the culture of self-learning, for which you need more free time, then things will change. This can start with school education.
MM: The B.Tech. degree seems to have lost the sheen that it once had. What changes do you think can be incorporated in institutes like IITs, NITs, and other private colleges? Has the opening of a lot of engineering colleges in the country also had an impact on this?
HCV: There are many reasons, among which one is the faculty of an institute. Many times, faculties look for their own career growth and Human Resource Development takes a backseat. When one focuses on his/her own growth, the objecting of teaching students gets ignored.
MM: You have also initiated school level projects like Shiksha Sopan. What exactly was in your mind when you initiated these projects?
HCV: You see, if I have to connect with my students, I should know them well. With projects like Shiksha Sopan, I can go to villages, sit down on mats with them and really understand them. I understand their lifestyle, their mindsets, and their problems this way. I try to see what kind of inspiration can be given to them. So, to get that connection I have these projects. I am also trying to develop creamy content for teachers and students.
MM: You have always been a very down to earth person. Since you have now retired, what are your future plans?
HCV: I will be doing a few things. First of all, I am trying to develop content for undergraduate level and I am also giving online courses and currently, teaching one about Semiconductors. I believe education at the B.Sc. level is very important. Many times, student don’t have good faculties that can develop them; so these online courses will be a great medium for their learning. Another thing I am working for is teacher’s modulation at the school level. I am attending various camps and workshops to motivate teachers, especially plus two-level teachers.
Team Monday Morning would like to thank Professor H.C Verma for being one of the luminous authors, the book of whose have shaped the young generation to take our country to greater heights. Prof. Verma is a quintessential intellectual who serves as an inspiration for all enthusiasts to pursue their passion and become successful.