Arvind Gupta: Turning trash into toys for learning

21 Aug

I met the good scientist today morning. I have always seen him many mornings and wished to speak to him. Inspired by a TED talk of a Yale sophomore Danijela Bule ( she said we must take effort and talk to new people and hear their stories) 🙂 mustered courage and spoke to Arvind Gupta and his wife. I told them how much loved his TED Talk and liked soft sciences. The good scientist graciously invited me to his office. I wanted to share his delightful TED talk to you dear friends.

Arvind Gupta is an brilliant engineer and specializes in making indigenous science based toys for young children. Arvind gupta has spoken all over the world and conducted workshops .A Bio of Arvind Gupta can be seen here:

In this delightful and wonderful talk, Arvind gupta talks about being inspired by national movement and joining a village science program in the seventies . He quit his job with a Locomotive major here ( TELCO, Tata group company which manufactures automobiles and trucks.) He says ” Many people were inspired by this. The slogan of the early ’70s was “Go to the people. Live with them; love them. Start from what they know. Build on what they have.” This was kind of the defining slogan. ”

He demonstrates with a bicycle valve tube numerous mathematical structures. He says “This is called a cycle valve tube. When you pump in air in a bicycle, you use a bit of this. And some of these models — so you take a bit of this cycle valve tube, you can put two matchsticks inside this, and you make a flexible joint. It’s a joint of tubes. You start by teaching angles — an acute angle, a right angle, an obtuse angle, a straight angle. It’s like its own little coupling. If you have three of them, and you loop them together, well you make a triangle. With four, you make a square, you make a pentagon, you make a hexagon, you make all these kind of polygons. And they have some wonderful properties. If you look at the hexagon, for instance, it’s like an amoeba, which is constantly changing its own profile. You can just pull this out, this becomes a rectangle. You give it a push, this becomes a parallelogram. But this is very shaky. Look at the pentagon, for instance, pull this out — it becomes a boat shape trapezium. Push it and it becomes house shaped. This becomes an isosceles triangle — again, very shaky. This square might look very square and prim. Give it a little push — this becomes a rhombus. It becomes kite-shaped. But give a child a triangle, he can’t do a thing to it.
Why use triangles? Because triangles are the only rigid structures. We can’t make a bridge with squares because the train would come, it would start doing a jig. Ordinary people know about this because if you go to a village in India, they might not have gone to engineering college, but no one makes a roof placed like this. Because if they put tiles on top, it’s just going to crash. They always make a triangular roof. Now this is people science.”

Please do see this wonderful talk for more of indigenous innovations . My favorite piece is a story made of newspaper. To quote Arvind Gupta “This is called “The Captain’s Hat Story.” The captain was a captain of a sea-going ship. It goes very slowly. And there were lots of passengers on the ship, and they were getting bored, so the captain invited them on the deck. “Wear all your colorful clothes and sing and dance, and I’ll provide you with good food and drinks.” And the captain would wear a cap everyday and join in the regalia. The first day, it was a huge umbrella cap, like a captain’s cap. That night, when the passengers would be sleeping, he would give it one more fold, and the second day, he would be wearing a fireman’s cap — with a little shoot just like a designer cap, because it protects the spinal cord. And the second night, he would take the same cap and give it another fold. And the third day, it would be a Shikari cap — just like an adventurer’s cap. And the third night, he would give it two more folds — and this is a very, very famous cap. If you’ve seen any of our Bollywood films, this is what the policeman wears, it’s called a pandu cap. It’s been catapulted to international glory.
And we must not forget that he was the captain of the ship. So that’s a ship. And now the end: everyone was enjoying the journey very much. They were singing and dancing. Suddenly there was a storm and huge waves. And all the ship can do is to dance and pitch along with the waves. A huge wave comes and slaps the front and knocks it down. And another one comes and slaps the aft and knocks it down. And there’s a third one over here. This swallows the bridge and knocks it down. And the ship sinks, and the captain has lost everything, but for a life jacket. ”

Please do see this delightful talk of the wonderful and brilliant Arvind Gupta. He is extremely gracious and personable too.

I love soft sciences. Science and languages were my favorite subjects in school. I want to share a incident from my school days. I was shy but a naughty child. My greatest problem was restraining my happiness and laughter if discovered something new or quirky. It still is. My friends say ” what is this sly smile”.  I got punished for this many times in school. I used to sit in first bench and could not control laughter or smiling if found something funny or quirky. It could be a accent or a revelation in my mind. I was a good student so my teachers did not punish me much. They let me of with a scolding.

My father was a central government employee . I went to a government school. Its called ” Kendriya Vidyalaya”. Its good for central government employees and army kids because parents had transferable jobs. I went to two such schools. We had a class called ” Socially useful productive work” which was like a small lava rotary to do crafts and learn useful science based things. So my teacher ( who was tall and had a walrus mustache and always felt like he was talking from second floor) gave us a assignment of making ” cubes” and ” rectangles” from wooden pieces. we had small cutting machines and sand paper etc. I in my ingenuity got carried away and designed a small ” gun” out of wooden piece and happily showed it all my friends. The knew ” I would be fired and started laughing with my creation”. The teacher heard the noise and pulled my ears saying ” Are you James Bond” and made me stand outside the lab for entire period. As was my nature could not stop smiling though embarrassed. Embarrassed and smiling has kind of become a metaphor for me.

I loved experimenting with little things. This is a great talk for kids and people with scientific temper. Hope you like this delightful talk from a wonderful innovator. Cheers to Arvind Gupta Sir!

Have a nice day friends. Thank you!


2 Responses to “Arvind Gupta: Turning trash into toys for learning”

  1. praseedam August 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    Hey, so happy to read your post about Arvind Gupta! 🙂 I too think he is one of a kind passionate science lover, who has so much of energy and enthusiasm for doing something so simple yet unusual. Also consider fortunate to have seen him live once and demonstrate all his quirky extraordinary scientific toys. Kudos to him and his spirit of making science “simply” understandable to children regardless of class and abilities! 🙂 🙂

    • sureshvn August 21, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

      Thank you and very true, problem is software has overtaken soft sciences, he is very good..

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