Aswatha Biju, world’s youngest palaeontologist, who is a recipient of this year’s Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar (earlier called as ‘National Child Award’) by the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Govt of India, last week (Aug 26) featured in the second episode of ‘Achievers – The Leaders of Tomorrow’ by Knowledge and Awareness Mapping Platform (KAMP).
More than 500 participants including a large number of students and Dr Kanika Malik, Member – KPMC, BDG&I, CSIR-NIScPR, Rajeev Gupta, Member – KPMC, Managing Director – Resource Development International (India) Pvt. Ltd., Ashish Mittal, Project Director, KAMP, Arika Mathur, Member – KAMP Planning and Monitoring Committee and Dr Alpana Dey,Chemistry teacher and Housemistress in the Assam Valley School were part of this episode with spotlight on her. KAMP is an Initiative and Knowledge Alliance of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) – National Institute of Science Communication and Policy Research (NIScPR) and industrial partner Nysa Communications Pvt. Ltd. (NCPL) to promote and capture Scientific and Technological temperament in students.
Aswatha Biju, the 15-year old class 10 student of Sri Chaitanya Techno School Palavakkam, Chennai, virtually interacted with KAMP moderators and a group of students to tell about her exceptional and innovative interest in fossils. Tweeting about her earlier this year after she was announced as a winner in innovation category, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stated: “The budding palaeontologist Aswatha Biju has a deep interest in studying fossil specimens. Not only does she collect specimens from field visits, but has also made efforts to generate awareness about this field. Glad that she has been conferred the Rashtriya Bal Puraskar.”
Speaking to Curriculum magazine after the KAMP episode was streamed on YouTube, Aswatha, expressed the hope that her interaction and talk will not only spread awareness about the field of paleontology but also motivate many young students to try their hands and curiosity on fields of scholarship that we routinely consider unrewarding.
From her first introduction to the world of paleontology at the age of five from a book (encyclopedia) bought by her engineer father T Biju to this date, her interest and dedicated journey of last nine years has firmed her conviction to excel in the field of paleontology. Dr. Ramkumar from Periyar University, Salem, has been her mentor and encouraged her. She wants to be a molecular paleontology researcher and teacher. “I’ll need mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology for this and I intend to study these subjects at undergraduate level,” she says.
So far, he has reached 12000 students and made them aware about this field of fossils since. She has been doing various kinds of activities around her field of interest such as story narrating, quizzes, puzzles, puppetry, teasers, informative news, celebrations etc and connecting to students using seminars, social media, writing and outreach. But importantly it is not copy paste or forwards but original field work and serious scholarship. After her imagination was captured by a big image of an ammonite fossil in the encyclopedia gifted by her father, she has been an extraordinary exploration. She has collected 136 fossil specimens from Ariyalur, Maharashtra and Gunduperumbedu and represent samples form almost every period—Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic and Tertiary periods of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic era. She also reads and studies reach papers given to her by her mentor father.
“Till my class 9, that is, last year, I was doing an activity regularly on weekly basis, associating with paleontology events and immersing myself in knowing about this field. This year, I am doing it every month as I want to balance my time for studies while continuing my work on fossils education,” Aswatha tells while making it clear that she never wasted time on gadgets, watching TV or mobile gaming and instead used her time wisely to balance her routines. Her mother Vijarani has been a pillar of sport along with school authorities for her field visits, fossil hunt and events/interactions.
Saying that India offers the best diversity and variety in fossils, she feels paleontology will be a great area of study in future. “There are different sedimentary regions and I am sure we have fossils from every era hidden beneath and an exploration is worth it.”
Aswatha Biju is already an icon in making and hopefully her passion and support from bodies like the Palaeontological Society of India, CSIR and her own school and future institutions, will see her as a success story in coming years.
Please note: In ‘Achievers – The Leaders of Tomorrow’ series, KAMP is interviewing individuals who have achieved success using their innate talent or have done something exceptional or innovative in their life. Where in each episode will take place on the last Friday of every month at 4 pm.