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Indian inventor creates children's science toys from trash

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March 2, 2012

Inventor Arvind Gupta has devoted his life to popularizing science with Indian children, b...

Inventor Arvind Gupta has devoted his life to popularizing science with Indian children, by teaching them how to make educational toys from trash

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Children in the First World have a lot of choice when it comes to scientific toys. In fact, there are whole stores devoted to selling things like robotics kits, ant farms, and simple microscopes. In the developing world, however, such fancy toys are relatively scarce. So, what's an adult to do if they want to get the local children interested in the sciences? Well, in the case of Arvind Gupta, they show the kids how to make scientific toys from trash.

Gupta's story began in the 70s, when he was an engineering student at the Indian Institute of Technology. While he was there, he volunteered to teach the children of the mess staff, who couldn't afford a formal education.

Upon graduation, he went on to work at Tata Motors, where he helped to build trucks. After five years of doing so, however, he decided that it wasn't the career for him. In 1978, he took a one-year leave from his job, and took part in the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Program. "The objective was to make science fun and exciting for village children using simple, low-cost materials available in their environment," he told us. "This experience had a profound impact on me. I thought it was much more satisfying than making trucks."

Inventor Arvind Gupta, showing a group of Indian children how to make one of his scientifi...

Gupta proceeded to devote his life to designing toys that demonstrate scientific principles, that children can build for themselves out of cheap or free parts. He's written numerous instructional books on the subject, starting with 1986's Matchstick Models and other Science Experiments, which has been reprinted in 12 languages.

Today, he is part of the four-person team that runs the Children's Science Centre, at India's Pune University. Together, they have designed approximately 800 trash-based educational toys ... so far. Instructions and explanations for all of the toys are available copyright-free through their Toys-from-Trash website, as are all of their books, and over 250 linked YouTube videos.

"Every day over 50,000 children and teachers across the world watch these videos," said Gupta. "Thousands of books are downloaded every day and this fills our hearts with hope and joy. We feel privileged to be able to share our work with at least some children across the world."

Arvind Gupta's popular Matchstick Mecanno toy

Out of all of the toys, there are a few that have proven particularly popular. One of those is Matchstick Mecanno, in which little bits of rubber bicycle valve tube and matchsticks are used to make 2D and 3D shapes. Other favorites include the Simple Electric Motor and the Levitating Pencil, in which ring magnets are used to keep a spinning pencil floating in the air.

One of his young students, a girl named Hamsa Padmanabhan, found the pencil toy particularly fascinating. "She wrote a 12-page scientific paper on it, which won the second Intel International Award of US$2,500. Today a minor planet is named after Hamsa," he told us. "Another girl, Durga Jetty, made the Bottle Turbine which won her 0.6 million Indian Rupees! This is quite a feat."

Inventor Arvind Gupta has devoted his life to popularizing science with Indian children, b...

Needless to say, however, Arvind isn't in it for the money, nor for the chance to become famous. Instead, he simply wishes to nurture a quality that he believes all children possess.

"Every child is born a scientist," he said. "We kill this innate curiosity by rote learning and boring state texts. If we just remove some of the authoritarian structures in schools, children will naturally gravitate to science - simply because science is fun and exciting."

An example of one of the instructional videos can be seen below.

Source: Toys-from-Trash

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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6 Comments

Nice story about a good man and how he's enriching children's lives and minds - Thanks!

yrag
2nd March, 2012 @ 09:44 pm PST

Great work!!!...design which can reach the masses @ such low costs is the most difficult thing to achieve ...i am sure there are many such examples from India..

SumoDes
5th March, 2012 @ 02:37 am PST

Great example of a Man that makes a difference.

Edgar Castelo
5th March, 2012 @ 06:24 am PST

Amazing.

The World needs more people like him.

Imhof Iván
5th March, 2012 @ 07:15 am PST

Not to pull glory from this article, but if you haven't seen this guy's TED talk, it's worth popping over for a look.

Charles Bosse
6th March, 2012 @ 07:24 am PST

We need more like him

lifeisabeach
29th July, 2012 @ 02:40 pm PDT
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