On the 28th of February, India celebrates National Science Day in order to mark the discovery of the Raman Effect by the Indian physicist Sir C.V. Raman, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930. One of India’s major science-based festivals, National Science Day is marked extravagantly by schools and colleges throughout the nation, with elaborate demonstrations of science models, displays of the latest research conducted by well-known institutes, lectures, and many other activities.
National Science Day aims to recognize the scientific contributions and activities of scholars and scientists all over India. The celebrations are an effort to popularize the field of Science and Technology among the youth, by spreading a message about the significance of scientific developments in our daily lives.
On 28th February 2017, the School of Life Sciences, Manipal opened its doors to hundreds of students from nearby schools in order to celebrate National Science Day with a science fair. The exhibition included displays, models and posters made by both the students of SOLS and of the invited institutions. In keeping with this year’s theme for NSD, ‘Science and Technology for Specially-Abled Persons’, the exhibits were designed with the intent of improving the lives of the differently abled.
As part of the fair, the Manipal OSA Student Chapter prepared an array of demonstrations based on the field of optics, and its applications in medicine, security, telecommunications, and more.
Minor demonstrations of different properties of light, such as refraction, diffraction, reflection, and the working of lasers and LED lights, were put together using the official OSA kit. These models strived to provide illustrations of theoretical concepts that the students had only ever read about, in order to spark an interest in optics. A demonstration of fluorescence had the audience captivated, with the bright colours radiated by different chemicals and compounds when they were exposed to UV light inspiring sounds of awe. The members of the chapter also taught the students about the prospective uses of fluorescence in lighting, medical imaging, forensics and more.
However, the pinnacle of the chapter’s exhibition was the main model created by the members of the chapter, an illustrative representation of the principle of optogenetics. Optogenetics is a recent biological technique that combines genetics and optics. It uses light to modulate molecular events in the cells of living organisms, and has become especially significant in neuroscience, where it is employed to control and monitor the activity of neurons in living tissue. The method revolutionized modern experimental neurobiology, making it possible to identify the role of specific neural circuits in the regulation of physiological functions and behavior. Scientists are able to determine the affected circuits for a variety of neurological diseases, and can manipulate the activity of certain neurons responsible for the development of the disease, making it possible to develop a therapeutic strategy. Optogenetics is currently being investigated for its potential applications in treating disorders like Parkinson’s and epilepsy. In 2015, the FDA approved the first trials for a gene therapy based on optogenetics. This therapy aims to restore light sensitivity to the retinas of patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa.
Although optogenetics is a very young technique, developed only in the early 2000s, it has already found numerous applications in neuroscience and gene therapy, deserving its title of Method of the Year in 2010. We, the members of the Manipal chapter, wanted to bright light to the method as it gains fame in the biotechnology and medical communities.
Our model gave a visual demonstration of how light could be used to stimulate neuronal transmission in degenerated neurons. We crafted two neuronal cells, lit up by strung lights, and explained how blue light could be shined on a cell to activate channelrhodopsin (a protein that acts as a light-gated ion channel, included in the cell by genetic engineering), leading to rapid depolarization. The consequent action potential down the axon of the cell was depicted by a laser light shown done a glass tube that represented the axon. Synaptic transmission was shown by using a magnet to move ball bearings – representing neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals – from the presynaptic terminal (the axon) of one neuron to the postsynaptic terminal (the dendrites) of the second.
The success of the exhibition was due to weeks of hard work from all the members of the Manipal OSA student chapter, under the guidance of our presiding teachers, Dr. Nirmal Mazumder and Dr. K.K. Mahato. We hope that the models were effective in creating a curiosity to learn more about optics, biophotonics and optogenetics in the visiting students.