28 February 2017, Coimbatore: Robert Leo, Deputy Director, was awarded the Sir JC Bose Memorial Award for his work in the field of designing for appropriate technology, reviving traditional organic agriculture, and promoting Apis cerana beekeeping. Leo received the award today at a function held at the Bharatiar University in Coimbatore, along with seven other recipients.
Leo has been an integral part of Keystone since before its birth. His passion for making science and technology ‘usable’ started as far back as his schooldays when he was in his native village in Kodaikanal. When the stream flowing through the village dried up, he dug a narrow deep trench from a river 1.6 km away to the village. He filled the trench with sand and covered it up with soil. This way, the trench was not visible on the surface and water from the river percolated through the sand to trickle into the village. This was almost 40 years ago, but the water is still flowing through.
Through his years with Keystone, he has been dedicated to reversing the damage caused by unchecked urbanisation and commercial farming. He has designed and produced, by himself and in collaboration with institutions, over 40 pieces of equipment or structures ranging from gooseberry deseeder and honey extractors to solar powered dryers for hygienic value addition of forest and agricultural produce. These equipment are mostly in use at the Aadhimalai Production centres in Hasanur, Banglapadigai, Pudukad, Semmenarai, and Pillur.
Leo is particularly attached to apiculture and is constantly striving to improve bee boxes and maintenance protocols to prevent insect attacks on colonies. His dream of having an apiary at the Keystone campus last year was put paid to by marauding bears that destroyed 14 of 18 hives. He has now assigned himself the task of developing a bear-proof bee box to revive the Keystone apiary.
Keystone has earlier be lauded for its Appropriate Technology initiatives when it was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 2013 for the Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development.
About the Award itself, the Sir JC Bose Memorial Award (earlier known as the Achievement Award) was instituted 14 years ago by the Indian Science Monitor. Indian Science Monitor, a no profit research institute, was founded in 1990 with the objective of transmitting relevant scientific data from ancient, medieval and modern science to the scientists and the concerned citizens. It also aims to generate awareness among the public about the impact of Science and Technology on the society and encourages young scientists by recognizing their achievements.
In 2010, the Achievement Award was renamed after Sir Dr. JC Bose and aptly so, as he was a man with diverse interests as are many of the awardees. While Dr. Bose’s contributions to physics and botany, the coherer and crescograph, are well known, little do people know that he was also the pioneer of Bengali science fiction. In 1896, his sci-fi story titled ‘Nirrudeshar Kahini’ (‘Story of the Missing’) about how a cyclone is calmed using a bottle of Kuntalini hair oil, won first prize at a short story competition. The Kuntalini Puraskhar Short Story Competition was organised by the makers of the hair oil. The only condition for the writers was that Kuntalini hair oil would have to play a part in the story. Winners of subsequent competitions included Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Mankumari Bose, and Probhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, exalted company indeed!