Science Dialogue

2018/1/22 Science dialogue program was conducted.

The program offers JSPS Overseas Fellows the unique opportunities to volunteer to give lectures in English on their research work at Japanese high schools in the vicinity of their host institutes.

The aim of the lectures is to stimulate the young students’ interest in research and deepen their understanding from a global point of view through interacting with Fellows.

■Introduction program

Science Dialogue Lecture at Kofu Minami High School on 15 December 2017
Lecturer: Dr. Ishwar Yadav

As a postdoctoral JSPS fellow, Dr. Yadav gave a lecture on 15 December to first-year students at Kofu Minami High School on the theme “Persistent Organic Pollutants—The Dirty Dozen.”

After introducing himself to the students, he told them about his home country of Nepal. First describing its geography and climate, he used photographs to compare several of Nepal’s characteristics with those of Japan’s, including its languages, cuisines and religions.

Dr. Ishwar Yadav

Segueing to his reasons for choosing to become a researcher, Dr. Yadav said he believes that “knowing more about our surroundings, even if the immediate benefit is still not clear, is good for all humanity.” Wanting, therefore, to understand more about how things in the natural world are organized, he said that he decided to pursue the path of a researcher. He told the students that he believes everything to be connected with everything else, so that if humans want to live sustainably upon the earth we must look to nature itself for answers.

Adding to this, he explained what is considered to be essence of science, saying that it describes and explains the world around us through knowledge gained by observation and experiment. That which is not pursued through such scientific method is mere pseudoscience, he said. Telling the students why studying science is important, Dr. Yadav said that science has not only saved the lives of millions of people but that enterprises endowed with the power of science are indispensible to both societal and national development. Furthermore, he said that understanding science helps us to act responsibly toward the environment.

During the lecture

Turning to his field of research, Dr. Yadav explained the nature of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), saying that they are carbon-based compounds having four salient characteristics; namely, they (1) remain undamaged in the environment for long periods, (2) become widely distributed throughout the environment, (3) accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms, and (4) are toxic to humans as well as the environment. As a byproduct of pesticide use, industrial chemicals, and manufacturing, POPs, he said, pose a significant threat to human health and the environment as they can cause cancer, reduce human reproductivity, disrupt the immune system, damage the central nervous system, and induce birth defects.

Ultimately, he told the students that it will take further scientific inquiry to fully elucidate the ill effects of POPs, which is indicative of the reason why it is important to study science.

Nevertheless, it is known, he said, that POPs’ ability to persist in the environment is remarkable in that they can take decades, even centuries, to degrade. POPs, he explained, remain in fatty tissues in two ways: (1) Through a process called “bioaccumulation,” in which their concentration in the body increases over the period from childhood through adulthood, and (2) through “biomagnification,” in which POPs move up the food chain and have their highest concentration in higher order animals, including humans.

He went on to explain the global nature of the POPs problem and what’s being done internationally to address it. Transported through the air and other mediums, POPs, he explained, travel long distances. The warm air in the vicinity of the equator causes them to soar high into the atmosphere, while the cold air in the vicinity of the North Pole causes them to be deposited into the ground. The migration of POPs cause by this mechanism does not stop at any one country but is global. Consequently, measures taken by one country will not have an effect on stopping POPs migration. To fight against the threats of POPs, the “Stockholm Convention” was launched in 2004, which sets forth principles for eliminating and reducing the production and use of POPs-contaminated materials, reducing wastes; and properly disposing of materials containing POPs. In this way, the countries of the world are working together to tackle the global POPs problem.

Turning to his own research on POPs, Dr. Yadav said that what motivates his work is a desire to protect the environment and human health from the effects of harmful chemicals. His aim, he explained, is to elucidate where organic pollutants in the environment come from, where they go, how they behave, and what they are. He ended his lecture by giving the students a concrete description of methods and instruments used for monitoring and analyzing POPs in the environment.

The Q&A discussion that followed saw an animated volley of questions from the students, to which Dr. Yadav’s offered conscientious and spirited responses, bespeaking both his zeal for the work and his strong desire to enhance the students’ understanding of scientific research.