Monday, January 2, 2012

FORMULA of Formulae for Life

Almost everyone knows what is a formula.   But the problem arises when we are asked to define or clearly state what is a formula.   Such a situation arose when I was in the final Degree class.   The word Formula is defined in the dictionary as "a set form of words, as for stating or declaring something definitely or authoritatively, for indicating procedure to be followed, or for prescribed use on some ceremonial occasions".  A mathematical formula is defined as "a rule of principle, frequently expressed in algebraic symbols".

We were a batch of thirty students in the college with Physics as a major subject.  In those days, a student had to select two subjects as Majors and one as minor subject, during the three year degree course.  Among the science students the popular options were Physics and Mathematics as Majors and Chemistry as minor subject or Physics and Chemistry as majors and Mathematics as a minor subject.  There was another alternative with Botany and Zoology as Majors and Chemistry as minor subject.  I was in the group with PC major and Mathematics as the minor combination.  During the first two years of the three year course, all the three subjects were studied, but for the final year only the major subjects were studied.  For the Physics classes, students of both PC-M and PM-C would sit together. Final year examination comprised of three written papers of 100 marks each and a practical examination of 100 marks, for both subjects.  The students were all from rural areas and mostly from agricultural families.

The Physics department in the college was headed by a Professor and three lecturers.  The classes were generally handled by the lecturers.  Professor was also the Head of the Department of Physics and senior most Professor in the college.  Hence he also had duties of acting Principal at times and his time was mostly consumed by administrative work.  He was a highly respected man and I had heard from my seniors that he was a man of deep knowledge and well known at the University level.  University in those days was more than half of the state unlike each college being a University like now.   There were only two Universities in the state at that time; Mysore University and Karnataka University, Dharwad.  Bangalore University was not in existence and all colleges in Bangalore area were also affiliated to Mysore University, until Bangalore University came into existence in 1964.  We were a bit unfortunate in as much as he did not handle any classes for us during the three years of our course.

We reached the last month of the final year of the course and the final examination was just a month away.  One morning we had assembled for the Physics class and all the students were busy talking among themselves waiting for the lecturer to walk in.  Suddenly there was  hushed silence as the Professor walked in instead of the regular lecturer.  He dispensed with taking of attendance and greeted the students to start with.  He expressed his regret that he could not spend time with us during our study of three years, for various reasons.  He said he came that day as he wanted to spend the entire morning with us and exchange views on our preparation for the forthcoming examination.   Within a matter of minutes he was able to break ice and the students started feeling as if there was a long bond of relationship between him and us.   After a few minutes of general talk about the important topics for study and the method of replying questions, he shifted to the Practical examinations. What is the most important aspect of Practical examination and how was our preparation, he asked.  Students gave many answers and he encouraged any answer or statement by the students.  Finally, he asked whether "Formula" was not the most important aspect, because none of the students mentioned about it.

In the system of Practical examination in those days, there would be two examiners for each batch of students. One would be from the host college and the other would be from another college from the University area.  At the prescribed time the batch of students entered the laboratory and picked up a paper from a bowl kept in there.   The experiment to be conducted for each student was decided that way.  After reading the title of the experiment, the student had to write down how he would perform the experiment briefly and also write the "Formula" to be used in arriving the result.  In case of experiments using electric circuits, a diagram of the circuits was also to be written.  This exercise carried ten marks and after this the student would be allowed to go the designated table where all the required items and instruments were kept ready, for conducting the experiment.  In case the student is unable to come up with the accurate formula and diagram, the examiners would give the same, but the student lost marks prescribed for the preliminary exercise.  All students were afraid of this formula issue and used to mug up the formulas and hope that the draw of lots would favor them with the formula they remember!

He produced a filter paper from his pocket and asked for the formula for its circumference.  Before anybody could answer he himself mentioned that the value of  π which is a constant was derived by dividing the circumference of the circle by its diameter.  Then it was easy.  πd or 2πr is the circumference.  Area is given by π r2 .  What was the volume of the filter paper?  There was silence.  What will be the volume if a number of filter papers are kept one above the other?  It was now understood- he was referring to the volume of the cylinder.  If h is the height of the filter paper volume of cylinder is h multiplied by π r2

Starting with this simple example, for the next three hours he made the students arrive at 20 different formula which were much more complicated and none would forget them thereafter.  Everyone realised why he was considered as one of the best persons to teach physics.  This was to have been taught many years ago, but somebody believed that telling the formula is as good as understanding.  When he finally concluded after three hours all students were confident of remembering, or even better than that arriving at those formula, in the examination hall.  More than mere arriving at the formula, he had taught developing self-confidence among the students.  There was no break in between the three hour session and nobody realised this till he concluded.

His concluding remarks were even better.  He wished us Good luck in the examinations and said  "It is not just Physics, but life is also full of Formulae.  If you find the right formula or arrive at the right formula,  you will all succeed in your life.  I wish you all success in the degree examination, but also in the larger experiment - the one of leading a successful life".  He spent just three hours with us, but taught the lessons of reasoning and self-confidence for the rest of our lives. 


  1. This would be a great source of inspiration
    for others to follow. Instilling self-confidence
    for that age group was probably the greatest
    asset given to them by the professor.

  2. A teacher is that person who takes the students in a direct direction,instils in them confidence and helps build their career.Such teachers leave an everlasting impression on their students to remember them life long.

  3. I was one of the fortunate to have been the student of this Professor and he was truly a great Teacher.Unlike Mr.Keshava murthy,he was handling a number of sessions for us and his sessions were always absorbing.Thanks for bringing back old memories of our college.A Very nicely written blog.Thanks
    Rahul Aradhya ( Somaradhya)