Alok Kumar:

Dr. Alok Kumar, distinguished teaching professor of physics at SUNY Oswego, worked with a team of scholars to produce 28 videos designed to help middle school through college students learn Hindi. He is pictured with a frame of a video about the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. (SUNY photo)

Dr. Alok Kumar, distinguished professor of physics at SUNY Oswego, is part of a research project that has received funding from the National Security Agency to produce videos that will teach Hindi in the context of science and technology.

The project, said a university news release June 17, had Kumar and a scholarly team produce 28 science-themed videos of famous archaeological sites and institutions in India with accompanying lesson plans to teach Hindi internationally, the university said.

The program STARTALK makes it a national security priority to expand the teaching and learning of Hindi, Arabic, Chinese and other world languages. The program made a $90,000 grant to Dr. Ved Chaudhary, director of the project, supplemented by funding from his New Jersey-based foundation, Educators’ Society for Heritage of India, with Kumar as principal investigator, the university news release said.

The financial support enabled the Indian American professor to work with a team of scholars in New Jersey, Jaipur and New Delhi, where they produced 28 videos in India's majority language.

The videos – there are as yet no versions with English subtitles, but Kumar hopes to accomplish that – focus on scientific innovations at such sites as the Amer Fort palace in Jaipur, the rust-resistant Iron Pillar of Delhi, the Qutub Minar UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chand Bawri step well, the Hawa Mahal "air palace" in Jaipur, and even the headquarters of the Jaipur Foot, a prosthetic given free to impoverished amputees in 80 countries of the world, according to the release.

"This was a unique experience. I never knew I was going to have so much fun doing my research," Kumar, who has published several books on ancient Hindu science, mathematics and medicine, said in a statement.

Supported by research studies, Kumar said, context is crucial in learning new languages. Each video – designed for learners from middle school through college – employs a STEM perspective "to provide interesting and incredibly rich context to create learning experiences that can push learners to the advanced level of Hindi."

The NSA-funded STARTALK grant program is administered by the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland.

For his project, which spun off several books he has written, Kumar decided to combine the learning of Hindi with visual information, narration and interviews with experts about India's rich heritage in science, technology, architecture and theology.

A grant from the non-profit Educators Society for Heritage of India financed production costs.

A scene in one video shows an athletic below-the-knee amputee strapping on the Jaipur Foot, then running, climbing a tree and jumping down before an enthusiastic greeting from a beaming Kumar.

Science-based innovations abound in the sites Kumar chose, the university release noted.

With no air conditioning in 1799, a Hindu architect designed the honeycomb-patterned Hawa Mahal as a "Palace of Breezes," taking advantage of what is known as the "Venturi effect," said Kumar. Air enters narrow passages of the building, increasing the speed of flow and producing natural cooling. 

The nearly 24-foot-tall Iron Pillar of Delhi, built in the year 402, is a testament to the skill of Hindu metalsmiths who processed phosphorus-rich iron that, instead of corroding, creates an even, protective layer that has withstood centuries of monsoons and scorching summer heat, the release said.

Though he won't be working on any new videos this summer, Kumar said he is by no means done.

"It was a neat project, and I have lots more video ideas," he said. "I'm getting offers of help from all different corners. This is going to grow."

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