This newspaper vendor’s son is setting up affordable astronomy labs in schools across India
While most of us spent our childhood playing hopscotch and watching cartoons over candied delights, 19-year-old Aryan Mishra used to loiter on his terrace while gazing at the stars all night.
Born to a newspaper vendor in the city of Bhadohi, Uttar Pradesh, Aryan’s tryst with the cosmic world kicked off when he was in Class 5. Due to his family’s poor financial condition, he did not have access to a lot of resources. However, Aryan’s curiosity about the world beyond only grew with time – so much so that he was bestowed with the credit of discovering an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter at the age of 14.
From running between cyber cafes to going through dozens of books and obtaining membership in an astronomy club, Aryan did everything he could to expand his knowledge in the subject, over the years. During this course, he realised that many students in India were not exposed to the domain of outer space.
Thus, Aryan established Spark Astronomy in 2018, a Delhi-based startup that is focused on helping schools set up dedicated laboratories for astronomy.
“Astronomy is not a subject that is well integrated in the education system today. Thereby, very few students are exposed to the know-hows and opportunities within the field. The idea of starting a venture was to bridge this gap and collaborate with schools to build labs dedicated to the subject. We not only help them build the layout and interiors of these labs, but also instal equipment like telescopes, spectrographs, computers, and cameras to study the heavenly bodies,” Aryan Mishra, Founder, Spark Astronomy tells SocialStory.
In the last year, Aryan has successfully enabled five schools across different cities to set up astronomy labs.
Aryan was an ordinary child with extraordinary ambitions. His father, Birbal Misha, doubled up as a newspaper vendor, as well as, a security guard to make ends meet. Aryan completed his schooling from the Chinmaya Vidyalaya in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, and presently, he is pursuing his bachelor of science in physics from the Ashoka University.
Aryan started developing an interest in astronomy when he was as young as nine year old.
“As a kid, I used to spend my summer vacation at my grandmother’s house. I still remember vividly, during one of those days, all of us ended up sleeping on the terrace to avoid the heat. And, it turned out to be the most beautiful night of my life. The sky was so starry and splendid that I could not stop staring and craving to know what is beyond,” Aryan recollects.
Since the 19-year-old was determined to learn about outer space and everything that is a part of it, he thought of buying a telescope. But, he did not want to bother his parents, considering their minuscule earning. Instead, Aryan saved up his pocket money by cutting down his travel expenses and walked to tuition classes. It took him a year and a half to save up a sum of Rs 5,000 for the telescope.
“My joy knew no bounds when I purchased the telescope. Each visual from its lens was breathtaking. In order to learn how to observe and study the skies better, I joined the astronomy club at my school. However, amassing knowledge became difficult from there on. With no computer or internet connectivity at home, I kept scampering in and around cyber cafes and libraries to gain insights into topics like dark matter, black holes, nebulae, and planetary movements,” Aryan explains.
When Aryan told his parents about his desire to become an astronomer, it was met with resistance. This later transformed into approval and assurance, when he was awarded for discovering an asteroid in 2014 as part of an outreach programme hosted by the Astronomical Society of India (ASI).
“It is not very often that one gets to see a newspaper vendor’s son on the front page of the newspaper,” Aryan quips.
Enabling students to learn astronomy
Aryan did not want others to go through the difficulty he faced with regard to garnering the right resources to learn astronomy. To address this, he set up his own venture called Spark Astronomy by borrowing Rs 2 lakh from his friends.
“Most schools do not have labs exclusively for astronomy. Even if they do, the administration charges a hefty amount of Rs 10,000 per year from students to gain access. My idea was to set up these labs and make them accessible to each and every student for a reasonable price. This motivated me to establish Spark Astronomy,” Aryan says.
Aryan and his team of two approach various schools to raise awareness about the importance of astronomy labs and also pitch their offer of helping them set it up. Once the proposal is accepted, they tie up with interior designers to assemble things and also aid in the purchasing of equipment, books, as well as, other resources such as telescopes, planispheres, and lunar maps.
The startup also organises two-day workshops to train teachers to use instruments, locate stars, and make sense of data related to outer space.
Aryan charges Rs 3 lakh from schools for his offering. Most schools recover this from students by collecting an average minimal sum of Rs 60 every year. Some schools Aryan is working with include Mount Abu Public School and Modern Public School in Delhi, Vapi Public School in Gujarat, Woodlands Public School in Punjab, and Bal Bharti Vidyapeeth Public School in Haryana.
“The astronomy laboratories built by Spark Astronomy have brought students close to space and made them more curious about the science behind it. I am sure this will motivate them to become astronomers, astronauts, and space scientists in the future,” says Jyoti Arora, Principal, Mount Abu Public School, Delhi.
(Edited by Suman Singh)