Attraction of the great outdoors

Updated: 2013-02-05 05:33

By Lin Shujuan and Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)

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 Attraction of the great outdoors

Santosh Madhava Warrier on a 2012 field trip to Adelaide, Australia. Provided to China Daily

My China Dream | Santosh Madhava Warrier

Santosh Madhava Warrier, 55, says he was attracted to geology at an early age because the subject conjured up images of free, open spaces and outdoor activities.

After more than three decades devoted to the branch of science, the professor, known by his first name Santosh in the international academia of geoscience, says he is still as fascinated by the subject.

His research has brought him numerous opportunities for travel all over the world, settling in foreign countries like Japan and now China. Beyond that, there is also the pride of being a geoscientist.

The scientist's research is on the origins and evolution of continents, resources and global environment.

"Continents are the fundamental sources of 'nutrients' for the emergence and sustenance of life - like mother's milk to an infant, so my research has important implications on the origin of life on Earth," writes Santosh in his email interview with China Daily.

The ultimate academic goal is to get a clear picture of the major transformations the Earth has undergone in the merging and breaking up of the continental and supercontinental land mass.

Such research not only adds to the knowledge base for the advancement of human society at large, but also has important bearing on the world's economy - through the discovery of mineral deposits during research - and on global climatic changes.

Santosh's contribution includes his lead in the efforts to understand the assembly of Gondwana, a 550-million-year-old supercontinent, and the naming of the Columbia Supercontinent, one of the Earth's oldest supercontinents, which existed approximately 1.8 to 1.5 billion years ago.

"Assembly of the supercontinent Columbia coincided with several events that affected the entire Earth. Changes on the Earth's surface at this time include rapid increase in the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere and oceans," explains Santosh. "Thus the assembly of Columbia laid the foundation for drastic changes of the Earth's surface environment as well as the evolution of primitive life forms."

His discovery and research on some rare rock types from the Inner Mongolia region of the North China Craton provided vital clues for the region's position as a part of the Columbia supercontinent.

It was research that attracted world attention, and was also the main reason why several Chinese scientists came forward to collaborate with Santosh.

"The tremendous increase in my research output on China is one of the fundamental reasons that prompted me to move to China," says Santosh, who was a professor at Kochi University, Japan, before he took up a position at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing in 2012.

Wan Xiaoqiao, a professor of the university, says Santosh's arrival has been inspiring.

As editor-in-chief of Gondwana Research, a high-ranking academic journal in geoscience, Santosh has encouraged and supported Chinese geoscientists in publishing their high quality research papers in the journal.

"Professor Santosh has helped to bring Chinese geoscientific research to global attention," Wang says.

In the eyes of his Chinese colleagues and students, Santosh has been "most helpful".

Yang Qiongyan, 25, a student at the China University of Geosciences, remembers once when she sent out an email for advice on her paper at 1 am, and Santosh replied at 2 am.

"When I decided to finish a master's program, I just thought that would help me get a better job, and I did not consider getting a PhD," Yang says. "But Professor Santosh's help gave me confidence, and I decide to continue with my PhD and become a college professor after graduation so I can pass on my knowledge to more people, just like he did."

Santosh admits life in China is markedly different from that in Japan, but more similar to that in India, and feels "more at home and comfortable living in China".

The reasons include the diversity of culture and food habits, he says, but more importantly, he really enjoys the cooperation with enthusiastic young students and collaborators.

"The warm hospitality of the Chinese people, together with their untiring enthusiasm, prompt me to work harder and contribute to the best of my ability to help the community rise to further heights of global excellence," he says.

Although Santosh had been honored with several awards and recognitions in different countries, he considers a meeting on Dec 5 last year with China's top political leader Xi Jinping as one of "the most memorable events" in his life.

Santosh took this opportunity to offer suggestions on an issue he is personally much concerned - the need to elevate the status of young researchers in China and help encourage domestic talents.

"At present, the incentives and research support to young researchers, particularly to research students, are far below the standard of other countries, including those in developing countries like India," Santosh says.

"This has resulted in a 'brain drain' in the sense that many talented young researchers from China move to Western and other developed countries for better incentives and working atmosphere."

Looking back, Santosh says it takes more than just an interest to travel to sustain his devotion to geoscience.

He also acknowledges the support and encouragement he has received from various government, institutions and individuals throughout his decades of career.

He says he is ready to give back, and has high expectations of the younger generation of scientists.

But it takes collective effort and long-term vision to bring science in China to a better level in the future, he says.

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(China Daily 02/05/2013 page18)