What started out as a hobby has led 12-year-old Aswatha Biju to collect 74 specimens from fossil-rich districts in Tamil Nadu. The young girl is kindling passion for fossil studies among school and college students through her lectures
“I was so much fascinated by that ammonite fossil and have visited the museum 15 times just to see it. Since then, we started travelling to nearby places in search of fossils. I went to the fossil-rich grounds of Ariyalur where you’ll find gastropods, branchiopods, ammonites, bivalves, etc, in beautiful formation. Apart from that, we went to Karappadi, Karai as well,” she begins the conversation.
Aswatha remembers that her interest in fossils doubled when she visited the Department of Marine Sciences at Bharathidasan University in Tiruchy. “I wanted to meet the department head, but unfortunately, he wasn’t there. But I was lucky enough to meet Dr Ramkumar, a geologist from Periyar University, who was there for some work. He taught me all about fossils and gave me a route map of places from where I can find fossils,” reminisces the young prodigy, who has a mini-museum at her house in Pallavaram where she has categorised the sections into Botany, Zoology and Palaeontology.
Once Aswatha gained enough knowledge, she started holding seminars at schools, colleges, and research centres. Her first lecture was at Maraimalai Adigal Government High School, Pallavaram, when she was in Class 5. “Unlike in other countries, the field of palaeontology is not well established in India. If you notice, the subject is combined with other subjects like Geology. No institute in the country teaches palaeontology as a separate subject. Through my lectures and seminars, I wanted to popularise the subject and raise awareness among the young generation. I’ve completed 15 seminars so far,” says the Class 7 student, who wanted to be an expert in the field of palaeontology. “If that doesn’t work, I would like to become an IFS (Indian Foreign Service) officer,” she adds.
She is thankful to her mentors, Prasad Sunderasan, Geologist, TANCEM, Ariyalur, and Prof. K Ayyasami, Deputy Director General (retd), Geological Survey Of India.“ Without their support and guidance, I wouldn’t have reached this level. Currently, I am researching about microfossils and its morphology — it’s an interesting topic to read about,” she sums up.