Message for the New Year

Another year has elapsed and we plan to move forward for improving the condition of our national affairs, personal growth and academic excellence. We look forward for new collaboration and strengthening our friendship with institutional partners in India and abroad. We remain committed to the spirit of sharing knowledge and to contribute in developing new products. We sincerely hope that in terms of progress and prosperity 2018 shall live up to all our expectations.

On the academic platform, we require to reposition ourselves in our research endeavors. This repositioning is needed to align with the rapidly changing scenario in the research field across the world. Some of them are rapidly changing our lives in significant ways which require suggestive discussions. It will not be incongruous, if we mention about the areas where we require to put in our efforts for the prosperity of the nation through interdisciplinary research initiatives.

Well, if we look into those concerned areas in a larger perspective the issues that will emerge forefront are – climate change and policy response, food security and adaptation strategy, sustainable energy and solar power as alternative fuel, emergence of LED as popular household device. While life science was all along an important area for research, the change in life style and advent of Multi-Drug-Resistant response has increased the scope of study many fold. Nano technology is the most important segment in the field of application-science and it has potential to bring a paradigm change in the ways we do things.

The other side of the fence is exponential growth of digital data and the challenge is effective management of data to derive faster response and intelligent response. The above are the few of major challenges before us and to meet them head on, we need resources and single most important resource is skilled engineers.

It will be befitting to start with an IIT–Guwahati initiative and the initiative under reference is development of a Center for 3D Printing Technology for Biomedical Implants, Regenerative Medicines and Devices (3D-BIRD). Several faculty members across various departments have been actively involved in the project. Indigenous development of a novel 3D printing technology has been the major focus for this research team. 3D printing is a well-known Additive Manufacturing technique that has revolutionized modern manufacturing process. This technology is being used in various engineering applications making it possible to manufacture several complex shaped components using plastics and metals. This process closely resembles conventional rapid prototyping process. 3D printing enables production or reconfiguration of net-shape manufacturing. It always produces a complete/ part of a component directly from a CAD drawing. The similar processes are being explored to artificially construct living tissues by stacking up living cells in a particular order which will be further extended to generate functional organs. In the proposed 3D printing center, activities are contemplated to be focused on developing low-cost 3D printing technology for biomedical applications spanning in the range of medical tool design, prosthesis and implants and smart implants for regenerative medical applications.

In the way forward, imperatives are many and one of them is a collaboration with Maastricht University of the Netherlands in the related research areas.

Greenhouse gas emission and associated climate change is the major concern before us and therefore a systematic effort is needed for advanced, clean coal technologies, alternative fuel based transportation and electric vehicles, green manufacturing, low cost construction technologies, affordable desalination technology and membrane-separation based waste water treatment.

It is believed that food science and technology will play a massively important role in the coming decade. Some areas, such as the development of perennial cereal crops, conversion of non-edible plants and sea flora into food, technologies for increasing shelf-life of fruits and perishable agri-produce to be the prime focus of the researchers working in the related areas.

Life science occupies a considerable place in interdisciplinary research paradigm. Some areas related to health care can be mentioned here. New vaccines for multi-drug-resistant behavior/ response and newly identified diseases, body fluid markers for early warning of lifestyle related diseases, suicide gene therapy and cancer biology, 3D printing (Bio-printing) of implants and prosthetics and skin graft healing are some important areas need plenty of input from the researchers. The ongoing research on artificial liver transplantation on human body met with a major success recently and this may be of special interest since some members of the team belong to IIT Guwahati. It would not be out of place to mention that another group of researchers at IIT Guwahati have synthesized nerve conduits by electrospinning a mixture of silk fibroin protein and electrically conductive polymer called polyaniline.

Keeping in mind the economic forces and their directions, few other areas can be discussed in an item wise manner:

During past ten years, flow of information and data sharing have increased manifold. Emails, social networking, online purchase and GPS navigation have become an integral part of life for many of us. Big Data Analytics is the key to e-commerce. Often Big Data refers to use of predictive analytics, or certain advanced data analytics methods that extract value from data. One of the challenges in the Big-Data environment is to retrieve meaningful information quickly from the metadata. It is possible that GPS data are stored in one location and data on products for specific applications are stored in another location, and it may so happen that they are in different formats. Conventional database management systems cannot handle such a situation effectively. Quite often Big Data is associated with volume, variety and velocity. Volume refers to the reservoir of data generated. Variety refers to heterogeneity of data that are generated in varying formats. The real outcome of Big Data is the insight it produces when analyzed. Identifying patterns, deriving meaning, making decisions are the outcome. The final output of Big Data Analytics is intelligent response to a given query.

As traditional tools and infrastructure of IT are not able to handle large and varied data sets, newer solutions are emerging to make Big Data Analytics scalable and cost-effective. Distributed processing framework and non-relational database are redefining the way data are managed and analyzed. In this new paradigm, processing is done where the data reside. This is different from the traditional approach, which retrieves data for processing at a central point. In a distributed framework like Hadoop, Big Data is distributed to tens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers. Hadoop is an open-source Java- based framework. It is used for distributed storage and processing of dataset. It includes distributed file system, a parallel processing framework called MapReduce and several components that support the process of obtaining and importing data, coordination of workflows, management of jobs, and monitoring of the clusters. MapReduce libraries have been written in many programming languages, with different levels of optimization.

Similarly another disruptive technology to revolutionize the growth of development is Internet of Things (IOT). IOT is the network of physical devices, vehicles, equipment, devices used in business, warehouses and corporate settings embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.

Cloud computing is the harbinger of the next paradigm of Internet Revolution. It is a subscription based service where one can obtain networked storage space and huge computing resources. The computational requirements of an organization may increase rapidly over a period of time. In such a fast changing scenario incompatibility of old hardware and obsolete software are often a problem. Cloud computing is capable of handling such a situation effectively. It delivers a quality service. A Cloud Service Provider offers hardware and software services to the multiple users. The software solutions are more often than not based on open source.

Yet another exciting area for research and useful development is LED. During the initial development period (1950), researchers manufactured LEDs that could produce energy corresponding to red light. During 1960s red LEDs became common in producing illuminated patterns and used in a number of electronic devices and circuits. The scientists wanted to create LEDs that could produce different colors.

It was realized that in order to use LED as a source of light for household/ industrial applications, white light would be required. However, white light could be generated only by a combination of red, green and blue LEDs. Prof. Isamu Akasaki, Prof. Hiroshi Amano and Prof. Shuji Nakamura succeeded in creating a high-quality gallium nitride crystal in 1989. They placed a layer of aluminum nitride on a sapphire substrate and then grew high-quality gallium nitride on top of it. They made a breakthrough in creating a p-type layer. In 1992 they were able to present their first diode emitting a bright blue light. They were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, for the invention that has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources. Akasaki, Amano and Nakamura also invented the blue laser in which blue LED is an integral part.

Hunger, Nutrition and Food Security are the biggest challenge for many developing countries and the issue is being handled by different countries in different ways. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US, recently approved consumption of genetically modified salmon, named AquAdvantage. AquAdvantage grows to maturity in about 20 months, 16 months faster than conventionally farmed fish. The founder fish, from which the AquAdvantage salmon line was developed, was created by microinjecting the transgene into fertilized Atlantic salmon eggs. The transgene has the potential to change the phenotype of an organism. Given the unpredictable nature of climate change, our ability to rapidly develop plants and animals for food production in the future is big research agenda.

Professor Wendy Harwood of the John Innes Centre at Norwich Research Park is deeply involved in another method. Her approach includes editing genes via a tool known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). That tool could be used on any living organism and it has caused excitement in both the medical and agricultural research fields due to its potential benefits. Gene editing is a technique that allows researchers to have the ability to home in on one specific gene and make a very small change that disrupts the function of that gene so it doesn’t work anymore. If that particular gene causes a disease, for example, then the ability to either stop that gene from functioning or make a correction to it is extremely powerful. Researchers think that gene editing can be successfully used in a whole range of crops, such as barley, cauliflower, broccoli, wheat, potato, and tomato.

The idea of food printing is yet another exciting concept. It is similar to 3-D printing. The layer-by- layer formation of an object from a computer-aided design (CAD) file. There are different methods that can achieve such deposition of material. A machine might set down edibles-through syringe nozzles onto a plate.

Solar thermal devices and solar photovoltaic devices are ubiquitous solutions in the face of energy crisis. A solar thermal device converts solar radiation into thermal energy that can be used for cooking, heating or drying. Solar drying systems have many applications in industry and agriculture. Various designs of direct as well indirect type solar dryers for drying vegetable, fruits, grains, fish, timber, chemicals and other industrial products are available.

A Peltier cooler or thermoelectric heat pump is a solid-state active heat pump which transfers heat from one side of the device to the other side against the temperature gradient (from cold to hot), with input electrical energy. Simply supplying a DC voltage will cause the Peltier cooler to cool at one side, while the other side gets warm.

Thermoelectric junctions are generally only around 5–10% as efficient compared to 40–60% achieved by conventional compression cycle. Due to the relatively low efficiency, thermoelectric cooling is generally used in environments where there are no moving parts, making the system maintenance-free. The advantage of such a system is that it can be powered by a small solar panel as the operating voltage for Peltier chip is low. The functioning of such a system lies on the heat removal rate of the Peltier cooler as well as the performance of the associated heat exchanger both internal & external.

Wind energy can be successfully tapped for generation of electricity. Currently, wind generated power accounts for about 20 GW of installed capacity countrywide. Wind farms, which constitute clusters of grid-connected wind electric generators of 250-500 kW capacity, have proved to be a feasible method of power generation on a large scale. It is well suited in locations where the annual average wind speed is at least 18 km/h.

While considering the issues of above mentioned interventions and meeting them with adequate skill for favorable results, we feel the pressing need of building better engineers. The Paris Agreement give unambiguous direction to mechanical engineers: Develop better hardware, algorithms, and control systems to decarbonize the power sector. We need to build better engineers.

Today we are witnessing a nanotechnology revolution in process. Nanoelectronics, the ubiquitous chip technology has already transformed many industries. We still categorize these devices as microelectronics, though the technology has gone beyond conventional microelectronics. The impact of electronic nanotechnology has been the key to microelectromechanical systems. Today’s digital electronics-cell phones, computers and many other devices are based on nanoelectronic technologies. Nanomechanical production technology is likewise based on arrays of nanoscale components that work together at high frequencies and handle small, discrete things. But in the nanomachines the things are not bits packaged in bytes, they are atoms packaged in molecules.

Currently the focused area of the Nanotechnology Center of IIT Guwahati is “Theranostics”, which covers “Therapeutics” and “Diagnostics” in a coupled manner. In Vitro Diagnostics (IVO) is an essential and fast growing paradigm of global healthcare system. The researchers at IIT Guwahati are trying to develop several IVO devices. Also they have special emphasis on suicide gene-therapy. The areas augur well for the spirit of excellence in the Institute. The center also aims at developing several other device technologies, such as microstructural sensors and micro actuators and the related analytical methods.

In terms of their structures, when atomically precise fabrication capabilities become more advanced, it will be possible to build a class of nanoscale machines that are quite path breaking, with every atom in a position chosen by designers, and densely bonded to form the materials of interest. Such nanoscale machines will have components with shapes and functions similar to devices designed by the mechanical or chemical engineers.

It is interesting to note that in nanoelectronics, the Moore’s law trend, the exponential decline in size and the increase of components on a circuit, have been smooth. But what has delayed nanomachines is that there is not the same kind of smooth path. The technology has to be built up starting at the molecular level, only scaling down is not an option.

Sustainable polymers or green materials can be durable and degradable, can be used in applications from adhesives to packaging to building materials. These can be produced efficiently and economically with low environmental impact. Comparatively, nearly all synthetic chemicals and materials are derived in the downstream petroleum industry. To wean ourselves from such petroleum centric economics, technology, and products, we must develop alternatives based on renewable resources and bio-resources, which are sustainable. Research on renewable feed stocks will promote sustainable polymeric products. The Center of Excellence in Sustainable Polymers at IIT Guwahati integrates sustainability issues that focus on the science and technology of polymeric materials into research, education, and products.

Advances in Organic Electronics or Flexible Electronics are definite game-changers in many applications. Flexible organic optoelectronic devices are attractive for next generation novel technologies and portable electronics.

Microfluidics is another emerging area that deals with the behavior, precise control and manipulation of fluids that are typically in the range of sub-millimeter, scale. It is a multidisciplinary field at the intersection of engineering, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, and biotechnology, with practical applications in the design of systems in which low volumes of fluids are processed to achieve several heretofore unexplored functions.

We require to create Makerspace in the universities or institutes. At IIT Guwahati, we can do it at “4i Lab”. A Makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/ private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to ordinary tools.  These spaces are open to youngsters, adults, and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines.  A Makerspace however does not need to include all of these machines.  It is more of the maker mindset of creating something out of nothing and exploring your own interests that’s at the core of a Makerspace.  These spaces are also helping to prepare those who need the critical 21st century skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  They provide hands on learning, help with critical thinking skills and even boost self-confidence. A Makerspace is an informal, playful, atmosphere for learning to unfold. Ann Smart, a well-known Educational Technology Consultant for Lenawee County Intermediate School District in Michigan believes that Makerspace can motivate even slow learners and can convert a seemingly non-performing student into a creator.

Now coming to benchmarking of excellence it is important to know where an institute or an individual stands. The rankings of universities on a global scale have become the next natural development. It was believed that such an exercise would provide the government with a way of assessing its research funding efforts, provide academics with valuable assessment tools, and help policy makes gain the support of their academic counterparts and the government for their strategic plans. Even though the universities were already comparing amongst themselves and with their overseas collaborators in terms of research excellence. Comparisons were often made on the basis of peer review, publications in international journals, destinations for top researchers, and international prizes won. These measures of research performance gave many academics an idea of how their institution fared globally in their field of expertise.

Around the same time, a more systematic attempt at this endeavor was being undertaken in Shanghai, China. In 2003, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University published their Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). The publication started out as a benchmarking project for Chinese universities which began in 1999. The publicized ranking received lots of attention from mainstream media worldwide, and ARWU was considered the most influential international university ranking system at that time.

Since then the number of Ranking Systems has grown considerably. However, the three biggest or most influential systems are undoubtedly the Times Higher Education (THE) world university rankings, the Quacqarelli-Symonds (QS) rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Being the product of an internationally known news company, the THE/ QS ranking also attracted substantial attention worldwide at the time of initial publication in 2004.

For the Indian Universities, the National Institutional Raking Framework (NIRF) is playing a very important role. They perform a specialist ranking exercise focused on the online collection of important performance parameters of the Universities/ Institutes.

We require to secure good performance index in all the ranking events. The most important issues in ranking are research and teaching-learning processes. Teaching is empty without devotion of the heart, research remains depended on several resources involving hardware and software. The teaching-learning exercise needs another “ware”, - we can call it “soulware”. The universities/ institutes can set up laboratories with state-of-the-art facilities. However, it needs “soulware” to make it a success. The word “soulware” means a type of culture, mindset, behavior and thinking pattern, according to Professor Way Kuo, President of City University of Hong Kong. Combination of teaching and research is very important and we require to promote a spirit of conducting research in teaching, Curriculum revision is a continuous process. Newer courses and newer methodologies are to be introduced based on its relevance and usefulness.

Notwithstanding the importance of game-changing scientific and technological initiatives enumerated earlier, at our Institute any academic endeavor is adored and admired. From esoteric concepts of mathematical science to development of newer syntactic analyses and semantics of a language family, - everything is relevant and important in academia. Let us hope that all our sincere efforts via all the routes to grow in the academic parlance become successful. Let us also hope that our whole hearted efforts in all the important areas of science and technology produce fruitful results in academic innovation, top-tier journal publications, citations and technology developments. Finally, let me wish you and your loved ones a memorable 2018, which we hope would usher plenty of new beginnings.

[Author gratefully acknowledges the benefit he had from several rounds of discussions and useful suggestions he received from his childhood friend, Mr. Anup Gupta of Linde India Ltd]