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Need To Create Culture Of Innovation

Professor Anurag S Rathore, Dean, Corporate Relations at IIT Delhi tells Ashish Sinha, there is an urgent need to create collaborative opportunities for industry-academia, promoting scientific temperament to boost the economy. Edited Excerpts:

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Nurturing University-industry partnerships is vital to boost the economy. What are the critical areas for these partnerships in the current context?

With the success of Chandrayan and Mangal Mission, India is experiencing a new kind of growth trajectory in the research-driven economy. The global focus on the country’s scientific workforce is more visible than before. This has fuelled a spirit of collaborative research culture in labs of our premier technical universities/institutes. To strengthen and sustain these successes, we need to create a culture of innovation that fuels successful and productive industry-academia partnerships and produce an industry-ready workforce.  The past decade has witnessed a sharp increase in such academia-industry partnerships, particularly at esteemed research institutions such as the IITs. 

In the last few decades, there has been a lot of disruption through innovation. How do you see higher education institutes, particularly IITs, are getting ready for creating enabling innovation ecosystem?

IITs were created as premier institutes for fostering science-based education. However, with the ever-changing landscape of economic outputs globally we realised that it will be vital for us to be perceived as a research-based institution to support the temperament of innovation in everything that we do now. This shift has fuelled a culture of start-ups that are disrupting our economy by creating products and solutions of significance to the industry as well as to the society in general. We are now witnessing an increased investment from the industry via sponsored research projects and this has resulted in more such product-oriented research happening in our laboratories. The dividends of these collaborations are going to be immense.

IIT Delhi, in particular, has been very visible when it comes to encouraging cutting edge research by faculty and students. What kind of work culture do you foster in your research labs?

IIT Delhi has a healthy culture of research. Our faculty and students are given freedom and guidance to undertake research work that has a positive impact on the nation’s social and economic outlook. IIT Delhi created the Corporate Relations function in 2016 to facilitate our engagement with industry.   

Tell us about some of your industry-ready research work.

Faculty at IIT Delhi has initiated 890 sponsored research projects in last 5 years. These works have the potential to contribute positively in addressing problems like air pollution, water contamination, affordable healthcare, energy saving in households and offices, recycling of natural disposable, alternate to reduce water usage and even addressing nutrition issues that plague the large population. A recent effort by faculty and students at IIT Delhi is the iSAFE Assist app, which will provide 24X7 roadside assistance throughout India. It will be backed by 6,200 authorised service providers in 28 states covering 1,795 cities for emergency services that include towing, fuel delivery, and flat tyre assistance.  IIT Delhi has also developed a technology that uses 3D printing to produce high-quality yet affordable tactile diagrams on a large scale for books and other printables in Braille. The impact is huge in empowering visually impaired. At present, a large volume of lignocellulosic biomass is being burnt in the national capital region of India causing a rise in air pollution to alarming levels. IIT Delhi researchers are focused on offering an alternative to the farmers to rather offer the biomass for fermentation and production of 6PP which can be subsequently heated to produce high-value food flavouring compounds and other high-value products. Eden Smart Homes – a Low-Cost Hardware Module called Eden which when installed behind the switchboards of your house, makes all electrical appliance mobile-enabled and works with existing switchboards. The application of cow dung logs promises to reduce deforestation and air pollution. Mock Meat based on moong dal base has the potential to address protein deficiency nutrition among the large population that avoids meat-based protein. The continuous process platform developed by researchers at IIT Delhi aims to cut the cost of production of the biopharmaceutical medicines by more than half, making them affordable to the Indian public. As manifested by the above sampling of ongoing efforts, the underlying intent of our research work is to create a positive socio-economic impact. 

In recent times, there has been a lot of discourse on India’s scientific temperament. How do you see this?

We are now ready to embrace science-driven socio-economy solutions to address our issues. The large scale social programmes by Government need to be supported by scientific temperament.  Cleaning of the river, providing water to all, reducing air pollution in cities and towns, affordable healthcare is some of the immediate impacts that general people will see coming out of the collaborative work by policy, academic and commercial stakeholders. 

You will be hosting Industry day 2019 at IIT Delhi. What are your expectations?

Industry Day 2019 aims to foster the power of Industry-Academia collaboration. It will be an opportunity to showcase cutting edge technology research conducted by the IIT Delhi research community.  The third edition of the IIT Delhi Industry Day 2019 will feature programming on the following themes: 

Sustainable Medical Technologies;

Clean Energy for Sustainable Economy and Environment;

Sustainable Environment;

Emerging Nano and Advanced Materials;

Make In India;

In addition, we will also be celebrating the contribution of women in Science. We expect to signoff Industry Day with a promise to advance the scientific knowledge of our research community in partnership with industry leaders.

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