InnoVidya Event: R&D in Publicly-Funded Labs In India

National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, is one of the top R&D institutions in the country. With approximately 200 scientific staff working here, it is an interdisciplinary research center with wide research scope and specializes in polymer science, organic chemistry, catalysis, materials chemistry, chemical engineering, biochemical sciences and process development. It houses good infrastructure for measurement science and chemical information.

There are about 400 graduate students pursuing research towards doctoral degree; about 50 students are awarded Ph.D. degree every year. NCL publishes over 400 research papers annually in the field of chemical sciences and over 60 patents worldwide. It is a unique source of research education producing the largest number of PhDs in chemical sciences within India.

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Sourav Pal, the current Director of NCL, on Research and Development in Publicly Funded Laboratories in India, on Saturday, 23 Aug, 2014, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Sourav Pal

Dr Sourav Pal is the Director, of National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, and Director, Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavnagar. He holds an integrated Masters degree in Chemistry from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and a Ph.D. from Calcutta University. He was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Florida, Gainesville, USA and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Heidelberg, Germany . He was a visiting Professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson, USA and at the Institute for Molecular Sciences, Okazaki, Japan. Dr. Pal has been recognized by several awards and honours for his contribution to science and technology including the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in Chemical Sciences, the SASTRA-CNR Rao Award in Chemistry & Materials Science. He is a Fellow of all the three National Academies of Science in India and the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK. He has published over 215 papers in peer-reviewed international journals, guided over 25 Ph D thesis, delivered more than 100 lectures in important conferences and is serving on the editorial boards of international journals.

Abstract of the talk:

Publicly funded Research and development laboratories play a major role in promoting scientific research and development of technology in India. In this presentation, Dr Pal will relate his experiences of working in such laboratories and presently as Director, NCL. He will highlight the role of these institutions in leading scientific research. He will bring out the expectations that the Government has from such publicly funded institutions.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, Aug 23, 2014, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, University of Pune Campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here

India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?

Business Standard has an Opinion Column by Devesh Kapur arguing that India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?. He basically compares India with China and points out that China has very quickly become a major contributor to Science and Technology in the past few years, and India is falling behind.

This rise of China is not just about quantity: they are also improving their quality and capabilities:

Make no mistake: if a foreign institution wants to establish itself in China, it has to have a meaningful collaboration with a Chinese institution that can learn, copy and improve over time, just as Chinese businesses have done. But this self-confidence is lacking in India. If India’s political elites have been apprehensive of globalisation, the country’s intellectuals have been, for the most part, hostile; they have viewed themselves as valiant defenders of the nation against marauding foreigners. Patriotism is the best cover for self-interest.

How does India fare in comparison?

Not only is meritocracy a much more contested terrain in India, but the idea that there should be clear links between academic productivity, salaries and tenure, as in China, would meet fierce resistance from a vocal interest group, namely faculty. The University Grants Commission (UGC) rules, that faculty members in public institutions should automatically get promotions based on the length of service and have a common salary structure linked to civil service salaries set by an anachronistic authority called the Pay Commission, have reduced faculty to the status of babus. It is not surprising that so much of higher education in India – both overall regulation and the internal governance of universities – is what Pankaj Chandra, former director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, termed “babudom” – a regime of, for and by babus.

He goes on to lament that a very few babus in our government control the leadership positions in all our top institutions, and this can only lead to bad things:

Why should the HRD ministry have a role in the selection of an IIT or IIM director, or in the appointment of the vice-chancellor of a central university? The key stakeholders are the campus community (faculty, students and staff), alumni, and, yes, the national government. At the same time, an alumnus of an IIT has a far greater emotional stake in the success and future of his alma mater than a dozen bureaucrats in the HRD ministry or the selection panels they appoint.

Read the full article

“@Seema10Singh: Why The New IISc Director Has His Work Cut Out For Him

Anurag Kumar of IISc has just been appointed the new director of IISc.

Seema Singh has an interesting article in which she lists the challenges that will face him

IISc needs to change:

What worked for IISc for the last 100 years will not carry it through even in the next quarter century, let alone the next 100 years. And while rankings are a function of many things – number of PhDs, faculty, budget, etc. – and not really reflective of the true value of the institution, the 2014 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings shows that IISc has slipped in ranks, from 130 to below 200.

Seema argues that IISc needs to start focusing on applied research – research that results in new products.

In the past when I raised the issue of quality research resulting in products, Balaram told me I was “soft” on the industry (and hard on the academics) in not asking them to invest more in R&D. He is right to the extent that journalists cannot question industry’s poor investment in R&D, it’s their money and if they don’t see merit in R&D, their short-sightedness will come to haunt them. But institutions like IISc do research with public funds. Frankly, it’s not about value for public money, it’s about regard for public need. India needs scientists and engineers working on Indian soil to solve its problems, particularly in game-changing fields like energy, healthcare, water, and so on.

IISc scientists focus far too much on getting papers published. This needs to change:

Career scientists and engineers in research institutions like IISc have thrived mostly by publishing papers. That calls for a change. Peer review is ailing and collapsing under its own weight.

and:

The head of an Indian arm of a large publishing house tells me how “vanity publishing” has proliferated in India as the entire reward system is based on paper publication.

What should the new director do?

The new director must pick a bunch of faculty and their research groups, seek bold ideas, and back them to the hilt. If India waits for agencies like DARPA or ARPA in the US, another century will go by. The much-celebrated role of private finance (or venture capital) role in innovation and economic development is debunked by economist Mariana Mazzucato in her 2013 book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Myth, clearly establishing the solid role that government labs, engaging in high-risk research, have played in the global economic boom of past decades.
This means many will have to get out of their comfort zones, stop playing safe and do risky research. Only a director can ensure such research reaches a critical mass in a short span of time.

And increase collaboration with industry:

At any given point, there are more than 150 companies working with IISc researchers. But most of those are can be categorised as projects, hardly any would qualify as big, ambitious goals.

The full article has a lot more interesting stuff to say. You should read it.

Great English teachers improve students’ Math scores – Stanford Researchers

According to research by Stanford and Univ. of Virginia researchers having great English teachers results in significant long-term improvements in the Maths scores of students, for reasons that are not very clear yet.

This finding is the result of a long-term, large study:

The researchers, Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff, looked at 700,000 students in New York City in third through eighth grade over the course of eight school years (from 2003-04 to 2011-12).

and this is the finding:

The researchers found that the students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years. And this long-term boost to math performance was nearly as large (three quarters) as the long-term benefits within the subject of English. Conversely, good math teachers had only minimal long-term effects on English performance. Their positive effects were more subject specific.

The main take-away message is that we shouldn’t simply focus on Maths and Science – language is important:

“Our findings reinforce the value of investments in student learning in ELA (English language arts), even if the immediate effects of teachers or other instructional interventions may appear modest in comparison to effects on short-term math achievement,” the authors wrote. The authors added  that their motivation for this study was a concern that many school districts are too narrowly focusing on rating teachers based on short-term test gains and they wanted to try to understand what kinds of teaching produce long-term learning benefits.

Why English teaching matters so much in other subjects is unclear.

Read the full article or the original paper.

InnoVidya Event: Spinning Startups from Science & Technology R&D

InnoVidya, IUCAA and MCCIA present a talk by Dr. S. Sivaram on “Spinning off Start-ups from Science & Technology R&D” on Saturday, Mar 15, 2013, at 11am, 5th Floor, A-Wing, MCCIA, ICC Towers, SB Road. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. S. Sivaram

Dr. Sivaram is a renowned polymer chemist and is. an alumnus of Madras Christian College + IIT-Kanpur & received his PhD in Chemistry from Purdue University, USA, After serving as Deputy General Manager (R&D) at Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd., Vadodara, he joined NCL in 1988 as Head of the Polymer Chemistry Division and was the Director of NCL from 2002-2010. He has mentored the PhD theses of 36 graduate students. He has over 210 publications in peer reviewed scientific journals and holds 47 European and US patents and 46 Indian patents. He is the founder-Chairman and presently a member of the Board of Directors of Entrepreneurship Development Center, Pune, a ‘not-for-profit’ Company promoted by CSIR-NCL and a Founder Director of CSIR-Tech Private Limited, Pune, a ‘for-profit’ company, to commercialize IPR and technologies of CSIR as well as other publicly funded research institutions. He is a CSIR Bhatnagar Fellow and J.C.Bose National Fellow at the NCL. The President of India had conferred the “Padma Shri”, on Dr. Sivaram in 2006.

Abstract of the talk:

Spinning off new start-ups is a key component of science and technology (S&T) based innovation. This requires cutting edge scientific discoveries, a robust IPR portfolio, an entrepreneurial mind set and an enabling “eco-system. In India, the burgeoning IT, E Commerce & Service sectors of the economy have seen increasingly buoyant “start-up” activity. Sadly, S&T driven entrepreneurship has been conspicuously missing. This Talk will focus on a brief history and evolution of S&T driven entrepreneurship and the enabling policy framework that triggered a resurgence of “start-up” enterprises in more developed countries of the world. The elements of the “eco-system” needed to nurture scientific entrepreneurship will be discussed. The weakness of the “eco-system” in the Indian context will be elaborated with some prescriptions for change. Some recent examples of technology driven enterprises from India will be enumerated, especially, in the area of health care, diagnostics and clean energy. A large part of Indian S&T is currently outside of this ecosystem. The question of how to bring them into the ecosystem, therefore, assumes great importance. If S&T has to become an engine of innovation and economic growth, “spin–offs” and “start-ups’ have to become an integral part of India’s innovation systems.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, March 15, 2013, at 11am, at 5th Floor, A-Wing, MCCIA, ICC Towers, SB Road

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here.

InnoVidya Event: How findings in basic research lead to useful products

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Virender Sheorain on “Enlarging Knowledge Horizons” on Saturday, Sep 21, 2013, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Virender Sheorain

Virender Sheorain received his PhD from Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, (PGI) Chandigarh. He did his post doctoral Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, Nashville, TN (USA). He was also Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow and instructor in Physiology at Vanderbilt. His doctoral and subsequent research was on regulation of metabolic pathways responsible for manifestation of diabetes and related complications such as cardiovascular disease. He returned to India and worked nearly 15 years in R and D centres of three major companies i.e. Boots Pharmaceutical, Mumbai, Hindustan Lever Ltd., Mumbai and Seagram, Pune. Global sale of Seagram, in 2001, took him to Jamaica (West Indies ) where he was responsible for running of Diageo plc’s rum plants.

Abstract of the talk:

Most basic researchers pursue their research to satisfy their curiosity and publish their findings in scientific journals. But there are some who think of applying these findings to create useful products. Therefore, objectives of almost all industrial R & D centers are to commercialize either their own research or research published, but not patented, in scientific journals. The presentation will cover three such examples which will illustrate how an idea or scientific observation can lead to very useful products. The examples are : Statins, a class of drugs used for lowering blood Cholesterol, Fair and Lovely, a fairness cream, and Starumol, a source of non protein nitrogen for ruminants. All three products are classical examples of how basic research can be commercialized for the benefit of humans and at the same time create wealth for companies.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, September 21, 2013, at 11am, at the Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, at University of Pune campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here. There is ample parking at the venue.

The Promise of Bio-Tech remains Unfulfilled

LiveMint has recently published an article by Gouri Agtey Athale titled Pune newsletter | The promise of biotech remains unfulfilled, which argues that although Bio-Technology was touted as the next big thing in India, and was expected to produce another transformation similar to the information technology wave that swept the country, but this has not really happened.

The article extensively quotes InnoVidya member [Sohan Modak][http://in.linkedin.com/pub/sohan-modak/1/805/450], who was one of the pioneers of Biotech in the country, and initiated the first biotech course at Pune University.

What went wrong? The article quotes Sohan Modak thus:

“That’s what happened—biotech became an interesting proposition and universities wanted to do their own courses. Private universities, run or backed largely by politicians which had been running MBA courses till then, got into the act seeing the market opportunity. They offered a two-year course with training of some kind leading to a degree. There was no quality control either on the students taken in or on the faculty. Now the country has over-produced biotech students who have not learned technology, not been taught much, and there are no jobs”

Opportunities still exist, though.

Opportunities in biotech exist in the agriculture and floriculture sectors, covering so-called exotic vegetables such as coloured bell peppers, mushrooms, or cut flowers for the overseas market. As one grower explained, the cost of production of one coloured bell pepper is Rs.0.50, which retails at Rs.5-10. And the cost of production falls as the farm gets bigger.

There are more interesting points made in the article, including the promise shown by the creation of high-quality science education institutes like IISER in Pune. You can read the full article here