Situated in a remote, rustic river valley in the Himalayas, IIT Mandi is already making its mark globally as an up and coming new Indian Institute of Technology. The Year 2012 has been a momentous one for us, with major new initiatives, and consolidation of ongoing efforts. The Year 2013 holds promise of much achievement and excitement.
The Year 2012
We are proud that IIT Mandi is the first of the new IITs to occupy its permanent campus, a serene 530-acre spread at Kamand in the Uhl River Valley. In April, we broke ground for 11 new buildings in the South Campus. With a floor area of 10,000 sqm, these buildings comprise 10% of the planned Phase 1. They include residential and academic buildings. During the year, a number of renovated Animal Husbandry buildings, some prefab buildings and two brand new permanent buildings were completed and put to use.
Academic activities have been shifting steadily to Kamand. In March, the Mechanical Workshop started functioning in a renovated hay store. In May, our first sophisticated instrument, a powder X-ray diffractometer (XRD) costing Rs. 1.75 crores, was commissioned. This is housed in a renovated stable, along with a PC Lab, Physics and Chemistry Labs, and a 120-seat Electronic Classroom connected to the National Knowledge Network (NKN). Since August, most of the classes of the 2nd BTech batch have been held in Kamand. The campus has seen several important internal and national meetings including the 1st Academia-Industry Conclave, a national NPTEL review, the Heads of Placement of all IITs and our Senate and Board of Governors meetings.
Kamand campus in November 2012
X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD) in renovated Stable
In June, a few faculty, staff and research students accompanied me, my wife and our dog Rusty in shifting our residences to Kamand. Despite heavy rains and landslides, construction continued at a fast pace during the monsoon. On 23rd September, the brand new Dining Hall was inaugurated and the 108 students of the 2nd BTech batch occupied hostels in Kamand.
I salute the pioneering students, faculty and staff who readily accepted the challenge of becoming the first residents in this campus. Initially, they had to put up with the dust, noise and slush of construction, lack of some amenities, and a plethora of (largely benign) insects. Within a matter of weeks, the campus became a comfortable home complete with canteen, provision store, PNB branch with ATM, sports (volleyball, badminton, TT, cycling, hiking), library, medical centre with our own ambulance, etc. Many of the faculty and staff from Mandi also contributed to the construction, development and use of the Kamand Campus.
|2nd BTech students shift into their hostels in Kamand|
First Internet Browsing Centre at Kamand
The Institute grew in numbers of faculty, staff and students. Significantly, the number of female 1st BTech students went up from 8 (6%) to 12 (10%). The faculty who joined during 2012 included PhDs from some of the best Universities in Europe and North America -- Carnegie-Mellon University, University of Waterloo, Penn State University, and Stuttgart University. The School of Humanities and Sciences increased from 3 to 8 faculty, offering a much richer curriculum to the BTech students.
With its goal of making an impact on society, inter-disciplinary research and teaching is integral to our academic culture. In May, the Senate approved the new B.Tech. curriculum. This is a broad-based curriculum that involves much more teamwork and hands-on design than is traditional. Already, we see significant achievements thanks to the collaborative, inter-disciplary approach. These include a variety of innovative products developed in the unique Design Practicum in the 4th semester of B.Tech.
Highlighting IIT Mandi's commitment to serve society, several faculty came together to start the Centre for Innovative Technologies for the Himalayan Region. This Centre funded by DST aims at deploying technology for the benefit of the rural areas of the Himalayan States.
Theory and experiment are two sides of the coin of science and technology. In an Institute of Technology, strength in experimental research is crucial. To this end, from the day they joined in mid-2010, our faculty started setting up their labs to embark on experimental research. By February 2012, we saw the first publication describing a material synthesised in IIT Mandi's fledgling labs. The paper “2-Aminopyridine derivative as fluorescence ‘On–Off’ molecular switch for selective detection of Fe3+/Hg2+" appeared in the international journal Tetrahedron Letters, barely 18 months after the researchers joined and started literally from scratch. Since then, additional papers have been published, and the newly-installed XRD in Kamand is giving a fillip to experimental research. Despite the nascent state of our facilities, our faculty won a prestigious research project from Intel, USA, worth $315,000 over 3 years. They aim to develop the next generation of organic resists for 16 nm VLSI fabrication.
Oil-spill remover designed by 2nd BTech students
The best universities world-wide have a strong multi-cultural campus with many students and faculty from different countries. An important part of IIT Mandi's strategy towards excellence is building exchange programmes with partner Universities around the world. The year 2012 saw 6 of our faculty and 2 PhD students visiting the TU9 Institutions in Germany for research collaboration. In October, we signed an agreement with WPI, Massachusetts to establish a Project Centre in Mandi. Every year, 16-25 3rd year students from WPI will spend 2 months in Mandi to work on projects related to the interaction of society and technology. They will work in teams with IIT students.
Our first batch of students will graduate in mid-2013. We expect to award degrees to a few PhD and MS scholars and 98 BTech students in the first Convocation. Placement interviews have started. Despite the remote location, many companies have chosen to come to Mandi for recruitment. Already, 2 MS students and 41 BTech students have got job offers from Samsung, Finisar, Cisco, Microsoft, Infosys, Nucleus Software and Cognizant. Many more companies are expected to come for interviews in March 2013, including Tejas Networks, Siemens, ABB, Altair, Honda Motors and TCS
All work and no play makes Jack (and Jill) a dull boy! Our students organised the first Tech-Cultural Fest, Exodia 2012 in February. This attracted students from many colleges in the Northern region, and some from distant parts of the country to participate in a variety of technical and cultural events. Adventure sports -- rapelling down a vertical cliff in Kamand -- was a unique aspect of Exodia. In December, we sent a contingent of 120+ students to participate in most of the events of the 48th Inter-IIT Sports Meet in Roorkee. For the first time, the contingent included a few PhD scholars along with BTech students. Our students reached the semi-finals in cricket and the quarter-finals in several other events
The year has not been without its setbacks. Tragically, a student drowned by accident in the Beas River. Five young faculty bid farewell to IIT, an indication that the advantages of Mandi do not always outweigh its disadvantages. In September, a video of boisterous students in a private party unfortunately was released to the public. This caused a backlash in the town, which took some time to die down. However, the IIT family came together to weather these trials and indeed emerged stronger, more closely knit.
Repelling in Kamand during Exodia'12
The Year Ahead
Placement in India's top companies, blossoming experimental research, a functioning new campus, growing international collaboration are all signs of a healthy and vibrant Indian Institute of Technology.
Trekking up to the head of the Kamand Valley
|We are not resting on these modest laurels. Our plans for 2013 include:|
Shifting the entire Institute to Kamand: As new buildings are completed in the South Campus, we will migrate from the transit campus in various parts of Mandi to our permanent home in Kamand. By the end of 2013, we expect to have 600 students, 70 faculty and 100+ staff working and (mostly) living in Kamand.
New PG programmes: We plan to start MTech and MSc programmes in several inter-disciplinary areas. By building on the unique strengths of IIT's faculty and its geographical location, we expect to attract some of the best students to Mandi.
Expansion in BioX: With the importance of agriculture and horticulture in the ecomony of the Himalayan states, there is need for major improvements in productivity by application of novel biotechnologies and biosciences. Likewise, the use of novel bionanomaterials can revolutionise health care. To these ends, we will focus on bioinformatics, synthetic biology and systems biology by hiring faculty and establishing experimental facilities.
Commissioning of a sophisticated instruments lab: This will house a High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscope (HR-TEM), a 500 MHz NMR, a Single-cyrstal X-ray Diffractometer (XRD), an FE-SEM, a Confocal Microscope, High Resolution Mass Spectrometry, and others. It will have a Class 1000 Clean Room. This lab will enable development of novel materials by our faculty and also provide characterisation services to researchers in the region.
High Performance Computing Cluster: To support researchers in IIT and the region, we plan to install an HPC Cluster that is in the top 500 world-wide and in the top 10 in India. This will take advantage of the cooler climate for reduced operational (electricity) cost.
Exchanges of UG students: Two 3rd BTech students have been accepted for a semester in BTH, Sweden during 2013, and we expect 1-2 BTH students to be on our campus. About 16 students from WPI, USA accompanied by 2 faculty members are expected to spend 2-3 months with us in Sep-Nov working on projects with our 3rd/4th year students.
These endeavours are expected to bring significant results during the year:
fabrication of a useful device from novel materials devised at IIT Mandi
- first start-up company from IIT Mandi
- making a marked difference in the lives of the people in the Western Himalayan region through our technologies
- building a vibrant, collaborative, multi-cultural, inter-disciplinary academic culture
- achieving something totally unexpected!
The serene Uhl River Valley in the Himalayas is proving to be an ideal location for world-class research, learning and innovation!
Cresting the peak above the Kamand campus
|With Best Wishes for a Happy and Rewarding New Year.|
Timothy A. Gonsalves