Musings for IIT Guwahati Community

IIT Guwahati has been identified as one of most vibrant Institutes across the world by the major ranking agencies. The hard work of students, devotion of researchers to quality, contributions of illustrious alumni, dedication of the teachers and staff, and the vision of the administration were instrumental in achieving this.

We have to continuously work on quality to sustain this recognition. For managing quality, simultaneous presence of conscientiousness, concern and competence will be essential. The development of the consciousness is another key theme of life which gradually deepens and widens the realization of our immortal being, the eternal.

Recent developments in the understanding of the functioning of the human brain and learning styles indicate that the key to Quality Education is generation of passion for learning. Individuals must understand that the manifestation of mind is in science and philosophy, in literature and arts, in service and worship.

Education necessarily prepares a person to live life in a way that is fulfilling and beneficial as an individual and as part of the society. Justifying the purpose of life becomes possible by living life through knowledge and service, enjoyment and creation. Society should be able to specify the requirements of holistic living in measurable terms: the generic skills– Physical, Emotional and Intellectual. Whether we want to see our students as Learners or Exam Takers?

Here are some suggestions that are meant for holistic development of the students. The society and the teaching community are required to spread thoughts that create an ambiance to facilitate this. Together with the students, the society has to create an atmosphere of refined culture. The creations of the Almighty that reveal this essential divinity are manifestations of truth, goodness and beauty, amidst the freedom of activity.

Human beings are sources of supreme power. We can be emphatic upon this notion with display of banners stating encouragement like “Students are our real assets and we are proud of our students. We want all students to contribute positively towards self-organization and self-development.” The importance and potential of human life can be demonstrated through stories that enrich the personal journey of individuals and their spiritual growth. The value and importance of the students for the Institute are ubiquitous and with these measures, they would be reminded of their responsibilities towards their institute, their parents, friends and society.

Creation of smaller circles of students is important. The purpose of this is to motivate the students to know each other better, including family background, social atmosphere, academic background, performance in the academics at IIT, difficulties in studies, problems at home, economical background etc. The friends in turn must bring the problem of any individual to the notice of concerned faculty members and the Dean as and when they feel that the individual needs institutional help, be it due to stress related to financial hardship or poor performance in academics or anything else.

Today, the personal touch, the most important link of communication is missing everywhere. Human-beings cannot be substituted by electronic media, like E-mail, Social-Media-Network, etc. A plethora of problems can be avoided, if a teacher guides and directly speaks to the student at the right moment. Sometimes a student does not perform well during examination due to some personal problem which every individual grapples with some time in life. Only a human-being can judge and measure the depth of such problems of another human-being and resolve them. This job can be partially taken up by the wardens. Visiting hostels only during an emergency/ celebration does not bring about any effect. We have to evolve some means to have more interaction on a day to day basis. At least one weekly visit by the wardens will itself pay rich dividends. Hostel wardens must know the students by their names.

Students have to come out and play outdoor games to overcome mental stress. Most students work till late at night and some of them have never enjoyed the charm of watching a rising sun. One can bring such small but essential excitement in life by motivating them to enjoy a walk or physical training. A yoga session for 15 minutes can release stress, and meditation can be even more effective. Listening to thinkers or scholars of various beliefs and faith may be useful.

Detailed data of depressed students have to be made available to counselors. Student volunteers must collect information about the students and the problems encountered by them. There should be a mechanism to provide academic help to the weaker students by the students who are faring better. This strategy proved quite effective during the last semester.

Organizing talks by prominent motivators, achievers and spiritual leaders can be helpful in generating a full sense of living amongst students. Life is not only to achieve and earn money; it stretches much beyond that. Helping someone in distress, gives a person more pleasure than anything else. Desire for participating in social service will certainly bring awareness among the students and at the same time will serve as a driving force for future action. Meditation will enhance the energy level of the mind in students.

Parents, society, friends, social media etc exert a lot of pressure on young minds nowadays and can sometimes drive them to take extreme steps. Our institute may be able to play a major role in trying to prevent the vicious cycle of depression and negative thought that plagues the mind of affected students. We have to try and bring them back to the virtuous cycle of positive thinking and cheerful hearts. Professional psychological counselors can provide some respite, -- useful solutions. While engaging the psychological counselors will continue on a routine track, we require harnessing the potential of some other options. A spiritual overhauling of young minds can achieve miracles. We can request thinkers and philosophers from various societies (irrespective of any religious faith per se) to interact periodically with the students. The Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Holy quran, the Tripitaka, the Guru-Granth-Sahib, the Zend- Avesta etc. have all taught us that there are spiritual foundations in all faiths, and sincere following of any of these can make a man psychologically more robust and fit to sustain the pressures of the modern world. However, all depends on the perspective of the teachings. Anybody who pledges that his/ her teachings will be "only spiritual" and devoted to the spirit of "inculcating positive thoughts" in young minds should be welcome. The logistical support to these missionaries will be provided by Institute. If we can include such spiritual interaction within the purview of formal activities, such as, NCC, NSS, Yoga etc., the spiritual activities will attain a respectable status. The process should be logical, methodical and effective with proper books and other methodological aids for the students to read and follow with the single-minded objective of attaining a psychology that does not succumb to the onslaught from the world around. They have to be persuaded to inculcate some good habits too, such as sleeping within reasonable hours and rising early. It is difficult, but not unachievable. All of us have to ponder on and act upon moves and methods that can mitigate the menace of depression that daily snatches promising young persons from us.

Some individuals do not learn from achievers, but rather observe and learn lessons from the hardships of the people around them. India is a country of villages. Most students come from an urban background and often do not have exposure to the hardships of life. Students must be shown the life of the people in villages. They live a life riddled with struggles and yet they are happy. Modern gadgets have become essential but if we see that people are surviving and enjoying life even without them, our attitude towards life can change. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India has suggested that the IITs adopt a few neighboring villages for a specific duration and assist in developing the villages as model communities. The basic idea is to promote new and innovative schemes to facilitate positive impact among the rural and the downtrodden communities. IITs have some natural advantages in kick-starting such a scheme, since every IIT is not only a multifarious knowledge bank but is also home to a large body of men and women who have chosen a life of academics and social service instead of pure commercial success. Obviously, this scheme is not intended to change the villages in question to a big city. Instead, IITs will work for a solution to the pressing problems of the village community. IITs will advocate youth-driven change in the villages, where IITs will put in efforts to address the issues of generating potable water, banishing open defecation and improving waste management practices. IITs can bring about a sea-change in these areas by making the villagers aware of (a) the dangers of unsanitary practices, and (b) the practicality of simple ways of eliminating them in favor of more hygienic methods. Other ways in which IITs can help the village community are by guiding them in rain-water harvesting, scientific farming methods, and healthy practices for husbanding animal resources. Eventually, voluntary service from the entire IIT community, including students, staff and spouses, could be marshaled to ensure education for every child in the adopted village. Such activities are expected to infuse the virtuous ambience of positive thinking among students.

Losing any student from the main-stream simply due to his/ her poor academic performance can never be justified. We require being open and asking students to come forward for participative improvement. We have to assure them of whatever help we can provide to improve the overall academic standards.

Many leading universities in the world have introduced Performing Arts in the curriculum. The approach to its teaching must encourage students to develop their own methods of creating harmony as well as their processes of understanding. Music, Puppetry, Drama etc can find a place in the basket of Performing Arts. To many people in many civilizations, music is an important part of their way of life. Ancient Greek and Indian philosophy defined music as tones ordered horizontally as melodies and vertically as harmonies. Indian philosophy identified Music as a means to reach Supreme Creator of the Universe. Proverbial sayings such as "it is music to my ears" pointed towards the notion that music is resplendent with pleasure and bliss even in solitude.

The curriculum needs to be sequential, to develop skills and understanding of learning, creating, performing, and responding. The pedagogy should provide opportunities for students to make connections with spirituality and life. Also it should connect them with the community. One of the most convincing aspects of performing arts is the creation of an opportunity to practice enjoying every moment. When one's senses are fully engaged and awareness is heightened, time slows down, and the individual gains perspective of one’s place in the celestial universe. The individual experiences breath-taking beauty in front his/ her mind’s eye. If everything is in tune, the experience can create a kind of ecstasy, and simultaneously inculcate a sense of timelessness. In other words, one feels, at least for the moment, omniscient and enjoys blessings of immortality.

The Hon’ble Prime Minister has also suggested a need for early introduction of Research (for some students) in the areas of National need. Here is the take of IIT Guwahati on this. Some selected undergraduate students can be assigned challenging research projects at an early stage so that they can complete the work by the time they graduate. As a result some projects may culminate into a complete product. The following are typical examples of the undergraduate research projects under consideration of some very well known universities. These should be viewed as the examples. A host of novel problems can be formulated based on the Nation’s needs and the expertise of the concerned faculty mentors.

  1. Manufacturing Suspension System of a Vehicle to be used in Rough Terrain
    This project may be taken up by the students who want to learn the practical skills in Mechanical Engineering that they do not usually learn in class. The first task would be to design using appropriate CAD software. The project involves work on the design and manufacturing parts of the suspension system of a Vehicle to be used in rough terrain. Somebody may be engaged to design attachment tabs for the front suspension. These tabs would be deployed to connect the suspension to a frame for testing. Every week, the students can be expected to finalize the design related to a sub-component of the suspension system so that these can be manufactured and assembled by the eighth semester. This research and hands-on experience will enable student(s) to know how to calculate the forces that the components of a suspension experience when braking and taking sharp turns. These forces have to be accounted for in choosing the geometry and material for the suspension components.
  2. Contact Printing of Quantum-dot Photovoltaics
    One project may be offered to investigate the viability of a contact-printing method for creating arrays of quantum-dot photovoltaic devices. By defining features with a resolution of less than 100 nanometers (approximately) on the order of the exciton-diffusion length, higher solar power conversion efficiency can be achieved. These efficient devices could be patterned in thin (PDMS) films on many different surfaces.
  3. Bio-inspired Micro-aerial Vehicles
    Think of a dragonfly. Much like those masters of flight, small but highly manoeuvrable aircraft that can stop on a coin and change direction hold great promise for aviation and aerospace exploration for surveillance. The flow Physics of unsteady flows – for example, air around a flapping wing has to be thoroughly understood. The project includes modeling aerodynamics of agile bio-inspired micro air vehicles, as well as fluid flows around flexible structures (like the water around an undulating fish). In order to achieve the remarkable abilities of the airborne and aquatic creatures, developing novel tools to distill and model the essential mechanics of locomotion, is absolutely needed. The engineered vehicles and systems are expected to be more robust and agile or extract more energy from their environment and carry out surveillance related activities.
  4. Paper-and–Pencil based Diagnostics Sensors
    The electrical control of liquid flow in the paper-and-pencil device can be implemented for significantly improving the present modality of immunochromatographic assays (simple devices intended to detect the presence of a target analyte in a sample, say blood). The existence of electrokinetic phenomenon on paper substrates can be exploited for performing various processes, e.g. manipulation/ trapping of electrically responsive biomolecules, electrical separation/ mixing of analytes, and microscale liquid (for example blood sample) handling. Furthermore, the proposed electrical forcing mechanism is very simple, requiring no additional actuation devices, and hence can be easily integrated even with intricate microfluidic networks on paper substrates in order to develop diagnostics sensors.
  5. Amplifier Design for Active Piezoelectric MEMS Resonators
    Micromechanical resonators have been proved to be advantageous over traditional inductor-capacitor circuit (LC tanks) and quartz crystals due to their small size and weight, low power consumption and high Quality factor. Piezoelectric materials have been widely studied to provide the drive and sense mechanism in resonators. Under the scope of this project, a group can attempt integrating an active sensing element such as a transistor onto a piezoelectric resonator to reduce the input to output throughput.
  6. The Hon’ble Prime Minister has called for renewed technological drive. He has suggested intense involvement of IITs in the R&D activities especially in Defense, Affordable Health Care, Affordable Housing, Railways and Electronic Hardware. IIT Guwahati has taken up R&D initiatives in the areas mentioned above and through these musings (appeal) I would expect many more faculty and students will be inspired for enthusiastic participation.

    Interaction between academia and industry in India in the form of joint or collaborative R&D projects has been infrequent in the recent past partly because the confidence level between the two is very low and largely because the Indian industry, with some exceptions, often has short term goals of making profit by adopting or by buying technology from elsewhere. Academia has also not been enthusiastic to develop relationship for translational research even though it is generally believed in the academic parlance that stronger academic engagement with industry improves and strengthens fundamental research.

    The research profiles of industry and academia are expected to be vastly different and thus have a very short common track. The academic research is characterized to be: scientific; open-ended; unimpeded; knowledge-generator; degree requirement focused; and publication centric. Also the spread is constrained by financial and infrastructural resources. On the other hand, industrial research has its own identity as: need-based; consumer-focused; real world problems; professionally executed and steered through larger financial resources. Under such a situation, appropriate roadmaps are to be drawn so that the two meet to collaborate fruitfully. Finally promotion of innovation-driven technology plays an important role for bringing about the synergy. The economic and social growths of a country are dependent on this synergy.

    This young Institute has brought many laurels to the nation. IIT Guwahati is the only Indian University/ Institute that has entered the elite league of the top 100 most-dynamic young Universities of the world. Now IIT Guwahati has to emerge as one of the best Institutes in the world. Together, we will overcome the problems that are confronting us. The guiding principles should include that the Life is much more than what we perceive within narrow envelopes. The indomitable spirit of humanity must prevail. We have to make IIT Guwahati the cradle for its inception.