The first global Indian Institute of Science (IISC) conference, ‘Celebrating Leadership in Science, Technology and Innovation’ sponsored by the IISC Alumni Association of North America gets underway June 22-24 at Santa Clara. The conference will be inaugurated by an address, via video, by President Abdul Kalam, himself a scientist and visionary.
IISC is getting ready to celebrate its centenary next year. An important goal of the conference will be to articulate a vision for the next 100 years, in the presence of alumni, faculty and researchers. In a keynote address, Dr. P. Balaram, Director, IISC, and Dr. N. Balakrishnan, Associate Director, will discuss a plan for the next 100 years in response to the changing technological landscape. The roster of distinguished speakers includes Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias, Ratan Tata of the Tata group, James Morgan of Applied Materials, S. Ramadorai of TCS, Lakshmi Narayanan of Cognizant Technologies, and Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor, UC Berkeley.
Renowned industrialist J.N. Tata founded IISC in 1908. Since then, it has been at the forefront of India’s advancement in the fields of science and technology. This statement is borne out by the institute’s impressive track record over the years. Researchers at IISC have derived a hepatitis antigen from silkworms that holds the potential for a Hepatitis B vaccine. IISC and Xcyton have developed an AIDS diagnostic kit that costs less than $1. Their researchers have also developed a drug for treating malaria, and a vaccine for rabies.
Dr. S. Mohan, Senior Professor, IISC spoke to me about the institute’s strengths and the way in which it has jumpstarted its collaborations with American academic centers and companies over the last 5 years. “IISC has graduate and doctoral level programs, unlike the IITs which focus on undergraduate education. Our students are mature and are able to offer a lot in terms of research capabilities along with their academic mentors. We are also proud of our student to professor ratio of 4:1, where we can help students through their formative years as researchers. Along with these strengths, we believe in the ideal that researchers in labs need to help solve problems facing industry. This ideal is being realized in India and America today on many different levels. The institute has collaborations with over 150 companies including Boeing, and General Motors. Research collaborations with many universities, including all universities within the UC system, MIT, and Caltech have begun. The companies and academic centers have come to recognize the research potential that they can tap into.”
When scientists and researchers from different cultures try to solve a common problem, many fascinating cultural aspects are revealed too. For instance, Mohan says, “In our collaboration with auto companies, we have told them this simple cultural difference. American cars are designed to provide maximum comfort to the driver, whereas on Indian roads, the car is built to deliver comfort to the passenger. A real-life problem being tackled by American and IISC researchers is an Intelligence Transportation system, suitable for Indian road conditions. In the absence of a lane system, all assumptions built into available American transportation systems fall by the wayside. Then, Indian researchers can look into cutting-edge research in these areas along with their American counterparts and modify them to suit Indian conditions. The resulting solution becomes the common intellectual property of the American and the Indian researcher.” More collaborations is what the conference hopes to help start. The hope is to get the word out regarding the collaborative work that has been accomplished by IISC in the past five years, while setting the stage for much collaboration in the future.
Mohan says, “Many current collaborations have been set up with the help of alumni who teach and work in America. With their prior knowledge of the Institute’s scientific capabilities, they have been able to successfully steer us in the right direction here .” The first day of the conference has been set aside for batch reunions and the honoring of alumni. There will be an open dialogue with alumni and current IISC leadership about the vision for the next 100 years.
The next day is devoted to four major focus areas. Subbarao Gunupudi, CEO Calaptech and a board member for the conference, says, “In the first panel discussion on Science and Society, we will be looking at ways in which science can and has intervened to help alleviate problems faced by society. Venture capitalists will present their perspectives on how to transform an invention into an innovation in the panel discussion devoted to innovation. Educational policy as it impacts industry will be another area of focus, while the panel on management of technology will address the business aspects of running a company based on a scientific idea.”
On the last day, parallel series of workshops in various disciplines have been organized. The disciplines are Knowledge sciences, Information, Communication, Computers and Technology, Bio-Technology and Health Care, Alternate Energy and Environment, Nanotechnology and Materials, Aero and Auto Industries. These workshops are important networking events to help achieve increased collaborations. Says Ram Akella, conference chairman and Professor, UC Santa Cruz, “The Sunday Collaboration Workshops form the centerpiece of the conference. These will bring together leading researchers and executive from IISc, the UC System (with 49 Nobel Laureates), and major American and Indian industry leaders. These university-industry teams will discuss ongoing collaborations, and plan new ones, along with many new participants. This collaboration including student and faculty exchanges is aimed at taking the research and development capability in India to the next frontier, which is a strong desire of many firms.”
According to Parvin Jain, conference convenor, “the carefully crafted agenda provides attendees plenty of opportunities for interactions. The conference is not restricted to alumni. We welcome non-alumni who wish to be a part of this event.” In fact, this conference promises opportunities for scientists, researchers and academics to help find like-minded people across continents. As I talk to the organizers, there is a sense of excitement that dynamic collaborations in several scientific disciplines are being forged right now, and that the conference will help start many more.
Over the past few years, as Indian Americans, we have celebrated India’s achievements through its inroads into global information technology contracts. Here is a unique opportunity to see the players who have transformed a premier research and academic institution into a nimble organization that helps to solve current problems faced by industry. It offers its best minds while drawing upon the best that America has to offer, as it steps into its centenary year. There can be no better way to march into an institution’s hundredth year in existence.’
Friday, June 22-Sunday, June 24. Santa Clara Marriott, 2700 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara. www.iiscaana.org