the_little_sasi (the_little_sasi) wrote,
the_little_sasi
the_little_sasi

IISc centennnary celebrations...

 IISc, established in 1909, is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and they have a star-studded 3-day conference currently taking place in Bangalore, their campus. I had no idea about it, till my super boss, ie, boss of boss, called me up on Friday afternoon and told me to go and attend. He knows me and my interest and values, and so he gave me no options. So, hurriedly booked tickets, etc and made the trip on Saturday evening.

The programme started on Saturday with inauguration by former President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam and Prof CNR Rao, scientific advisor to PM. I missed this, since I reached only on Sat night. Attended the Sunday programme fully and hence this blog. You can get more details from the IISC website (http:/www.iisc.ernet.in).

Delegate arrangements were a little confusing, with no sign boards or directions except for some general banners. But without much problem managed to get to venue. The day started with two keynote addresses, one by TCS MD Mr Ramadorai and the second by Prof Suresh, Dean of Engg, MIT, USA.

Ramadorai read a prepared speech touching on a number of things, but focussing on TCS work. The focus was on multi-disciplinary issues and addressing the challenges that India is facing. He did refer to open source a couple of times in a positive light - that was nice. Some points from the talk: 
* Outsourcing of scentific research to public is becoming common - following the trend of open source. Eg. SETI project.
* brain-drain being seen as brain-submission to be trained by the experts abroad. Korea, etc benefitting tremendously from it.
* TRDDC (Tata's research arm) is working on developing a low-cost water filter to make potable water -- expected cost less than 100 Rs.
* TCS is open to working on public private partnership in addressing national problems such as security, environment, etc.
* One energy challenge: reduce cost of solar cells. California mandates half of the new houses to have solar cell roofs, expecting to generate 3000 MW power through this by 2018.
* power generation, healthcare, water - focus areas
* We need to nurther innovation. One good example is Finland, ranked second in innovation after US!
* Engineering is not required for most IT work of today. TCS, hence, is training BSc students with a 7 month program for the IT jobs.
* General message (quote from somewhere) "Nothing is done. The best poem is yet to be sung....The best of everything is yet to be done." Encourage kids...

The second talk was simply amazing. He was also driving across the point of interdisciplinary research. He started with the difference in entry level courses required in MIT in 1921 and today, and what they are planning for tomorrow. There is so much difference across the time. One emerging trend is the formation of engineering science - combining scientific disciplines like biology, physics, etc and the engineering stream, realising the relative strengths. He illustrated this with the case study of Malaria. some snippets.

* the work is a combination of engineering, life sciences, physical sciences, medicine, and public health.
* Some other examples of such collaboration is synthetic biology, lab on a chip, etc.
* The red blood cells in humans is 8 micrometer (mm) diam, where as the blood vessels thin to 2.5 mm in the brain. These cells squeeze through the narrow orifice, by stretching itself out by more than 100%. This requires a force of 100 piconewton per cell.[physics and medical science!] 
* When one is infected with malaria (the bad ones!), the ability of the RBC to stretch is lost, and hence unable to circulate, and are stuck in the vessels. The malaria parasite enters the RBC and stays inside for 48 hours, and exits as a set of 32 copies! Hence the 48 hour fever cycle for Malaria people.
* 400 million people around the world get malaria every year, of which 2-3 million people die. Hence significant interest in tracking the process and finding a cure. Given the size, etc modelling and simulation plays a crucial role. 
He illustrated all this with nice pictures and videos of simulation. There were more details of malaria - but will skip here. The point was the need for engineering, simulation, and creation of artifacts, to study these processes in detail. He mentioned a few results they got, which may provide some path for treating these diseases more effectively. The example choice, the level of detail presented, and the authority with which he spoke was amazing. 
In passing, he also mentioned about a Japanese effort to produce electricity from footprints in places like railway stations.
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This was followed by a panel discussion on India as a knowledge power. I found this pretty boring. Afternoon, attended a workshop on intelligent transportation, followed by two more invited talks: one on cosmos by Martin Rees, a leading astrophysicist and president of Royal society, and the second by Nandan Nilekani, Infosys. More on this later.

I had not listened to any of these directly so far. Nandan Nilekani spoke extempore and with conviction and vision, reflecting on his book "Imagining India". Good speaker, hardly any hesitation on attacking or criticising systems or any point. Ramadorai, on the other side, was very controlled, sticking to the prepared speech. It was a nice contrast. Whereas Nilekani rarely referred to Infosys (that he founded along with others), Ramadorai talk was almost fully about Tata's work.

Most companies in Bangalore were there, most of them were sponsors, given that it is IISc! All the big names in academia - across disciplines - were there. Given the variety of disciplines, there was hardly anyone who I know directly. About 5000 people are attending the programme, though, it appears that about half are from IISc itself, going by the sample I saw.
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