Missing Not Dead: The Horrifying Story of Man-made Flood Disasters

We are proud to announce that Antara Dasgupta, our PhD scholar’s popular science story has been selected in the “Top 100” in the DST AWSAR science communication competition.

Read the story below.

Missing Not Dead: The Horrifying Story of Man-made Flood Disasters

Sapna had to choose. Her father was a priest at the popular shrine Kedarnath. The family never saw him after June 15th, 2013. The fateful day when nature decided to raze all signs of human presence from the flood plains of the mighty Mandakini. Over 8,000 cubic meters of water gushed across the valley in about 3 seconds, erasing all signs of an anthropogenic past. His body was never found. Donations from patrons kept the family afloat for a while. The laughable government compensation did little to help their predicament. Especially as her father was missing not dead, compensation was provided accordingly.

When her grief-stricken mother started showing symptoms of a full mental breakdown, Sapna moved closer to her relatives in the valley. The younger siblings, a boy of 17 and an 8 year old girl, could no longer be entrusted to her mother’s care. Soon, the relatives’ empathy and finances dried up. Sapna, now had to find a way to support her family. It was at the precipice of this new endeavour that our paths crossed. We had just started studying for a postgraduate degree in remote sensing, geared towards natural hazard mitigation. As we sat in class for our first day at university in the flood battered state of Uttarkhand, each lecturer described the catastrophic disaster, as a means to stress the significance of our chosen specialization. At the end of the day, I expressed my admiration for Sapna’s apparent insouciance on what was obviously an emotional subject and my heartfelt condolences for losing her father. She looked at me with quiet determination and said, “He’s missing, not dead.”

Scientists agree that the impacts of the “Himalayan Tsunami” of 2013, were intensified by unbridled and unplanned development in the river flood plains. The scale of the tragedy was apparently exacerbated by a monumental failure of inter-agency communication. Warnings were left unheeded, rising water levels in the glacial lake upstream went unreported. State officials delayed taking any action as the “pilgrim season” was underway and closing the gates to the shrine would cost them the precious spoils of tourism. I for one, have never been able come to terms with the fact that most of the deaths from this catastrophe were preventable. It was then that I decided to specialise in hydrometeorological disasters like flooding, determined to work towards more reliable early warning systems.

In pursuit of this arduous but rewarding goal, I was recently able to develop a new semi-automatic flood-mapping algorithm with others from the IITB‑Monash Research Academy, which promises significant improvements in accuracy over existing techniques. The algorithm explicitly utilises patterns of the radar backscatter, which are observed in the image, in addition to the recorded backscatter itself. Specific arrangements of backscatter values in the image are first identified and then optimised by using advanced mathematical techniques to amplify the information content that is used in flood identification. Finally, a fuzzy machine learning algorithm is used to classify the image into flooded and non-flooded areas, which also expresses the level of confidence in the flood mapping at each pixel. Validating flood maps that are generated by using this technique against aerial photographs demonstrated an improvement of almost 54 % in some areas over traditional methods. These results are encouraging as the validation zone also included a notable portion of urban and agricultural land-use.

Urban landforms are, perhaps, the most challenging in radar-based flood detection and, arguably, the most crucial from a flood management perspective. While radar images are widely accepted as the most reliable resource for flood monitoring given their ability to penetrate cloud cover; they are notoriously difficult to interpret and are affected by a variety of uncertainties. Urban and vegetated landscapes, which present an inherently large number of potential scatterers to the radar beam, often result in complex images. Therefore, to arrive at any practicable intelligence, radar-based flood maps generated using automated methods often require post-processing by experts, trained in the physical principles of radar backscattering mechanisms. Automatic image processing chains have recommended the use of supporting datasets such as distance or height above the closest river channels, and land-use and cover information to enhance the accuracy of flood mapping. However, in developing countries where such ancillary information is seldom available with reasonable accuracy, this approach could potentially revolutionize rescue and response operations.

While disaster preparedness has evidently improved, given that the number of fatalities caused by floods of similar magnitudes has declined over the years, what has been accomplished is not nearly enough to cope with the increasing intensity and frequency of weather-related disasters under a rapidly changing climate. This is evident especially in cascading disasters such as flooding, when the rainfall event often leads to landslides, cutting off transport access and communication in the affected areas. If the downstream consequences such as waterborne diseases and the mental trauma suffered by flood-affected communities are also considered, floods can be viewed as the single most devastating natural disaster worldwide.

During the initial rescue and response operations, localised information on the whereabouts of flooding is critical in the ensuring of effective regional prioritisation and efficient resource allocation. However, one can intuitively imagine that travelling into flood-affected areas to gather such information during the event is far from safe. Satellite imagery is an attractive and cost-effective alternative to observing the inundated area synoptically. This can facilitate the planning of evacuation strategies and optimise the often limited resources that are available. For example, during the 2013 Himalayan floods, a rescue chopper with 12 Indian Air Force officials crashed, killing all on-board, delaying operations and compounding the magnitude of the disaster. The Himalayas, as well as other flood affected regions, are not easy to navigate without accurate localized information. We hope that by improving the accuracy of single-image flood mapping, we can contribute at least slightly to the safety of rescue workers.

This research constitutes the first part of my PhD project titled, ‘Towards a Comprehensive Data Assimilation Framework for Operational Hydrodynamic Flood Forecasting’. My research strives to integrate all the seemingly disparate sources of flood information presently available, such as satellite and crowd-sourced data, to arrive at more accurate and timely flood forecasts. I am undertaking this research at the IITB‑Monash Research Academy, which is a collaboration of IIT Bombay, India and Monash University, Australia, established to strengthen their bilateral scientific relationship. My research team includes A/Prof. RAAJ Ramsankaran from IIT Bombay; and Prof. Jeffrey Walker, Dr Stefania Grimaldi, and A/Prof. Valentijn Pauwels from Monash University. I hope that the model-data integration proposed in this study leads to the development of more reliable flood early warning systems which can allow timely evacuation. Never again should someone like Sapna, have to deal with the disappearance of family members due to a flood and abruptly be thrown into dire straits with only false hopes to look forward to.

This article is based on a paper that was published earlier this year: ‘Towards operational SAR-based flood mapping using neuro-fuzzy texture-based approaches. It was published in Remote Sensing of Environment, which is a highly reputed journal in the field of remote sensing.

Research scholar: Antara Dasgupta, IITB‑Monash Research Academy

Project title: Towards a Comprehensive Data Assimilation Framework for Operational Hydrodynamic Flood Forecasting

Supervisors: Dr RAAJ Ramsankaran and Prof. Jeffrey P. Walker

Contact details: antara.dasgupta@monash.edu

Published paper: Dasgupta, A., Grimaldi, S., Ramsankaran, R. A. A. J., Pauwels, V. R. N., & Walker, J. P. (2018). Towards operational SAR-based flood mapping using neuro-fuzzy texture-based approaches. Remote Sensing of Environment, 215(15 September 2018), 313–329. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2018.06.019

This story was written by Antara Dasgupta, and it comprises original, unpublished content.

CEO of the Academy wins 50 Education Innovative Leaders Award


We are delighted to announce that, Prof. Murali Sastry, our CEO, is the recipient of the 50 Education Innovative Leaders award, as a thought leader in Healthcare Industry and a contributor of value. This award has been declared by the Worl Innovation Congress. The World Innovation Congress is a not for profit body that attempts to organise the annual meet with the objective of Learning & Development, Networking & Recognizing Leaders who have contributed value to the profession or their organization and make a difference. Such value contributors are influencers who have influenced positively.

Some of the Jury Members are:

  • Professor Indira Parikh, Ex Dean of IIM Ahmedabad & President – Antardisha (Directions from Within)
  • Dr. Harish Mehta, Chairman & MD – Onward Technologies Ltd.; Emeritus Chairman – World HRD Congress & Founder Member – NASSCOM
  • Dr. Arun Arora, Ex President and CEO, the Economic Times; Chairman, Edvance Pre-schools Pvt. Ltd. & Emeritus Chairman, World HRD Congress
  • Dr. Prasad Medury, Partner , Amrop India Consultants Private Limited
  • Nina E. Woodard, President & Chief “N” Sights Officer , Nina E. Woodard & Associates, a division of NDPendence, Inc.
  • Dr. R L Bhatia, Founder of World CSR & World Sustainability Congress

The Juries & Research cell have carefully worked towards architecting the program in recognition of the talent that rightly deserves to be recognized, our approach is towards thought leadership. The “50 Education Innovative Leaders ” is a reflection of the winner’s professional achievement & a belief that they are thought leaders in Healthcare Industry & a contributor of value.

The award ceremony is scheduled on 12th Feb. 2019 at 9.00 am & the venue is The Taj Lands End, Mumbai, an iconic venue that is overlooking the Arabian Sea,

‘Expert Speak’ Series- Prof. Pankaj Sekhsaria

Title of Talk: The A&N Islands – At the tri-junction of fragility and vulnerability

Date: 4th February 2019

Time: 16:15 p.m.
Venue: IITB-Monash Research Academy Seminar Room 1 and 2

Duration: 60 minutes plus Discussion
Description: Speaker will share his journey as a trained researcher. Topic will be of general importance, all branches of student most welcome to attend.

Objective: To provide students with a concise report on his recent book on A&N.
Resource person: Prof Pankaj Sekhsaria, Member, Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands constitute an unique system in the Indian context that is also one of the least understood. The islands have no parallels on multiple grounds – geological, ecological and socio-cultural – and put together these form a unit that is complex and needs special attention and care.

The islands are extremely rich from an ecological point of view – rich tropical forests, a diverse coastline comprising beaches, rocky coasts and mangroves and oceans that are thriving with coral reefs and marine life. The islands are home at the same time to a number of indigenous communities who have been here for thousands of years but are today among the most marginalised and vulnerable. And very importantly, the islands are located in Seismic Zone V, the most seismically active zone on the planet. Earthquakes here are a regular occurrence and the 9.3 richter scale earthquake that caused the giant tsunami of December 2004 had its epicenter not very far from the Nicobar islands.

The presentation will dwell on these three distinctly different but complexly inter-related aspects of these islands to argue for a larger and a more holistic understanding of the place. It will present a range of examples of how recent developmental interventions in the islands – for infrastructure development, defence installations and tourism promotion – are wilfully ignoring the dynamic and sensitive social, ecological and geological realities of this remote island chain and increasing manifold the vulnerability of the islands and its human and non-human residents.
Pankaj Sekhsaria’s research interests lie at the intersection of environment, science, technology and society. He has worked extensively in the A&N islands and is the author/editor of four books on various issues of the islands. These include ‘Islands in Flux – the Andaman and Nicobar Story’ (Harper Litmus 2017) and ‘The Last Wave’ (HarperCollins India 2014) his debut novel that is a deeply ecological story based in the Andamans.

He is currently Associate Professor, Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (C-TARA), IIT Bombay, and also a long time member of the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh. He has a PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from the Maastricht University, Netherlands and his latest book based on his doctoral research is ‘Instrumental Lives – an intimate biography of an Indian laboratory (Routledge, 2019).
Email: psekhsaria@gmail.com


Understanding chromatin folding through computer simulations

Imagine how difficult it is to fold a 20km long rope into a tennis ball. And, even if you succeed, imagine you are asked to locate a specific section of the rope in the ball which may be 5km from one end. Phew!

The biological cells are like the tennis-ball, and the rope here is the DNA in our cells. DNA — the genetic material in our cells — is a two-metre long polymer folded and packed inside a micro-meter sized compartment known as cell nucleus. This kind of folding of DNA occurs in each cell of every living organism.

Figure 1: Model developed in this work converts 2D contact probability into meaningful 3D model.

In our cells, the folding is achieved by a number of machines known as proteins, and the folded DNA-protein complex together is known as chromatin. How proteins achieve this high packing within a limited time is an unresolved puzzle in this field.

Any organism, like human beings, have different types of cells — skin cells, brain cells, bone cells, to name just a few. Even though these cells have exactly the same DNA content, they function very differently. This diversity in cell function is achieved by packaging the same in DNA in different manner — the chromatin organization inside the cell dictate the function of the cell.

One way to quantify the 3D organization of chromatin is to examine how different parts of the DNA polymer are in contact with each other. Advances in experimental techniques have helped us to measure the contact frequency between any two parts (segments) of the long DNA polymer, after freezing the whole chromatin in time. This experimental technique — chromosome confirmation capture method — gives the frequency with which any two segments will be in contact in a population of cells.

This information is 2-dimensional, which is static in time. We need a model which can predict the 3-dimensional configuration and dynamics of DNA based on the contact frequency information investigated through experiments.

Kiran Kumari, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, intends to put together such a model in the course of her PhD project titled, ‘Computing the dynamics of Chromatin folding’.

Using concepts from polymer physics, she proposes a method to obtain the 3D configuration from a given 2D contact probability heat map. This method can not only predict the steady-state 3D configuration but can also study the dynamics around the steady state. Using this method, she studies 3D configurations and dynamics of chromatin in a length scale of a gene. In particular, her model can predict the interaction profile which is required to produce the contact probability.

The Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is watching Kiran’s progress keenly. “This project will enhance our ability to understand mechanisms in biological systems such as biological cells. It will also help us understand the fundamental molecular aspects of biodiversity — all of which are essential to harness biomolecular processes, whether in health care or biotechnology,” he says.

Research scholar: Kiran Kumari, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Computing the dynamics of chromatin folding
Supervisors: Prof. Ranjith Padinhateeri and Prof. Ravi Jagadeeshan
Contact details: kiran.kumari@monash.edu


The above story is based on inputs from the research student, her supervisors, and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Student Achievements

  • Team PHABio wins the Platinum Innovator Award:

Team PHABiO (by our two PhD students, Nikhil Jain and Sukanya Dikshit) won the Platinum Innovator Award & Rs 1 lakh cash prize as they stood at 1st Position in The Big Idea Summit 2018, among Top 64 innovations selected from 265+ innovations submitted from all over the nation, for the Summit www.phabio.in  On 22nd and 23rd December 2018, The Big Idea Summit(http://www.thebigidea.in/) was held by Bhanushali Chamber of Commerce (partnered with many Govt and Academic Institutions like Tata Centre & Corporations) where more than 265 Innovations were submitted nationally. PHABiO (PHA as a healthy plastic) was selected in top 64 Innovations for the summit. From top 64 selected innovations, only 6 Innovations reached into finals for pitching to investors and corporates. From the 6 finalists- PHABiO was awarded as Platinum Innovator (1st Prize) with Cash Prize of INR 1Lakh, a Memento & a certificate along with talks with Investors for seed investment and guidance on Patents, Company Registration, Business Formation etc.

  • Talk in “Open Data Science” workshop at TechFest, IIT Bombay:

Diptesh Kanojia gave a talk in the “Open Data Science” Workshop at Techfest, IIT Bombay on 15th December. He spoke about Natural Language Processing, Data Science and how they are related to each other. While presenting the different facets of the NLP research done at his lab, he connected it to how a data scientist can use the research to solve a relatable real-world issue.
He discussed the NLP research areas of Machine Translation, Sentiment Analysis, Sarcasm Detection, Speech Processing, Cognitive NLP and then went into details of Computational Phylogenetics and Cognate Detection, the latter two being a part of his Ph.D. Thesis. He also presented some excerpts of his work from a recent publication at CODS-COMAD 2019 and explained how Cognate detection is an important problem in the area of Historical and Cultural Linguistics.The talk was well received as the feedback from the students and some entrepreneurs were positive. Later, it transcended more into an interactive session on what tools can an amateur use to start NLP and what online courses can one pursue to deal with these NLP problems.
  • Winner of Young Rapid Research Presentation Award:

Pranali Deore won a first prize in Young Rapid Research (YRP) presentation award at an International conference, Biotechnological Research and Innovation for Sustainable Development (BioSD 2018), held in Hyderabad on 23-25th Nov 2018. The nature of the prize is a certificate and 200 euro coupon from SringerNature to avail educational books.

Understanding pitting corrosion in aluminium and its alloys

We are often shocked when we read media reports about catastrophes like air crashes, shipwrecks, bridge collapses, or explosionof gas pipelines. Investigations invariably point towards environmental cracking, a stress corrosion induced mechanical failure, as the apparent cause.Not many of us are aware, however, that deep down such cracks emanate from tiny corrosion pits. Pits are minuscule trenches that form when a defective local site on a metal surface corrodes due to environmental exposure while rest of the surface is protected by a barrier-like passive film. While pitting corrosion alone can cause a major failure, they also serve as initiation sites for secondary modes of corrosion such as Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC), Inter-Granular Corrosion (IGC) or corrosion fatigue.

Fig 1. Pitting corrosion in Nandu River Bridge (Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitting_corrosion)

Aluminium is an important class of light metalalloy system that is indispensable in the manufacture of aircraft and shipbuilding components as it has desirable properties that aid in fuel efficiency,which in turn reduces greenhouse effects. Pitting is an imperative form of corrosion in aluminium wherein microstructures that are carefully tailored to meet engineering requirements, are often heterogeneous and unfortunately form the basis for initiation of corrosion pits. However, design of microstructurally complex alloys is possible with an in-depth understanding of pitting mechanism that would enable adoption of appropriate mitigation strategies.            

This is where I am hoping to make a difference. IITB-MonashResearch Academy, where I have enrolled for a PhD, is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationshipsbetween the two countries. Graduate research scholars study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Pits can cause irreversible and persistent damage accumulation. Thankfully, however, not all pits are detrimental unless they reach stability. An initiated pit switches between an active and dormant state several times, called metastable pitting, attempting to establish a conducivepit chemistry before it transforms into a stable pit; else the pit perishes.Thus, my prime focus is to study metastable pitting characteristics in order to understand the critical factors that influence the transition of a pit to stability.

The study of pits is challenging as pit events at any instant are numerous, dynamic and stochastic (Fig 2). For instance, it is complex to determine when and where a pit would occur, wherein the susceptible sites are characteristic to the microstructure of an alloy and other metallurgical parameters. To overcome this difficulty, we employ in-situ analytical characterisation of specifically fabricated microelectrodes, which has enabled real-time imaging of the surface, during electrochemical metastable pitting studies. Successful isolation of single metastable pit events enabled a detailed real-time investigation of their behavioural characteristics during growth and decay of a metastable current transient (Fig 3) and their transition to stable pits, which in turn have provided significant insights on pitting mechanism.

Figure 2. In-situ real time imaging of an aluminium alloy shows numerous, dynamic, and stochastic evolution of pits marked by H2 evolution (black circles). (Picture credit: Gayathri Sridhar)

This research work has many potential benefits such as rational alloy design and additive manufacturing with safety as the prime focus to provide reliable corrosion-resistant materials for the manufacture of vehicles and in construction. Additionally, advancing the current knowledge in pitting would provide a stronger basis for understanding secondary modes of corrosion and development of mitigation strategies.

Figure 3. An illustration of a typical metastable pit current transient demonstrating total pit lifetime (tlife) , active pit growth time (tgrowth) and passive pit decay time (trepassivation). ipeak is an indication of the charge damage accumulated during the pitting event. (Picture credit: Gayathri Sridhar)
Gayathri Sridhar

Research scholar: Gayathri Sridhar, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Understanding metastable pitting in aluminium and its alloys

Supervisors: Prof V.S. Raja (IIT Bombay), Prof Nick Birbilis (Monash University)

Contact details: cecrigayu@gmail.com,gayathriks@iitb.ac.in,gayathri.sridhar@monash.edu

This story was written by Gayathri Sridhar. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Harnessing the Ion Bombardment process to create novel nanostructures

Cover picture courtesy: Ms. Nandini Bhosale, IDC

The rapidly evolving field of micro- and nano-fabrication is the meeting ground of physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, and engineering.

Conventional lithography techniques are widely used to fabricate microstructures commercially. However, such techniques have limitations at the nano level. Research in areas related to nanofabrication is therefore crucial in order to develop and improve novel manufacturing techniques.

This is where Vivek Garg, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is hoping to make a significant contribution.

“My research is based on Focused Ion Beam (FIB) process for nanofabrication and its application in creating novel nanostructures,” explains Vivek. “The aim is to model ion-material interactions followed by rapid computation ion beam-based material removal (milling or etching), in order to create 2D/3D structures at both micro- and nano-scale for diverse applications like anti-reflection, colour filters, and sensors, to name a few.”

The Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars like Vivek study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Says Vivek, “FIB is a promising technique due to its capability range and diverse applications”.

For instance, it can be used for:

  • milling, thus making it suitable for micro- / nano-machining,
  • deposition, allowing for additive nanomanufacturing applications, and
  • imaging, which makes it even more powerful for microscopy analysis and materials applications.

Vivek plans to develop a reliable modelling methodology to predict optimized FIB process parameters for milling, which is expected to lead to robust and accurate 2D/3D structures at the micro- / nano-scale. He is currently working on ion induced, in-situ controlled manipulation of nanostructures and investigation through molecular dynamics simulations, in order to arrive at a feasible methodology. This work will be critical for 3D nanofabrication with promising nanoscale-controlled manipulation, strain engineering of nanostructures, opening new avenues in the diverse field of ion beams and applications beyond material science for realization of future nanoscale devices.

Optimization of Focused Ion Beam (FIB) milling process: Simulation results for a spherical profile obtained from optimization algorithm at a beam current of 20 pA and pixel size of 3 nm (a) Designed spherical profile, (b) Simulated spherical profile, (c) Error between the designed and simulated profile [1]

Rapid prototyping of subwavelength silicon nanostructures for light trapping and antireflection Properties (a) Scanning electron microscopic (SEM) image of fabricated designed Si Gaussian pillar nanostructures, (b) Antireflection properties exhibited through fabricated pillars and comparison with simulation results, (c) Optical absorption per unit volume exhibiting light trapping [2]

Structural colour printing with FIB: (a) Direct fabrication of subwavelength nanostructures for multicolour generation, (b) A wide colour palette shown with optical microscopic images of fabricated colour filters, (c) Nanoscale structural color printing: few examples, such as butterfly, Kangaroo, letters, shown via SEM image and including corresponding optical microscopic image showing generation of unique structural colours [3], [4]

Microscopic Gardening: Tiny Blossoms of Silicon
The image shows scanning electron micrograph of silicon nanoflowers realized with focused ion beam in conjunction with wet chemical etching methods. The bulk structuration of Si substrate, based on the ion implantation design and area, allows fabrication of exotic functional and 3D micro/nanostructures on Si substrate exhibiting unique optical properties for applications in nanophotonics and physical sciences (Image scale bar 400 nm)

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy and a leading nanomaterial scientist says, “Nanofabrication is an art. Future applications require materials with improved electronic, magnetic, optical, and mechanical properties. Many of these properties are defined by the structure and composition in the size range below 100 nm. It is most important to maintain the material integrity and composition as we move towards the nano-scale, which is what makes Vivek’s project so challenging.”

Oftentimes, it pays to think small when we need to think big!

Research scholar: Vivek Garg, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Focused Ion Beam (FIB) Fabrication of Novel 2D/3D Nanoscale Structures: Process Modeling and Applications
Supervisors: Prof. Rakesh G. Mote, Prof. Jing Fu
Contact details: vivekgarg@iitb.ac.in, vivek.garg@monash.edu

[1] V. Garg, R. G. Mote, and J. Fu, “Focused Ion Beam Fabrication: Process Development and Optimization Strategy for Optical Applications,” in Precision Product-Process Design and Optimization, Springer, Singapore, 2018, pp. 189–209.
[2] V. Garg, R. G. Mote, and J. Fu, “FIB fabrication of highly ordered vertical Gaussian pillar nanostructures on silicon,” in 2017 IEEE 17th International Conference on Nanotechnology (IEEE-NANO), 2017, pp. 707–712.
[3] V. Garg, R. G. Mote, and J. Fu, “Coloring with Focused Ion Beam Fabricated Nanostructures,” Microscopy and Microanalysis, vol. 24, no. S1, pp. 856–857, Aug. 2018.
[4] V. Garg, R. G. Mote, and J. Fu, “Focused Ion Beam Direct Fabrication of Subwavelength Nanostructures on Silicon for Multicolor Generation,” Advanced Materials Technologies, vol. 3, no. 8, p. 1800100, Aug. 2018.

The above story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student, his supervisors, and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Automatic Q&A Generation from Text

Asking relevant and intelligent questions has always been an integral part of human learning, as it can help assess the learner’s understanding of a piece of text. However, compiling questions manually is arduous. Automated question generation (QG) systems can help, as they have the ability to generate questions quicker and on a larger scale.

A typical scenario is evaluating students on reading comprehension, where it becomes tedious for a teacher to manually create questions, find answers to these questions, and then evaluate answer papers after the test has been administered. All these complex tasks can now be automated using an automatic question and answer generation system.

This is why research scholar Vishwajeet Kumar’s project titled, ‘Automatic Question and Answer Generation from Text’ has tremendous potential in a scenario where scientists are closely examining the efficacy of neural network-based methods in question generation from text.

“A compact Question Generation system would be able to generate meaningful, syntactically correct, semantically sound, and natural questions from text. The questions that work best are those that have supporting answers present in the text,” explains Vishwajeet, who has enrolled for a PhD programme in the IITB-Monash Research Academy,

 Early attempts at automated question generation depended heavily on a strict, limited, ad-hoc, and hand-crafted set of rules. These rules focus mainly on the syntactic structure of the text and are limited only to sentences of simple structures. Recently, the success of sequence-to-sequence learning models has opened up possibilities of looking beyond a fixed set of rules for the task of question generation.

 An automatic question generation system has applications in areas as diverse as FAQ generation, intelligent tutoring systems, and virtual assistants. Question generation can be naturally applied in the educational setting such as online courses, automated help systems, and search engines. It can also be applied in a wide variety of other domains — including chatbot systems (e.g. for customer interaction) and health care for analysing mental health.

Explaining his work so far, Vishwajeet says, “We present a system to automatically generate question and answer from text. Our system follows a two-stage process to generate question-answer pairs from the text. In the first stage, we present alternatives for encoding the span of the pivotal answer in the sentence using Pointer Networks. In the next stage, we employ sequence-to-sequence models for question generation, enhanced with rich linguistic features. Finally, global attention and answer encoding are used for generating the question most relevant to the answer.”

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars like Vishawajeet study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Says Prof. Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, “More and more institutions are moving from classroom teaching to online courses using platforms like MOOC, EDX, etc. For those administering such online courses, generating meaningful questions manually is a tedious task. The work of researchers like Vishwajeet shows us that asking meaningful and intelligent questions will improve the ability to answer them!”

Research scholar: Vishwajeet Kumar, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Automatic Question and Answer Generation from Text

Supervisors: Prof.Ganesh Ramakrishnan and Prof. Yuan-Fang Li

Contact details: vishwajeet@cse.iitb.ac.in

The above story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student, his supervisors, and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.





Nanostructure fabrication inspired by sand dune ripples

What can nanotechnologists learn from ripples on sand dunes?

A lot, smiles Bhaveshkumar Kamaliya, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy — who is convinced that if he can mimic the macro-scaled ripples or wave-patterns seen on sand dunes to a nanoscale, it will help him study interactions of ion beams with surfaces of different materials, and perhaps even create self-organized nanostructures.

Nano-scaled structures strongly improve optical, electrical, and magnetic properties of materials. This has led to the study and development of many nanostructure-based devices; however nano-structuring poses a tremendous challenge as the fabrication process for such devices is not available due to limitations of conventional photolithography and electron beam lithography techniques.

“My project has two key aspects,” explains Bhavesh, “(i) experimental investigations for the formation of nanoripples, nanodots, and other complex nanostructures by varying parameters of energetic ion beams, and (ii) molecular dynamics simulations and modelling for understanding, validating and predicting experimental outcomes.”

“The self-organized nanoripples have the potential to serve as functional nanostructures and exhibit novel structures required for photovoltaics, surface plasmons, photonics, bio-sensing, etc.,” says Bhavesh. “Controlling the topography at the nanoscale is challenging and studying the mechanism behind the phenomena could help develop new and complex materials.”

His work is likely to offer the scientific community a systematic understanding of the mechanism behind self-organized nanostructures induced by Focused Ion Beam (FIB) irradiation. It could even lead to the fabrication of an efficient photovoltaic-based energy harvesting device or surface plasmon-based bio-sensing device.

Nanorippled Germanium: (a) Scanning electron micrograph (false coloured) of nanoripples on germanium surface induced by focused ion beam irradiation, (b) mechanism of enhanced light absorption due to multiple reflections through nanoripples and (3) experimentally measured light absorption from nanorippled germanium and bare germanium surface. (Reference: B. Kamaliya, R. Mote, M. Aslam, and J. Fu, APL Materials 6, 036106 (2018); doi: 10.1063/1.5021735).

The Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars like Bhavesh study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, and a reputed nanomaterial scientist, is excited. “The Academy is an opportunity for industry in Australia and India, as well as for IIT Bombay and Monash University, to train the next generation of rich talent in India. It has the potential to be a significant research institution. Talent from the Academy should become much sought after around the globe. This project could open new avenues on controlling nanoripples orientation and high-efficiency germanium-based photovoltaic applications.”

Indeed. We hope Bhavesh’s work will cause significant ripples — both literal and metaphorical.

Research scholar: Bhaveshkumar Kamaliya, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Study of Ion Beam Interaction with Materials and Nanostructure Fabrication
Supervisors: Prof Mohammed Aslam, Prof Rakesh G. Mote and Prof Jing Fu
Contact details: rakesh.mote@iitb.ac.in, bkamaliya@gmail.com


The above story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student, his supervisors, and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Rediscovering colonial Bengal’s Muslim women writers

Muslim women writers in Bengali were reasonably prolific in colonial Bengal. However, contemporary readers of Bengali literature are unaware of their work in both fiction and non-fiction. How is it that the writing of an entire demographic has failed to become institutionalised in the widely-researched field of Bangla sahityer itihas or Bengali literary history?

This is the primary question that drives my PhD programme at the IITB-Monash Research Academy. As a corollary, I also ask how we may disinherit the priorities that created these exclusions, and suggest productive paradigms through which colonial Bengal’s Muslim women writers can be read in the twenty-first century.

To begin with, we will need to go back in time a little.

The Bengali literary canon revolves largely around the work of Hindu male writers. Yes, Muslim male writers find mention in certain titles of Bengali literary history by male Muslim historians, but the only Bengali Muslim woman writer whose work has been recognised to some extent is Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain.

This is not to say that Hindu and Brahmo women writers are institutionalised to any recognizable extent within the field of Bangla sahityer itihas either. However, the work of such women writers has been brought to the forefront by a dedicated group of feminist literary scholars working within a field that can be described as early Bengali women’s writing. These scholars have mined the writing of Hindu and Brahmo women writers from colonial Bengal to examine the ways in which Bengali women’s subject hood was produced within the anti-colonial nationalist narrative.

The work of the Muslim women writers that I work on do not fit into these existing paradigms of scholarship. I, therefore, work at the intersection of Bangla sahityer itihas and early Bengali women’s writing to examine how canons are formed and how canonical exclusion operates.

Some of the questions that have dogged me for long are:

– Who is to say what is ‘good’ literature?
– Who is heard when they speak along these lines?
– Who are the gatekeepers of the Bengali literary sphere and how do they operate?

My work focuses on the specific case of colonial Bengal’s Muslim women writers to answer questions that are fundamental to the field of literary study in any language.

Shamsunnahar Mahmud

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain


My research relies on two key methodical aspects among others—archival research and translation. During the summer of 2017, I discovered the work of the Muslim women writers I have chosen to focus on in five libraries in and around Kolkata. More work by such women writers exist in libraries in Dhaka. However, these works are not yet catalogued under a label such as ‘colonial Bengali Muslim women’s writing.’ So my work in the archives will help to carve out such a category and will create a repository of works fitting such a description. The work of future researchers can further enrich this inaugural repository.

All my primary material is in Bengali. This consists of eight texts ranging between the length of 60 and 400 pages. I have translated all this material into English and will be publishing some of them soon. As a result, this material will be made available to a much larger reading public than such work has commanded ever before. Hopefully, English-language translations of these works will also generate more research interest in the field of Bengali Muslim women’s writing.

Literary canons are built through deliberate exclusion of the writing of people on the periphery. Canon-making is neither unconscious, nor neutral. The onus is on readers to recognize this, learn about the systems of representation and circulation that its biases and omissions indicate, and remedy it as best they can.
Feminists and representatives of religious, caste-based, racial and sexual minorities have, in the last few decades, called for revision of literary canons to include previously undiscovered, but prolific and insightful, writers. However, as a prerequisite to this task, it is necessary to map the exclusionary gestures through which such canons operate and to question whether it would be better to expand canons, revise them, or abjure the idea of canons altogether. My work will hopefully go some way in answering such questions.
As graduate research scholars of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, we study for a dually-badged PhD from IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich our research experience. The Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen academic relationships between the two countries.

Research scholar: Sreejata Paul, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Gender and public sphere

Supervisors: Dr Paulomi Chakraborty and Dr Mridula Nath Chakraborty

Contact details: sreejatapaul@gmail.com

The above story was written by Sreejata Paul. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.