Bang, boom, crrrassssh! The science of collisions

If you collide into Dhairya Vyas, he will apologise, break into a smile, and then give you a lecture on why collisions are important!

“From a cricket pitch where a batsman hits a ball, to a construction site where rocks are crushed,” says this mild-mannered research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, “contacts and collisions are present everywhere in our daily lives. Some occur at high speeds like a bullet hitting a target; others are slower like the dropping of a mobile phone.”

No prizes for guessing that Dhairya analyses collisions and his research project is titled, ‘Modeling Frictional Collisions with SPH’.

In industries, collisions between granular bodies are used in applications like shot peening, milling, crushing, and mixing. Since it is difficult and often expensive to use experimental techniques to analyse such applications, numerical methods like the Discrete Element Method (DEM) are used instead, reveals Dhairya.

“DEM can model frictional collisions between the interacting objects and has proven to be useful in analysing the bulk flow behaviour of granular systems. However, while analysing the flow of granules, we also need to identify how the interacting bodies deform and break, and this is not easily possible using DEM, especially in more intricate applications involving complex geometries,” he adds. “So numerical methods which can accurately model both — frictional interactions and deformation and breakage — need to be identified. One such method is Smooth Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH), which has been widely used to analyse high velocity collisions like ballistic impacts. However, it lacks accurate friction models and hasn’t been tested for analysing low velocity impacts. Therefore, in this project, we incorporate accurate friction models in SPH and test its performance in modeling low velocity collisions.”

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 Dhairya study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

What got Dhairya interested in this subject?

“Computational modeling, the process of how we transform real-world occurrences like water flowing in a river or a meteorite hitting the Earth’s surface in the form of equations and numbers, has always fascinated me. What is even more interesting is that since we were initially unable to solve most such equations, we developed computers, which further transforms these numbers and equations into 1s and 0s and solves them for us. This fascination and curiosity is why I find my research exciting.”

Why should this project matter?

We hope to provide a powerful predictive tool for engineers who design equipment that is used to handle granular material. Through the help of computer simulations, they will be able to compare the durability and performance of different designs and select the most suitable ones. This will not only minimise the cost of designing (by minimising experimental tests) but also will lead to the development of durable and efficient components. This will eventually reduce the price of the finished product, says Dhairya.

An SPH render of a granule rebounding from a substrate. The goal of the project is to ensure that the rebound kinematics and the deformation of the interacting bodies is accurately modelled.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, “The handling of particulate materials in industry often involves equipment subject to highly abrasive conditions leading to progressive wear of the equipment and reduced process efficiencies. Despite the significant costs of wear and erosion, there has been little work done in its numerical simulation. This project will help shed light on this relatively unexplored area.”

Yes, there is lots to learn from researchers like Dhairya Vyas. We hope you collide into him soon!

Research scholar: Dhairya Vyas, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Modeling Frictional Collisions with SPH

Supported by: Data61, CSIRO

Supervisors: Prof. Devang Khakhar, Prof. Murray Rudman, Dr. Sharen Cummins, Dr. Gary Delaney,

Contact details:

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

Future looks bright for organic solar cells

The growing demand for energy along with its limited supply from fossil fuels, is a global concern. This has led to a tremendous increase in research in various energy disciplines.

Presently, crystalline Si (silicon) dominates the market for solar cells with an efficiency of 26%. However, due to the energy-intensive fabrication process, the panels lead to higher energy payback time. Therefore, to keep up with the growing energy demand along with comparatively lower energy payback time, organic solar cells which are flexible and easy to process are gaining popularity for a different range of applications.

With the deployment of organic light emitting diode (OLED) in televisions and phones, the future of organic solar cells appears bright. This field is interesting as organic materials and solar energy are both abundant and can be used for various direct applications. However, the commercialization of organic solar cells involves the challenge of film uniformity at a large scale so that they can be printed from roll to roll. My research work involves understanding of bulk heterojunction morphology for different polymer and small molecules, and at different processing conditions to understand its effect on the performance of the device using various structural and spectroscopic characterizations at a nanoscale level.

Organic solar cells are devices that produce electricity when photons are absorbed by the active layer, which is formed by polymers and small molecules. On mixing a p-type semiconductor (donor) with an n-type semiconductor (acceptor), a bulk heterojunction morphology is formed which opens a wide area to synthesize materials that can absorb the maximum solar spectrum. With the development of novel non-fullerene acceptors, organic solar cells have reached a maximum efficiency of 17.6% by covering a more substantial part of solar spectrum. The organic solar cell can be used for application in low power requirement devices such as flexible screen chargers, electronic clothing, and transparent window films on office buildings. One of the commercially available OSC is HeLi-on solar panel by Infinity PV which is a flexible solar panel with a battery to charge electrical gadgets.

Figure 1. Schematic of organic solar cell device along with different characterizations of active layer morphology

To increase the efficiency of organic solar cells, it is important to choose the absorber material wisely, so that it can form an optimum morphology of the bulk heterojunction for efficient charge generation, separation and collection. As the active layer of these organic solar cells are either amorphous or semi-crystalline in nature, it is imperative to study the film morphology using various microscopic techniques to improve the efficiency.

The outcome of my work about bulk heterojunction morphology can directly be helpful for chemists who design new materials to improve the efficiency of OSCs, and industries that want to process roll to roll printable solar cells. The more significant impact of the work will be to benefit the community by helping to fulfill the energy demands and making life comfortable a few years down the line. Another example of OSC application includes building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV), where solar panels can be installed on the roof, walls and even on windows and these are feasible due to transparent and flexible properties of OSCs. A prototype model HeliaSol, which are flexible solar films developed by Heliatek is already installed on the façade of a warehouse in Germany which is expected to generate 6.7 kWh electricity per year.

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

As stated by Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the Academy, “The Academy represents an extremely important collaboration between Australia and India. Established in 2008, it is now a strong presence in the context of India-Australia scientific collaborations. Urvashi’s work involves studying the effect of solvent additive on the morphology of a polymer and fullerene blend, and correlation of different morphology with charge separation and charge transport. It can be a step towards the commercialization of OSCs which will be very helpful to the community in future. We wish her all success.”

Research scholar: Urvashi Bothra, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Title: Micro-structural and micro-spectroscopic investigation of bulk heterojunction organic solar cells

Contact Details:

Supervisors: Prof. Dinesh Kabra, Prof. Christopher R. McNeill

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

A continuous way to improve chemical manufacturing!

I first walked into a chemistry laboratory in Grade 8, and instantly fell in love with the Round Bottom Flask (RBF) and the varied smells, colours, and textures emerging from it. No matter what you put into the flask you would invariably get a new product each time you placed it on a Bunsen flame. This was pure magic!

Over time, I realized that this ‘multi-talented’ RBF was not that great after all. When extrapolated into a vessel of a larger size – say an Industrial Tank Reactor – the RBF transformed into a dangerous weapon!

Why? When you put a large amount of reagents A and B in a tank reactor, plenty of heat is generated with very cramped space for dissipation. This invariably leads to an explosion. One way to prevent this is to slow down the reaction by adding a large amount of solvent(s). However, this could lead to two problems — decreased yield and excess effluent generation. What is needed is a balance between speed and control, and this is where I am hoping to make a difference.

The IITB-Monash Research Academy, where I have enrolled for a PhD, 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 Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

My project is an earnest attempt to make the current industrial chemical manufacturing better — using a combination of Continuous Flow Chemistry and Heterogeneous Catalysis.

In flow chemistry, a reaction is performed by pumping in the reactive starting materials through tubes or coils as seen in Figure (1) instead of a flask.

Figure (1): A representation of a typical reaction performed through Continuous Flow

In conventional RBFs and industrial tank reactors, the volume that could be held at a time is constant and repeated different batches of reactions are needed to produce a large yield. On the contrary, a reaction could be performed continuously through flow — the process does not stop as long as the starting reagents are pumped in. This not only enables on-demand production but also reduces batch-to-batch variability. Depending on the number of reactions needed to attain the final product, multiple steps could be conveniently performed by simply tailoring the number, nature, type and dimensions of the reactor coils involved. This not only makes the overall process quicker and safer, but also improves the yield, with added advantages like the ability to characterize the reaction progress in-line or during the flow of the reagents and the ability to automate the entire series of reactions no matter how large the process.

To cut a long story short, a reaction that would take 24 hours in a conventional round-bottom reactor in a lab-scale, could be completed within less than 30 minutes in a continuous flow reactor; that too in a safe, efficient and continuous (scalable) fashion.

So how does Heterogeneous catalysis help? This is a type of catalysis where the phase of the catalyst differs from the phase of the reactants or products. In contrast, during homogeneous catalysis, the reactants, products and catalyst exist in the same phase. Heterogeneous catalysis offers many advantages. A reaction that has been uncatalyzed will take hours or even days more to get completed than its catalysed counterpart. So, we see that both these methods are excellent in their own individual ways for making a process faster, easier and more feasible. Imagine what the result would be if the two could be combined?

My project focusses on the concept of process intensification through continuous flow. In simplified terms — a way to make reactions easier, safer and more efficient for both humans and nature.

How well a heterogeneous catalyst can function in a reaction depends on various factors, of which the two most important are morphology (structural shape or size of a material) and yield. It is in these areas that Continuous Flow Chemistry can be employed to simultaneously achieve both – speed on synthesis and control on the process — without the use of any highly technical resources or equipment.

In order to demonstrate this, we synthesized two materials through continuous flow; the morphology of which is depicted in Figure (2). It yielded results which were not just comparable in morphology and quicker (involving less than or equal to half the amount of time needed through the traditional batch techniques), but were scalable as well. For instance, KCC-1 could be produced within 0.5-1 hour through continuous flow when the traditional batch techniques needed 1-4 hours; and PANI, within 5 minutes and a throughput of 17-30 g/h through continuous flow as compared to 24 hours with a maximum throughput of only 3 g/h. These studies prove how continuous flow synthesis can provide a controlled and scalable solution for synthesizing crucial catalytic materials.

Further, polymeric emulsion foams, called PolyHIPEs or PHPs, have been synthesized (morphology included in Figure (2) as well) through conventional batch techniques and can be employed in the demonstration of reaction efficiency in scalable high-throughput dynamically stirred continuous flow reactors, in various industrially important processes like Suzuki coupling, which form the synthetic base of a plethora of pharmaceutical molecules and commercially important products.

Figure (2): The heterogeneous catalyst supports synthesized (1) Fibrous Silica nanospheres KCC-1, and (2) Conjugated Polymeric Nanofibers PANI through; and (3) Macroporous Polymeric Emulsion Foams (PHPs) for Continuous Flow Chemistry

Now if I get a chance to go back to school, I will definitely take my Grade 8 chemistry teacher out to lunch!

Research scholar: Karuna Veeramani, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Design, Synthesis and Applications of Heterogeneous Catalysts for Continuous Flow Chemistry

Supervisors: Prof Anil Kumar (IIT Bombay), Prof Neil Cameron (Monash University)

Contact details:;

This story was written by Karuna Veeramani.

Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.


Using mathematics to weed out pesky tumours

The first stage of a typical tumour’s growth is called the avascular stage. At this point it possesses no blood vessels, and absorbs the nutrients needed for its growth from the inter-cellular fluid.

Gopikrishnan C R, a research scholar at the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is working on a project that does the modelling, numerical simulation and mathematical analysis of this stage of tumour growth. He is hopeful that his research will one day be able to save lives!

The project stands on three pillars: modelling of tumour growth in different circumstances, numerical simulations of the models, and mathematical analysis of the numerical methods employed to simulate the models.

Says Gopikrishnan, “What got me most interested in this project is that it links two mathematical communities, those who focus on the modelling part and those who do the analytical work. Both look at the same problem and understand the dynamics of tumour growth theoretically, using two different perspectives. The modelling community focuses on ‘how’, while the analysis community tackles ‘why’, and both are equally important.”

So how has his research progressed this far? “We have devised a method which addresses the moving boundary problem in tumour growth models. We have theoretically proved and illustrated the reliability and cost-effectiveness of the method. So, we now have a generic framework by which we can address tumour growth problems. This method has significant theoretical advantages as well. It helps answer deeper questions like whether the problem has a solution, and, if yes, whether our computer simulations correctly approximate the solution.”

But Gopikrishnan has no plans to stop here.

“Since we have developed a generic framework for basic tumour growth problems, we are now in a position to add complexities to the model. We can study the effect of an external cancer drug or about the depletion of nutrients or about developing blood vessels and how they pass on to the stage of malignancy. In a laboratory, testing all this takes many weeks and are costly in terms of money. But it can be reduced to hours if not minutes if we use using modelling and computer simulations.

“Basically, we observe the starting stage of a growing tumour and compare it with mathematically well-observed natural phenomena. A tumour is like a bunch of cells embedded in the intercellular fluid. In turn, the cells too behave like a fluid which is viscous than the intercellular fluid owing to its rough cell membrane. So a tumour can be imagined as mixture of two fluids, a viscous one and an inviscous one (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Tumour cells and intercellular fluid     Figure 2: Exchange of material between cells and fluid

“A lot of research has been conducted in physics and mathematics on the theory of mixtures. Therefore, we model a tumour as a mixture of two fluids interacting with each other. The next question is: what are the important interactions? When the cells die its organelles disintegrate and become a part of the fluid and cells absorb fluid to divide and grow. In summary, cells and intercellular fluid constantly exchange matter with each other. This leads to a model based on mass conservation laws, which we numerically solve, study the solutions minutely, and then develop ways to improve the model.”

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 Gopikrishnan 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, IITB-Monash Research Academy, says, “We wish Gopikrishnan the very best. India loses approximately 700,000 lives every year to cancer. What could be better than saving some of these!”

Research scholar: Gopikrishnan C R, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Numerical methods for free boundary problems in three dimensions with applications in biology

Supervisors:  A/Prof Jerome Droniou, Dr Jennifer Flegg, and Prof Neela Nataraj

Contact details:

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

Visualisation for communication

“Will it rain today?”
“How long do I have to wait for my bus?”
“Is the road from the bus stop to my home well lit?”

We are increasingly exposed to sensing and prediction in our daily lives. Uncertainty is both inherent to these systems and usually poorly communicated. To design data presentations that non-experts can understand and take decisions on, we must study how users interpret their data and what goals they have for it. This informs the way that we should communicate results from our models, and visualise qualitative features of the data, which in turn determines what models we must use in the first place.

Visualisation is the actual process of mapping the data to visuals for easy communication. The viewer’s interpretation of a visual is the final stage of visualisation, after which the viewer may decide how to consume the visualisation.

Most viewers consume the visualisation with either of the following two goals in mind:
– gaining new insight into the data represented in the visual, or
– gaining a better understanding of the real phenomena itself.

Often a trial-and-error approach leads to finding the most expressive and effective (graphically articulate) visualisation. Yes, the trial-and-error design process involves developing the visualisation in accordance with the already established theory and principles and user study with an iterative design process where the actual user is kept in the loop.

However, the value of a visual for the purpose of a particular interpretation is not obvious to the viewer before its use for interpretation. The same visual might bring about new insights to one user, but not to another; the same visual might be effective for one problem, but not for another; the same animation might be adequate to understand a problem on one type of hardware, but not on another.

In order to generate the most meaningful visualisation for a specific instance, a careful mapping process from “data to visuals” is necessary. And it will vary a great deal depending upon the preconceived knowledge of the users, their mental models, and the design of the visualisation, among other factors.
The “user model” describes the collective information the system has of a particular user.

A visualisation is subjectively interpreted by the viewer in dependency of past experiences, education, gender, culture, situation, and individual limitations, abilities, and requirements. For instance, colour-deficient viewers are limited in interpreting colour pictures; a person with deficient fine motor skills will have problems accurately pointing at small objects on the screen. In order to create a user model, the system needs to learn facts about the user. Most of these facts can be extracted from observing the user perform special tasks.

A complete user model evolves in several stages, whereby each style of user modelling is being used. Typically, the extraction of information starts with explicit modelling to inquire about gender, age, or education. Subsequently, the user has to complete special tasks that reveal the limitations of his/her vision and/or preferences. By continuously observing the user in his/her use of the visualisation system, the user model can be improved over time. Significant information of the user model is expected from the completion of special tasks.

Visualisation of 8495 railway stations in India

Mobile app prototype to communicate uncertainty in the public transport’s real-time and timetable information to commuters in Melbourne














I work on a research project titled, ‘Deep User Models for Visual Analytics’. With an aim to understand how to communicate the uncertainty to non-experts who have no technical background and also at the same time maintaining the relevance of the project for domain experts we built our first study around the public transport in Melbourne, Australia. Through this project, we are trying to understand the Perception of Visual Uncertainty Representation by Non-Experts. The motivation is that understanding and communicating uncertainty and sensitivity information is difficult; uncertainty is part of everyday life for any type of decision-making process, and some of the previous studies done are unclear and could be improved.

The question we tried to answer is: Can we build visualisations of uncertainty distributions (specifically, public transport arrival times) that people understand? More specifically, our study investigated whether a particular visualisation of uncertainty information in predicting the arrival time of one bus and the departure of another could be used to help people make a transfer, but will involve a more complex visualisation.

We are looking at how to tune models to people’s error preferences in a simple, lightweight way. It is not enough to add an effective visualisation on the existing models. Even an effective representation of uncertainty, in this case, might not be optimal if the model is not tuned to reflect people’s error preferences. Given known costs for each type of error, cost-sensitive classification can be employed to fit a model that makes predictions that reflect error preferences.

Our first study related to designing a transit mobile application for public transport in Melbourne, tries to help commuters make transfers among various modes (bus, train, and tram) by making use of visualisation to communicate the associated uncertainty in arrival and departure times. The findings from this study will help design user facing applications can leverage the power of visualisation to communicate uncertainty information to non-experts.

Our planned second study, will try to build user models in an attempt to understand how non-experts and experts perceive visualisations in their daily life. The findings from this study will help us come up with guidelines for designing visualisations that people can understand and then take effective decisions.

We, graduate research scholars of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, 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 relationships between the two countries. According to its CEO, Prof Murali Sastry, “The IITB-Monash Research Academy was conceived as a unique model for how two leading, globally focused academic organisations can come together in the spirit of collaboration to deliver solutions and outcomes to grand challenge research questions facing industry and society.”

He is right! Visualisations are often targeted for experts in a domain. I have always been fascinated by how a good visualisation design can help us understand the underlined information, trigger an emotion, and guide us in taking an informed decision. This project offered me a chance to develop a deep understanding of how visualisations are perceived by the people. This will guide the designer leverage the power of visualisations to communicate complex phenomena to people.

Research scholar: Amit Jena, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Deep User Models for Visual Analytics

Supervisors: Prof. Venkatesh Rajamanickam, Prof. Tim Dwyer, Dr. Ulrich Engelke, Dr. Cecile Paris

Industry Supervisors: Dr. Ulrich Engelke and Dr. Cecile Paris, Data61 CSIRO

Contact details:

The above story was written by Amit Jena. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.


Demand for Cash: An Econometric Study for India

Why do we use cash? This project assesses the factors affecting the persistent demand for currency (banknotes) in India. Past work in this domain has looked at factors such as interest rates set by the central bank, price levels, and growth of newer ways to make payments.

However, in the Indian context, policies such as demonetization were motivated by the use of cash in the ‘shadow’ economy, as well as counterfeit currency. We wish to examine whether this rationale is backed adequately by data; i.e. whether use of cash in India is indeed associated with payments and transactions outside the formal economy. To establish this, we need both an overall understanding of currency demand (using macroeconomic or economy-wide data) as well as individual-level data (i.e. how people like you and I use cash in our daily lives).

Currency to GDP ratio across countries. Source Rogoff (2016)

Economic theory suggests that people hold cash for two primary reasons: to complete payments for goods and services (transactions), and to store them for future use (store of value). The demand for cash has been traditionally studied using empirical models that make use of time-series data at the level of the entire economy, rather than at the level of the individual or household. The most common econometric model accounts for long-term changes in currency associated with economic factors, and specifically proposes how strong the relationships between these factors might be using statistical methods. More recently, central banks have collected data from individuals and merchants on their methods of payments as well as the cash that they store for contingency purposes.

With such data, recent studies study technological and financial factors such as distance to nearest automated teller machines (ATMs), banking density, and surcharges for credit or debit card payments on cash use can be accounted for. However, very little research of this kind has been done in developing economies, especially India. Although a few currency demand studies (Nachane et al., 2013; Bhattacharya and Joshi, 2001) look at these issues in the Indian context, there is no data for conducting a microeconomic analysis. The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) policies related to managing cash, are thus currently unable to take this into account. Thus, one of the major evidence gaps relates to understanding India-specific factors that could affect the demand for cash.

A study of currency demand in India offers several opportunities to look at economic, social, and behavioural factors specific to India that have been previously unexplored. Given that cash appears to have value to individuals beyond simple financial reasons (e.g. gifts for festive occasions are typically made out in cash), India is ripe for a study of cash demand beyond what we currently know. This area also offers a way to inform future currency management policies (e.g. demonetization, introduction of new banknotes), as well as policies on developing payment systems in India. For instance, richer economies such as Australia and Canada make use of “contactless” payment cards (no authentication via PIN required), whereas such technology is yet to catch up in India.

Finally, understanding the importance of the quality of a banknote (longevity, endurance to wear and tear such as writing, tearing, crumpling common in India) is often underplayed when discussing the demand for cash. Thus, the project offers a look at both sides of the cash story: supply and demand.

Why does this matter for India? Our project will be the first in a developing country context (especially India) to empirically assess the economy-wide as well as the individual-level demand for cash, and examine the supply side issues in enabling sustainable currency use in India. We expect to produce a first-of-its-kind public-use data on payment methods used by individuals in urban India, empowering policymakers and academics researchers alike to explore further the current state of payment mechanisms and cash usage in India. The RBI’s Vision 2018 for Payments was suggested in light of the demonetization policy and would be informed by findings from our microeconomic analysis. Thus, both key components of the project (demand and supply) will address emerging needs and policy trends of the Reserve Bank of India.

So far, we have some findings from analysis that aim at uncovering newer insights on currency demand in the Indian context. At both the national and individual level, we find that growth of debit and credit cards, and electronic means of payment affect the demand for cash in India. Cash remains the most preferred mode of payment, but it is less used when other ways to pay are accepted. Similar to other countries, preliminary analysis show that smaller-value banknotes (Rs. 10, Rs. 20) circulate for a smaller period of time compared to larger notes (e.g. Rs. 500).

More technically, our aggregate model of currency demand finds that high-value currency in circulation is inelastic to growth of alternate payment instruments. Informality in the economy is associated with greater currency demand. Our micro analysis suggests that contextual factors do not significantly affect cash held, but that the size and purpose of the transaction, whether merchants accepted non-cash alternatives, and perceptions of usefulness of cash all affected the preference for cash as a means of payment. There are also additional behavioural factors such as the justification of tax evasion and trust that could vary significantly with cash held or preference for cash payments.

We, graduate research scholars of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, 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 relationships between the two countries. According to its CEO, Prof Murali Sastry, “The IITB-Monash Research Academy was conceived as a unique model for how two leading, globally focussed academic organisations can come together in the spirit of collaboration to deliver solutions and outcomes to grand challenge research questions facing industry and society.”

He was bang on target. As an economist in training, my interest comes from understanding how people behave and react to changes in their environment. This project offered me a chance to examine something that is typically done using aggregate data and a “rational human” framework, but often has rich socio-cultural context (especially in India). It was also a challenge for me as I have previously only worked with microeconomic data and research problems.

Research scholar: Anirudh Tagat, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Demand for Cash: An Econometric Study for India

Supervisors: Prof Pushpa L Trivedi, Prof Greg Markowsky, and Prof Mehmet Özmen

Contact details:

The above story was written by Anirudh Tagat. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

(Additional data collection for this project was supported via a grant award by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), and the School of Mathematics, Monash University.)





Lining landfills to keep the environment healthy

Why do we need landfills?

“Not all waste can be recycled. Engineered landfills are an environmentally responsible way to dispose waste which is not recyclable,” explains Neeraja V. S., a researcher with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, who is working on a project titled, ‘Thermo-hydro-mechanical behavior of geosynthetic clay liners in landfill cover systems’.

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 Neeraja study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Unregulated landfill or waste dump, poses harm to environment

Waste containment facilities form part of critical infrastructure that provides essential community services. In most cases, these facilities are designed to ensure negligible long-term environmental and human health impact.

Says Neeraja, “To achieve these aims, barrier systems need to be constructed, which effectively separates the waste and the associated leachate and biogas from the groundwater system and the atmosphere, respectively. One conventional approach to barrier systems has been to construct a ‘resistive barrier’ composed of a capping liner that reduces water ingress into the landfill and controls biogas escape into the atmosphere, as well as base liner having a low saturated permeability which minimises leachate migration out of the landfill.”

“Over the past decade,” she adds, “geosynthetic clay liners (GCLs) have become one of the dominant construction materials in landfills and have gained widespread acceptance for use in capping systems. GCLs typically comprise a thin layer of bentonite sandwiched between two layers of geotextile with the components being held together by needle-punching or stitch bonding. Once on-site, the GCL is unrolled in strips (panels), the panels overlapped without mechanical welding and self-seal at the overlaps when the bentonite hydrates.”

Schematic diagram showing basic components of an engineered landfill; GCL is an important component in cover layer

Neeraja’s project involves assessing the thermo-hydro-mechanical behaviour of the GCLs in waste management applications. The GCLs in cover system need to be kept hydrated to act as barrier, but on the field they are subjected to wet-dry cycles due to atmospheric exposure, and this impairs their performance. She plans to examine the long-term performance of GCLs with polymer bentonite, when subjected to daily cycles of temperature variation. The effect of wet-dry cycles on GCLs with different types of polymer bentonite have been studied by a few researchers but their long-term performance has not been ascertained well.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the Academy, “The IITB-Monash Research Academy represents an extremely important collaboration between Australia and India. Established in 2008, the Academy now is a strong presence in the context of India-Australia scientific collaborations. In today’s scenario municipal solid waste management is an alarming issue in both countries, and engineered landfills are an inevitable part of the solution. Neeraja’s project targets an entirely new and emerging area where very limited research has been carried out. We wish her all success.”

Research scholar: Neeraja V. S., IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Thermo-hydro-mechanical behavior of geosynthetic clay liners in landfill cover systems

Supervisors: Prof. B. V. S. Viswanadham, Prof. Abdelmalek Bouazza

Contact details:

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

Extracting high-quality protein from plant-based sources

With the world population slated to touch 10 billion by 2050, one of the main challenges we face is the production and supply of food. However, food security must be concordant with nutrition security. Of all the macro-nutrients, protein has garnered much attention over the last decade. The reliance on meat as the major source of protein is not sustainable in the future; it has become imperative that we look at sustainable, natural alternatives of protein; derived from plants.

The current methods of production of food proteins employ harsh chemicals like acids, and alkalis to extract protein from biomass. These affect not only the quality of the protein, but also damage the environment owing to toxic effluents. Moreover, there is a dearth of biomass and raw materials (with respect to plants), which can yield protein comparable to meat.

Figure 1: (A) represents the different cultivars of Peanuts across the world. Peanut kernels are crushed in oil mills to obtain oil, and the residue is known as Oil-Cake (B). Oil-Cakes are excellent sources of proteins.

The IITB-Monash Research Academy — where I have enrolled for a PhD project titled, ‘High-Quality Protein Extraction from Plant-based Sources’ — is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars in this Academy study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich our research experience. I am supported by Department of Biotechnology (DBT), India.

My research aims at the extraction and production of protein hydrolysates from peanut oilcakes. Meat production is slated to increase over the next two decades. Meat production is linked to increased production of greenhouse gases, increased water use, loss of habitat, and soil degradation. Massive use of antibiotics has also increased the threat of zoonoses (diseases which can be transmitted to humans from animals). Hence, it becomes important to identify new biomass sources, from which protein can be extracted in a sustainable manner. Peanut oil cake is one such biomass, which is found in abundance in India. It is also a rich source of protein. Similar types of biomass can be found across the world, for instance, Canola Oilcake in Australia.

One of the driving factors therefore is to objectively analyze the possibility of extracting high-quality proteins from under-utilized biomass such as oilcakes. The other motivation is to develop a bio-process technique, which is sustainable, economical, and does not damage the environment. These motives form the base of the current research.

I plan to use proteolytic enzymes (enzymes which can cut big protein molecules) to separate and extract the proteins from the oilcakes. The process yields high-quality protein (protein hydrolysates), having excellent functional properties, while leaving the carbohydrates behind. By virtue of being hydrolysates, they are more amenable to digestion and biosorption in humans. The process does not employ any harsh chemicals, thereby preserving the quality of the protein.

Figure 2: (A) is the powdered peanut oil-cake, which is treated with proteolytic enzymes. The raw material can be separated into three fractions (B), mainly lipid-rich fraction (C), Protein-rich fraction (D), and Insoluble carbohydrate-rich fraction(E). The Lipid fraction can be purified to obtain peanut oil(F). The GC profile of the oil (G) shows that it is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. The protein fraction is purified and freeze-dried to obtain final protein hydrolysate powder(H). (I) represents SEM image of protein hydrolysate

Protein plays a major role in all living cells. If a living cell can be compared to an automobile, then the carbohydrates are the fuel on which the cell thrives; the lipids become the reserve fuel; and the proteins encompass the core body of the cell.

The sustainable production of protein hydrolysates is of immense interest to the food and nutrition industries. Hydrolysates are protein molecules which are broken down into smaller peptides and display excellent functional properties. Based on the amino acid content, these hydrolysates can be incorporated into various food-based formulations (beverages, powders, biscuits, etc.). Hydrolysates which lack essential amino acids can be considered for non-nutritional purposes (adhesives, films, coatings, etc). The hydrolysates can also possess bioactivity (anti-diabetic, anti-oxidant), which makes them interesting candidates for the nutraceutical industries.

Figure 3: MALDI-TOF spectra for Protein Hydrolysates (A, and C), compared to native protein extracted via commercial techniques (B, and D). Lower molecular weight peptides are obtained in enzyme-treated samples, whereas they are absent in native protein (control). Higher molecular weight peptides are not obtained in enzyme-treated samples, whereas they are present in native protein (control).

One of the main advantages of using peanut oilcake is that the raw material is cheap, and easily available throughout the year. The other advantage is the presence of essential amino acids in the raw material.

In the current project, proteolytic enzymes have been used to extract proteins from peanut oilcakes. This work will be instrumental in developing a process for cheap and efficient production of protein hydrolysates from easily available biomass. The process is green, sustainable, and seeks to decrease the over-reliance on meat as the major source of protein. Apart from protein, the insoluble carbohydrates are a good source of dietary fibre. The oil in the oilcakes is easily separated and can be purified for further uses.

I feel that two of the greatest challenges we face are climate change and supply of nutritious food for the ever-growing population. Climate change must be tackled on multiple fronts and reducing the production of meat has often been cited as one of the solutions. However, the end consumer does not have equivalent alternatives to meat. I believe that this project will contribute towards tackling the issue.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, “Due to lack of quality protein in diets, malnutrition among children is a huge problem in developing nations. The work by researchers like Subramoni Hariharan can go a long way in improving millions of lives. We wish him all success.”

Research scholar: Subramoni Hariharan, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: High-Quality Protein Extraction from Plant-based Sources

Supported by: Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India

Supervisors: Prof. Amit Y Arora (IIT-B), Prof Antonio F Patti (Monash)

Contact details:

The above story was written by Subramoni Hariharan. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Big design interventions for small farmers

Small and marginal farmers, those with landholding smaller than 2 hectares, play an essential role in the Indian agrarian economy. Almost 50 % (about half a million) of the Indian population depends on agriculture for employment and livelihood. Small and marginal size farms form 86.21 % of total agricultural landholding, according to Agriculture Census Division 2018. Along with other issues like climate change, lack of resources, and awareness, these farmers are unable to afford modern farm machinery and tools, which affects their yields adversely. This inability to use modern solutions stems from lack of capital, rising labour cost, inflation, and scarcity of appropriate technology.

A design research methods approach has been used to investigate the problems these farmers face. It would be worthwhile to try and ameliorate the issues of small farmers by applying principles of industrial design and appropriate technology. This got me interested in the research project titled, ‘Design intervention in farm equipment for small Indian farmers’. As graduate research scholars of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, we study for a dual-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.

The research aims at designing and developing appropriate, affordable, context-specific solutions for small Indian farmers. Ideally, the tools developed from this research would help in improving yield while reducing long term costs and drudgery of agricultural labour. The framework developed to design these tools would also ideally help other researchers, designers and engineers to work more effectively in the farming domain. In the long run, the research also aims at improving the livelihood of small farming households while improving food security for the country.

India is known for its diversity. This diversity also reflects in the agricultural domain where the land condition, climate, crops, farming techniques and methods vary across the country. We started with formal research through what is present in the published literature. Initially, we decided to limit the scope of the study to rice farming and focus specifically on different stages and the tools used. We prepared a mind map and morphological representation of how rice farming activity is carried out through different stages. The enormous amount of data from various sources was represented visually in different layers. These overlays and the mind map made a strong reference point for further studies.

Next, we needed to confirm on the ground what we had studied in the literature and texts. So we decided to conduct a workshop at a Small scale farmers’ meet at Dharakwadi village where we used the mind map of tools used at different activities of rice farming. The workshop helped us in understanding farmers needs vis-a-vis currently available tools. We also visited Amale village in Thane district to understand and consolidate the needs and wants through observation and informal discussions with the farmers. These needs were then mapped as an overlay onto the mind map to understand the current state of tool usage and deficiencies in farm implements for small scale paddy farmers.

The question we now faced was, what would be the factors which need to be considered while creating and evaluating new sustainable, appropriate tools? To answer this question, we observed the tools used by the farmers along with the solutions that they come up with to derive possible parameters which can then be used in a framework to design farm implements.

Informal workshop with small scale paddy farmers and Mr Sanjay Patil of BAIF development research foundation

on these field visits and the workshop conducted previously, a tentative list of parameters was prepared and refined. We also mapped the standard set of activities required for farming after a study of activities involved in growing the top seven annually produced crops in India.conducted two more field visits at Jawahar and Naigaon villages of Maharashtra. We also explored factors affecting tool selection, studied solutions developed by farmers and possible directions of research in terms of tool design.

We then classified the parameters which evolved from these discussions and observations under various factors of human, technology, and environment by mapping them onto a Design Futures (DeF) framework developed by my IITB supervisor, Dr Sugandh Malhotra.
We also visited four villages (Kheda, Dharampuri, Rakhadia and Meghnagar) in Jhabua district, Madhya Pradesh. The objective of these visits was to understand the farming needs of small farmers in tribal areas of central India and study community-managed projects and holistic rural development initiatives.

In the next phase of the research, We hope to generate required product specifications from identified needs, which can then be used to design and develop a set of tools.

Traditional wooden plough used by small farmers in Amale village

Since I grew up in an urban suburb with minimal contact with agriculture, this project has been an eye-opening experience. I realised that we carry a lot of latent prejudices and biases when we envision life in rural India and their issues. The ingenuity of these rural small farmers in developing solutions for their needs despite the lack of resources and support has been a humbling experience. It will hopefully make me a better designer and researcher.

I also realised that women in rural areas contribute a lot to farm activities and perform back-breaking skilled labour while getting almost no recognition or support in terms of both policies and tools. Lack of education and awareness also hamper farmers, when it comes to making use of policies and schemes which would help them. This translates into a lack of marketing and technical skills, which puts them at a disadvantage when compared to medium or large scale farmers of the country. However, these farming communities seem much more welcoming and helpful when compared with my experiences in urban areas of the country.

As a privileged male in a patriarchal society, I have the advantage of having a voice and being heard, which can be used effectively to bring to light issues which are generally invisible to the majority of people who can bring about positive change.

I hope the effects of this research will not just be heard, but also change the lives of many for the better.

Research scholar: Sanket Pai, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Design intervention in farm equipment for small Indian farmers

Supervisors: Dr Sugandh Malhotra, Assoc. Prof. Selby Coxon and Dr Robbie Napper

Contact details:

 This story was written by Sanket Pai. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy

Using nanobubbles to strengthen our hearts

“As a child, I used to dream of being a doctor with a magical injection that would eliminate disease and save my patients. Years later, at the IITB-Monash Research Academy, I got an opportunity to work on a rapidly spreading medical threat—atherosclerosis—one of the leading causes of cardiovascular complications,” grins Sourabh Mehta, who is working on a research project titled, ‘Smart nanoparticles for detection of vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques and their therapeutic stabilization’.

Figure 1 Schematics of atherosclerotic plaque

Cardiovascular diseases claim approximately 30% of the world’s population every year. Atherosclerosis is a condition where low-density lipoproteins (Bad cholesterol), and other cellular components get deposited into the arterial wall and form a plaque. “This is like a time bomb developing in your artery wall,” says Sourabh. “After a while, the plaque becomes vulnerable and breaks, releasing clumps of cholesterol and cellular debris in the artery. This could eventually lead to a heart attack, which is why such plaque needs to be identified and stabilized urgently.”

Currently, there is no definite diagnosis to determine the stage of vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque. “This is what motivated me to take up a project that would develop a vulnerable-plaque-specific contrast agent for sonography. Additionally, I would like to develop a drug delivery vehicle that is industry-friendly, cost-effective, and will therapeutically stabilize the plaque,” says Sourabh.

Figure 2 in vitro characterized multimodal nanobubbles; A. Synthesized nanobubbles, B. Cryo-TEM image of nanobubbles; C. in vitro ultrasound image of nanobubbles, D. Schematic of portable ultrasound machine with ultrasound probe and display monitor, E. Schematic action of nanobubbles performing imaging and ultrasound triggered drug delivery.

“We have developed and characterized smart nanoparticles that act as ultrasound contrast agents. We refer to these nanoparticles as nanobubbles, as they contain gas in the core, just like bubbles. Using this platform, we are working on synthesis and characterization of next generation ultrasound-based multimodal contrast agents. These nanobubbles are functionalization-ready, and can thus be used for targeted multimodal contrast agents as well as image-guided drug delivery purposes at the desired diseased area to minimize side effects.”

Sourabh plans to perform pre-clinical studies of vulnerable plaque-targeted nanobubbles on atherosclerotic mice models soon. “If we succeed, this research will hopefully bridge the gap in vulnerable plaque diagnosis, and possibly set the platform for molecular-sonography-based multimodal diagnosis and therapeutic molecular delivery for treatment of other diseases like cancer and arthritis,” he adds.

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 Sourabh study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience. Sourabh is supported by Department of Biotechnology (DBT), India.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the Academy, “Commercialization of multimodal imaging agents or therapeutic microbubbles is the next big step in the field of diagnostic imaging. We hope that Sourabh will one day be able to realise his childhood dream and present cardiologists the option of using a multifunctional nanobubble injection to strengthen our hearts.”


Research scholar: Sourabh Mehta, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Smart nanoparticles for detection of vulnerable Atherosclerotic plaques and their therapeutic stabilization
Supported by: Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India
Supervisors: Prof. Rinti Banerjee, Prof. Karlheinz Peter, Prof. Alex Bobik
Contact details:

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