Designing and developing a self-piloted airship

A rendered image of an airship under development

Airships, which are typically aircraft that float because they are inflated with gas lighter than air, are slower than airplanes but more efficient with regard to energy consumption. They have many uses, but being extremely light, are difficult to control. This is what motivated Sohan Suvarna, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, to work on a project titled, ‘Design and Development of Autonomous Airships’.

“The biggest challenge that airship operators face is the effect of crosswinds,” reveals Sohan. “These big balloons are literally at the mercy of winds. This is why they are not as popular as airplanes, in spite of being cost-effective. Several researchers have been working on developing effective control laws for these vehicles. My goal is to develop an airship with excellent lateral stability.”

For over half a century after World War II, airships were used mainly for sightseeing or advertising. Now, the uses range from surveillance—particularly in archaeological, ecological, agricultural and livestock studies—to weather forecasting, pollution control, and even as network/ Wifi routers.

While airplanes use most of their power in the generation of lift, an airship relies mainly on aerostatics for lift generation. It uses most of its power in manoeuvring and counteracting crosswinds.

Sohan’s research is multidisciplinary—requiring the amalgamation of design, simulation and implementation. The potential research outcomes are many:

• Design and fabrication of an airship capable of effective control. (One of the airships that Sohan has built can be viewed here:

• Development of a high fidelity versatile flight dynamics model to anticipate the flight of the airship in real time. This is like predicting how the airship would behave, given ambient conditions
• Development of a control law that could guide the airship, and
• Implementation of the developed control law and navigation algorithm into an actual airship

Sohan Suvarna’s research flight plan

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 Sohan 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, “The applications of an autonomous airship are limited only by imagination. Since unmanned aerial vehicles do not require a pilot onboard, their endurance is not restricted by the physiological capabilities of the pilot. Besides, in an age of diminishing energy sources and fuel-hungry jets, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look for energy-efficient transportation.”

Sohan, incidentally, is also passionate about stargazing. For this researcher, the sky is clearly not the limit!

Sohan Suvarna
Research scholar: Sohan Suvarna, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Design and Development of Autonomous Airships
Supervisors: Prof. Rajkumar Pant, Prof. Arpita Sinha, Prof. Hoam Chung
Contact details:

Making mobile data downloads swifter

Figure 1. Caching of content at the edge (Base stations, Access points, etc.) of a heterogeneous cellular network

We’re hoping that Lalhruaizela Chhangte completes his research quickly, for his work promises to make mobile data downloads swifter and more efficient!

“Global mobile data traffic is expected to increase nearly eightfold between 2015 and 2020; unfortunately this means network congestion will increase too. One way to effectively reduce congestion in the backhaul links of today’s IP networks is caching videos and non-voice traffic closer to mobile and wireless devices,” says this research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy. “That’s what motivated me to work on my project: A Software-Defined Testbed For Real Time Network Simulation.”


Video is the major component of IP traffic over mobile and wireless networks. Already, it constitutes more than half the mobile and wireless data traffic. Unlike voice traffic, though, video is more predictable and delay-tolerant.

“The popularity of videos can be estimated by tracking user activity, and this can be used to identify the contents in demand,” says Lalhruaizela. “Wireless technology has dominated access networks with WiFi Access Points (APs) at the last hop. More than a billion APs were shipped in the last decade and this number is expected to increase. The latest WiFi APs either come equipped with storage capacity or have the option to add it on. This makes them capable of storing considerable amount of contents. With storage becoming cheaper and WiFi APs present abundantly in homes and workplaces, a natural proposition would be to use these devices to cache contents and serve users’ requests locally from the access point’s caches. This should help reduce the frequency of fetching contents from remote content servers, and thus mitigate congestion in the backhaul links,” he smiles. Backhaul refers to intermediate links between the core network and smaller subnetworks.

Figure 2. High level design of the SDN based caching system using APs

Lalhruaizela is working on the design and implementation of a distributed content caching system in WLAN which uses storage in low-cost wireless APs to cache and deliver contents to mobile clients. “Technically speaking,” he says, “we have designed and implemented a software defined networking (SDN) based distributed caching system over wireless APs, which minimises the need to fetch content from remote content servers. It also addresses two major WLAN challenges during content delivery—client mobility and load balancing on WiFi APs.”

Figure 3. Flow of control and data in the system as a user requests a content

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

The applications for this work are many.

Service providers that have deployed thousands of wireless access points in public places such as coffee shops, shopping malls, airports, train stations, and sports stadiums can use the idea proposed to cache contents (videos, music etc.) which are in high demand in the APs to provide faster and seamless content downloads to users.

Also, educational institutions, which deploy hundreds of wireless access points in campus buildings and hostels will hopefully be able to cache content that is frequently accessed or downloaded in the APs. This will reduce the data consumption from third party Internet service providers, and also utilise the existing storage capabilities of the wireless APs.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, “Due to the huge data explosion over the Internet, and the ever-increasing demand for data from users, efficient and reliable caching has become vital. At the Academy, we will certainly track Lalhruaizela’s progress closely.”

We suggest you do too!

Research scholar: Lalhruaizela Chhangte , IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: A software-defined testbed for real time network simulation

Supervisors: Prof. Nikhil Karamchandani, Prof. D Manjunath, Prof. Emanuele Viterbo

Contact details:

This story was written by Antara Dasgupta. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy

Preventing flood hazards from becoming horrific disasters

Figure 1. Bridges were ravaged by the raging river, as the Chaurabari glacial lake burst on the June 16, 2013. If an efficient flood forecasting system had existed, the fatalities could have been minimized by timely evacuation. Source:

I was a Master’s student, studying environmental science in Dehradun, when the horrific flash floods of 2013 wiped out entire villages in the state of Uttarakhand (north India). We were locked into our hostels, which didn’t have access to food for a few days, while water in the drain-sized channel behind our university gushed on like a full-blown river. We woke up to watch the news every morning, thinly veiled fear on our faces, silently praying for the relentless rain to stop. Three days later, when it was all over, my friends and I volunteered to help the survivors, who were fast pouring into Doon from all the hill stations. The memory of the dead, and the missing whom we could not possibly help, haunts me still.

I knew then that the technology to prevent such disasters exists, where we are lacking is really in their on-ground application. They say hindsight is always 20/20 and one might have hoped that the Uttarakhand tragedy taught us something about increasing our flood resilience. Unfortunately, all evidence is currently poised against that hypothesis. My goal, therefore, is to effect change in the way we plan our forecasting systems, design effective inter-organization communications strategies, and use every piece of data we have to ensure that flood hazards don’t turn into horrific disasters.

The IITB-Monash Research Academy — where I have enrolled for a PhD project titled, ‘Towards a Comprehensive Data Assimilation Framework for Operational Hydrodynamic Flood Forecasting’ — is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars here study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich our research experience.

For decades researchers and planners have relied on mathematical models to provide actionable flood forecasts, which are nothing but approximations of the real world flow processes expressed as equations. These models were previously trained on historical flow data collected using river gauges and validated using the same, usually at the channel outlet. However, the global decline in gauge networks in addition to the changing nature of the flow characteristics due to climate change, have rendered the use of such approaches insufficient. Moreover, gauge validation approaches for the channel seldom analyze the performance of the model in the floodplain, which is counterintuitive, as that’s where we need timely forecasts and warnings.

Although gauge networks are getting sparser, alternative data sources like earth observation and citizen sensing observations from social media are rapidly becoming ubiquitous. Big data is already driving everything from football strategies to elections. It’s time to unleash the full potential of such datasets for humanitarian causes such as disaster management. The advent of satellite technology revolutionized the flood mapping process by providing synoptic observations of flood extent in near real time. What was unexpected was its phenomenal potential for flood forecasting applications.

In the last decade, several studies used satellite-derived flood depths to train flood models and further to improve their predictive skill. These studies primarily relied on an indirect estimation of flood water levels by intersecting the flood boundary with floodplain topography. Extracting these water levels requires making several simplistic assumptions which adds significant uncertainty to the model domain. The direct integration of satellite-derived flood extents into flood models, however, could potentially help to avoid adding this uncertainty, as the inundated area is directly observable through satellites. Further, we compensate for the lack of flood depth information from satellites, by integrating crowd-sourced water level observations. By minimizing the number of additional assumptions about the data, we hope to reduce the forecast uncertainty further.

In the course of our work, we are hoping that more accurate flood maps with corresponding estimates of uncertainty can provide flood managers and first responders with useful tools for efficient mitigation efforts, which will benefit millions of people residing in floodplains. Further, they can be useful to substantiate insurance claims and help define premium amounts for risk insurance.

Figure 2. An advanced mathematical tool called data assimilation is used to integrate flood information from physical models, satellite data, and social media to arrive at better flood forecasts.

We use a combination of satellite data and crowd-sourcing to improve model forecasting skills which could potentially mean the difference between life and death for people living in low-lying flood prone areas. Studies integrating remotely sensed flood depths with models, have reported an increase in accuracy for forecasts made more than 10 days in advance, which could positively impact disaster preparedness. In addition to improving the forecasts, we have also worked on improving the flood mapping process from satellite data, where our approach reduced the errors by more than half in some regions! We introduced a novel fuzzy flood mapping technology, which doesn’t require any ground data for the mapping, can be easily automated, and provides the desired level of confidence in the flood mapping at each pixel.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, “In a world where climate change and population growth have already exposed over 2.8 billion people to flooding between 1995 and 2015, it’s baffling that we don’t have more people using the power of data for the greater good. Science is only as useful as the people it benefits, and the scientific community should work towards making research actionable for end-users. The work by researchers like Antara Dasgupta can go a long way in saving millions of lives. We wish her all success.”

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:

This story was written by Antara Dasgupta. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy

Detecting gas leaks using 2D sensors

Figure 1. If gas leaks are not contained in time, they can have lethal effects

Gases are generally colourless and odourless, making it extremely difficult to detect leaks. Tiny gas leaks can quickly build up into explosive concentrations — which can cause considerable damage.

Potential hazard zones are coalmines, dumping grounds, petroleum refineries, and even dairies — which emit toxic and explosive gases like methane, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc.

India’s worst mining disaster occurred in Dhanbad in 1965, where over 250 miners died. Besides, big cities like Mumbai regularly report fire incidents at landfills like the Deonar dumping ground, due to methane gas leaks. Various technologies are available to detect gas leaks, but they all have limitations. This is what motivated Uzma Memon a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, to work on a project titled, ‘2D system for greenhouse gas sensing’.

“The existing technologies for gas sensing can be divided into chemical, calorimetric, gas chromatograph, acoustic methods, and optical,” explains Uzma.
“Chemical gas sensing technology however, has a limitation of saturation and requires a working temperature of 150oC to 500oC, which can be fatal in the case of explosive gases like methane. Besides, chemical sensors are not immune to harsh environmental conditions.
“Optical sensors have far more advantages — high sensitivity, selectivity, and stability with longer life and relatively short response time. For instance, infrared-based IR detectors, which offer high accuracy and safety, but are extremely expensive and have an added disadvantage of needing to be in the line of sight.

“I am therefore working on another type of optical detector—the Terahertz-based gas sensor—which is a relatively new but promising technology as it has been known to report sensitivity in amounts as minuscule as parts per billion (ppb).”

As part of her research, Uzma is attempting to develop a resonator tuned to terahertz frequency which, when subjected to a gas environment, will indicate a change in terahertz response spectra. “My biggest challenge,” she says, “is real-time monitoring and tracking of the gases and predicting their outbreak, by simulating a 2D thin film resonator for Terahertz frequency.”

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 Uzma 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 Academy, “Today’s research challenges require a strongly multi-disciplinary approach. The way in which the Academy has been set up makes it very possible for such multi-disciplinary investigations to be carried out. This gives me immense hope that the Academy will create significant science, societal and industry impact in the future. Uzma’s work in fabricating and testing a 2D film resonator optimized at terahertz frequency to detect gas has the potential to save lives—what can be more gratifying than that!”

Research scholar: Uzma Memon , IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: 2D system for greenhouse gas sensing

Supervisors: Prof S P Duttaguptta , Prof A Sarkar, Prof Raman Singh

Contact details:

This 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.

Reducing radiation risk in tomography

Illustration of the tomography process for an object. For clarity, this image shows one direction: rays are being sent from top to bottom. In reality, multiple directions are employed.

Tomography is a non-invasive technique to view the internal structure of an object, by irradiating it with powerful electromagnetic rays. In comparison to the more common 2D X-ray imaging for, say, fractures, tomography involves rays sent from multiple directions. This technique finds applications in fields as varied as medicine (for diagnosis), manufacturing (to detect cracks in products), material science (to study the interaction of materials over time), and geophysics (to identify fossil fuels in the earth’s crust), among various other disciplines.

The amount of X-rays absorbed by the object depends on the material properties of the object. Rays that aren’t absorbed are then measured after propagating through the object. The process of recovering the 3D structure of the entire object from these measurements is referred to as ‘reconstruction’. The quality of reconstruction depends on the number of measurements acquired. The more the measurements, the more accurate the reconstructed volume representative of the true internal structure of the object.

However, acquiring a large number of measurements for, say, a patient, implies exposure to higher levels of the X-ray radiation, which is harmful in the long run. It can also be expensive, and may require the patient to be immobile. In order to overcome these shortcomings, current research aims to build algorithms that help reconstruct the 3D object volume reasonably well with very few measurements.

The classical Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem asserts the need to sample data at a uniform rate of at least twice the highest frequency contained in the data. For long, this remained the guideline for computing the minimum number of measurements needed. In 2006, a new theory, ‘Compressive Sensing’, emerged. This guaranteed robust reconstruction with measurements far fewer than the Nyquist rate. Compressive Sensing exploits the fact that most naturally occurring data are usually sparse under mathematical transforms such as the Discrete Cosine Transform, wavelets, or some other unique basis. Over the last decade, the focus has been on improving the efficiency of reconstruction by using domain knowledge of the data together with Compressive Sensing routines.

It is in this context that my research fits in. It aims to drastically reduce the number of needed measurements using two ideas:

  • suitable pre-processing

  • use of prior information of the family of objects scanned, perhaps over time

Specifically, the problems I deal with include: optimal grouping of 2D slice (cross-section of 3D volume) measurements, registration of 2D slices in the Radon and Fourier domains, and effective use of prior information within the Compressive Sensing framework. My work is particularly useful in scenarios wherein a person undergoing a long-term treatment needs to get a scan at regular intervals. In such a case, the information from earlier scans can be effectively used to reduce the X-ray dosage in later scans.

Overview of the updated reconstruction process in Preeti Gopal’s research

I also intend to work on developing and selecting the best direct reconstruction technique that would serve as a good initialization for iterative reconstruction routines. In the next couple of years, I aim to further explore applications of computational image analysis.

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. It is fascinating to learn how interdisciplinary healthcare is. Physicians dictate what needs to be seen for diagnosis and treatment; physicists and material scientists work on building the hardware; and finally, computer scientists’ work on developing optimal algorithms to compute the desired entity from as few resources as possible. My research is on the algorithms front and aims to reduce exposure to X-ray radiation due to a scan.

Preeti Gopal

Research scholar: Preeti Gopal, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Improving tomographic reconstruction from sparse measurements

Supervisors: Dr. Ajit Rajwade, Dr. Sharat Chandran, Dr. Imants Svalbe



This story was written by Preeti Gopal. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Structure-Corrosion Property Correlations in Al-based Amorphous Alloys

Picture Credit: wikipedia
Alloys are created by combining any one metal with one or more other elements, metal or otherwise. Mankind has, for long, used the technique to create a variety of materials suitable for specific purposes. Alloys usually turn out to be greater than the sum of their parts; they are usually stronger than the materials used to create them. The individual materials combine to enhance the strengths of one another while negating inherent weaknesses.

Picture Credit :by Konrad Summers

Metallurgy as a science has advanced to a stage where it is possible to create alloys of almost any desired physical and mechanical property. This is done by changing the composition and microstructure of a given metal by combining it with judiciously chosen substances. For example, the strength of many engineering alloys is improved by appropriate heat treatment (that is, age hardening), so that they can be employed in structural applications. The heat treatment creates micro-structural modifications in the matrix by introducing precipitates of sizes varying from a few nm to hundreds of nm. These heterogeneities in the material adversely affect the electrochemical properties of the material by promoting galvanic interaction, thus causing localized corrosion. Interestingly, it has been shown that as the precipitate size decreases, there is a limit below which the precipitates do not seem to act like separate electrochemical entities, while simultaneously improve the strength. This is of significant interest, since it offers a potential route to help design strong and corrosion-resistant alloys in the future.

Picture Credit: wikipedia

However, in practice, there are difficulties in studying this effect. One is caused by the grain boundaries and other defects present in normal crystalline alloys. These defects can make it difficult to isolate the effect of the precipitates on electrochemical behavior. As a result, it is extremely difficult to study and understand how the individual components and the way they combine together contribute to the corrosion behavior of the alloy. However, in this context metallic glasses, the precipitation that can be made to occur in them, represents a good, ‘model’ system to study the effects of precipitation on electrochemical corrosion behavior, since other defects are absent in the matrix of metallic glass.

At the IITB-Monash Research Academy in Mumbai, research scholar Rinkel Jindal has found a way to circumvent this problem. He uses amorphous alloys to study the behavior of individual elements when combining to form alloys. Rinkel chose this method because it is easier to introduce elements and the precipitates into an amorphous alloy in a controlled manner.

Using Al-Ni-Y amorphous alloys as the model system, Rinkel has studied the mechanism(s) through which precipitates affect corrosion resistance. The processes that have been examined in relation to corrosion tendency of amorphous alloys are: (a) Structural relaxation, (b) Surface diffusion of elements during annealing, (c) Partial crystallization and (d) Complete crystallization. Apart from the work carried out by Rinkel results published in relevant literature were also employed in the study.

Picture Credit :by Danny Fowler

A new approach for improving the corrosion resistance of Al-based alloys has been developed from the study based on model Al-Ni-Y amorphous alloys. Based on the results of this investigation, Rinkel has proposed a new hypothesis: the surface segregation of the solute (alloying element) during annealing is highly beneficial for improving corrosion resistance. This study has helped to understand the dominant role of surface segregation over structure relaxation in the context of corrosion. This will provide the basis for an alternative approach for the improvement in corrosion properties or to design new corrosion resistant materials. In addition, the mechanistic role of various phases introduced in the amorphous matrix during controlled annealing on the corrosion properties is also examined in the present study.

The groundbreaking work carried out by Rinkel will have a direct and beneficial impact on the materials used in a wide range of industries, such as: Aerospace and Automobile, Oil & Gas Pipelines/Extraction/Storage, Engineering/Architecture/Design/Construction, Construction (Bridges & Highways).

In short, given the fact that corrosion is a concern wherever metals or alloys are used, there would be very few facets of human existence and endeavor that do not reap the benefits of the pioneering work done by this young research scholar.

Rinkel works under the guidance of Prof. V. S. Raja of IIT Mumbai, Prof. Christopher Hutchinson of Monash University and Dr. Mark Gibson, CSIRO, Australia.

The IITB-Monash Research Academy operates a graduate research program in Mumbai. The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a Joint Venture between the IIT Bombay and Monash University. It fosters research partnerships between Australia and India. Research is conducted by scholars in both countries, whilst studying for a dually-badged PhD from both organisations.

Research scholar: Rinkel Jindal, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Structure-Corrosion Property Correlations in Al-based Amorphous Alloys

Supervisors: Prof. V. S. Raja, Prof. Christopher Hutchinson, Dr. Mark Gibson

Contact details:

Contact for more information on this, and other projects.

Traumatic Brain Injuries need not be fatal

Figure 1: A representative effect of an external impact resulting in injuries in the interior of the brain tissue. The figure depicts the primary damage due to the physical injury. This would be followed by a secondary damage in the form of accumulation of calcium ions inside the cell, resulting in cell death. (source: Wikimedia Commons; Contrecoup by Patrick J Lynch / CC-BY-2.5 license)

In India, around 1.6 million individuals sustain a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) every year, according to studies. Almost 200,000 of them die.

A report by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control states that TBI contributes to 30.5 per cent of injury-related deaths in the United States.

Aayush Kant, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, would like to see these numbers reduce drastically. He is working on a project titled ‘Predicting damage to neurological tissues during a Traumatic Brain Injury’, under the supervision of Prof Tanmay K Bhandakkar and Prof Nikhil Medhekar.

“Two types of damage occur during a TBI,” explains Aayush, “primary mechanical damage due to the impact-related stress and strain; and a secondary damage, which triggers a series of neuro-chemical reactions leading to cell deaths. The secondary damage is initiated by accumulation of calcium ions inside the cell in high concentrations.”

While primary and secondary damage have been studied largely in isolation, Aayush hopes to come up with a mathematical model that can simulate the occurrence of a TBI using the theory of stress-assisted diffusion, and ascertain the locations most susceptible to both types of damage.

Figure 2: Ion transport pathways inside a neuron. Only a few important pathways are shows for representative purpose. The pathways in black dash-lines increase the intracellular concentration of calcium ions, while those in red dotted lines decrease it.

“Our model will use the Finite Element Numerical technique,” he reveals, “and such a coupled model has not been studied previously. We have identified two parameters to be used as predictors of damage during a TBI. These are principal strain and intracellular calcium ion concentrations. Using simplified geometry, the initial predictions of the model are in agreement with the results obtained by other researchers using ‘non-coupled’ models. However, we still need to study a more generalised 3D geometry to utilise the full potential of the model.”

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries, and graduate research scholars like Aayush 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 Academy, can see at least three applications for the type of coupled model that Aayush is working on:

  • To researchers, the model can be used for further investigation into the injury mechanisms involved in a TBI.
  • To medics and para-medics, an accurate version of the model can be used to pin-point locations of high susceptibility in individual cases, which translates into immediate medical attention being provided to the patient.
  • To industry, it can be used to design protective gears such as helmets for sports, military applications, transport; or even design of airbags.

“As the reputation of our institution grows and as more organisations start collaborating with us, we anticipate that the IITB-Monash Research Academy will contribute to maintaining India’s reputation as a leading-edge global research hub,” says Prof Sastry.

Rearchers like Aayush can’t wait to prove him right!

Research scholar: Aayush Kant, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Predicting damage to neurological tissues during a Traumatic Brain Injury

Supervisors: Prof Tanmay K Bhadakkar and Prof Nikhil Medhekar

Contact details:

This 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.

Using fish-gill design to solve biomedical challenges

Schematic of fish gills and its working, demonstrating the role of multi-scale morphologies on gas/solute exchange [Copyright@ 2008 Pearson Education, Inc]

Nature is a great teacher.

And, biomimicry (from bios—life, and mimesis—to imitate) is a discipline that attempts to mimic nature’s time-tested approaches and strategies, to find solutions to everyday problems.

For instance, researchers are closely studying—and hope to replicate—how spiders can produce silk that is so elastic. Or how lizards use micro-nanomorphologies on their feet to cling upside down on inclined surfaces.

Prasoon Kumar, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is working on a biomimicry-inspired project—‘Scalable Manufacturing of Bio-inspired, 3D Micro/Nanofluidic Devices Using Different Microtechnologies’. His project specifically focuses on using the highly evolved organisation of ‘fish gills’ to form the design basis for advanced gas/solute exchange systems.


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

Says Prasoon, “We are trying to mimic the hierarchical features of the fish-gill structure to engineer advanced membranes for fluidic applications. We hope to use this membrane scaffold as a model to understand mass transport processes in these biological structures.”

Some of the biggest applications of this research will be in the biomedical and chemical industries.

“I chose this project as it can help ameliorate biomedical problems such as dialysis and oxygenation, which cause suffering and agony to millions. The underlying principle for dialysis in kidney diseases and oxygenation in lung devices is diffusion under convective flow. Therefore, the basic design, fabrication, and characterisation of micro/nanofluidic devices may provide avenues to develop innovative, inexpensive, effective, patient-friendly and durable biomedical solutions,” he adds.

A diagram explaining Prasoon Kumar’s work


Explaining his work so far, Prasoon says, “Apart from the development a fabrication process for bio-mimicking nature inspired multiscale structures, the project involved theoretical analysis of structural features of fish gills at different scales. Our investigations revealed that a few parametric ratios and gill dimensions are conserved irrespective of the weight of fish. With the proposed scalable fabrication process, we successfully demonstrated fabrication of bio-inspired leaves and a part of fish gill secondary lamella. The process involved novel combination (patent under process) of technologies like electrospinning, spin coating, micro-molding and Hele-Shaw cells. Our synthetic leaves exhibited better capillary-assisted evaporative-pumping capabilities than transpiration-assisted pumping reported in literature along with sustaining a suction head: the attributes which can be exploited for solar distillation and capillary pumps.

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, “Prasoon’s research has stretched the boundary of design, fabrication, characterisation and application of 3D micro/nanofluidic devices based on biomimetic principles. I am hopeful that this will lead to rewarding outcomes in many applications.”

Research scholar: Prasoon Kumar, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Scalable manufacturing of bio-inspired 3D micro/nanofluidic devices using different microtechnologies

Supervisors: Prof Prasanna S Gandhi and Prof Mainak Majumder

Contact details:

This story was written by Krishna Warrier. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.


Making mining safer

If Tanesh Gamot, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, has his way, mining operations will become a lot safer.
Mining relies heavily on the use of explosives, which help splinter hard rock. Miners use a large volume of explosives, and it is vital that these are both safe and effective.


Tanesh, who is working on a project sponsored by Orica International Pty Ltd, titled ‘Exploring Surfactant-like properties of Graphene Oxide for the thermal engineering of emulsions’ explains, “Traditionally the mining industry has been using ANFO explosives. The introduction of emulsion explosives allowed for the development of more water and thermally stable explosives. We are trying to further develop ‘emulsion’ explosives to increase their efficiency.”

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

One measure of an explosive’s performance is the velocity of detonation (VOD).

“The application of high thermal conductivity materials like graphene oxide at the interface of the aqueous phase and fuel phase may enhance the VOD of emulsion explosives manifold,” says Tanesh. If this can be achieved, a more efficient explosive product may be developed.
Graphene, a two-dimensional material with a honeycomb lattice structure of carbon, has so many potential properties that it has changed the perspective of research. Graphene oxide—the oxygen-functionalized chemical derivative with unique tunable properties like electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity and mechanical stability—is much more economical to produce than graphene itself.

Tanesh has been exploring the possibility of using Graphene Oxide as a molecular surfactant to stabilize liquid-liquid emulsion. To date, very few studies have been published on the unique thermal properties of this material such as its effect on the thermal conductivity in an emulsion. Graphene oxide has the potential to act as an efficient medium to transfer the heat in an emulsion explosive, thereby increasing VOD for efficient explosion, he says.

“It will be exciting to see how graphene oxide will enhance thermal conductivity in the presence of a multiple component water-in-oil emulsion without being affected by things like flocculation, a process where colloids come out of suspension in the form of floc or flake” says Tanesh.

Adds, Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, “Both India and Australia have substantial interests in mining. The Academy is an exciting initiative that will see both countries creating binding links. This will enable us to tackle research challenges that lie ahead and generate some long-lasting high impact outcomes for society. While Tanesh’s work will be beneficial mainly to the mining industry, other industries like building, construction, transport, and civil manufacturing are likely to gain as well.”

Tanesh Gamot

Research scholar: Tanesh Gamot, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Exploring Surfactant-like properties of Graphene Oxide for the thermal engineering of emulsions
Supervisors: Prof. Arup Ranjan Bhattacharyya, Prof. Mainak Majumder, Prof. Tam Sridhar, Dr. Fiona Beach (Industry Mentor), Dr. Greg Rigby (Industry mentor and project manager)
Contact details:

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.

Using salt to manipulate algae

Figure 1. “There is too much salt in the soup!”
Algae being cultured in different salinity conditions at lab scale.


Anbarasu Karthikaichamy, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, loves to narrate the fable about the king and salt.

The one where the king once asked his daughter how dear he was to her, to which she replied as dear as salt, and how this angered him no end, till the princess invited him to a feast where every dish lacked salt, and how he then realised the importance of this seemingly insignificant mineral in our lives.

“Salt and algae might appear to be unlikely bedfellows, but algae can grow in highly saline conditions,” chuckles Anbarasu, whose PhD project is titled, ‘Generating gene expression tools for algal molecular manipulation’.

So what got this gold medalist from Anna University, Chennai interested in this field?

“Biotechnology is a fast developing domain. Available genomic tools like high throughput sequencing can create an enriched gene pool which can be used for multiple benefits. However, one of the bottlenecks for any genetic engineering strategy is the availability of appropriate gene expression tools, mainly promoters, to express the genes at the right time, right level, and at the right places,” explains Anbarasu. “And this is where algae helps. Though it has traditionally been used as a biomass source to synthesise molecules, attention has now turned towards using algae to isolate other molecules or using it as a bio-reactor to produce valuable pharmaceuticals and therapeutically important proteins like antibodies, cholera vaccine, etc.”


Algae, as a third-generation bio-fuel producer, requires relatively little space compared to its well evolved counterparts (plants). Besides, it can grow in a variety of conditions (including in a saline water body), consuming carbon dioxide much more efficiently than land plants.

Anbarasu is closely studying the physiological changes that occur in algae during increased saline conditions. “I will be collecting algae samples in different conditions (depending on the interest of regulation points—like growth stages, sunlight intensity, heat, etc.), freezing them, and analysing the mRNA (messenger RNA) and protein levels. This should provide clues to isolate promoters for the genes of interested regulations,” he says.

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

Figure 2. Anbarasu loves to generously salt his algae to get the maximum flavour.
(Modified image adapted from


Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the Academy, “Anbarasu is attempting to exploit algae to produce valuable compounds at a cheaper cost. This will help bring down prices of many products—especially in the pharmaceutical and therapeutics industry.”

Only an ignoramus would take such a study with a pinch of salt!

Research scholar: Anbarasu Karthikaichamy , IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Generating gene expression tools for algal molecular manipulation

Supervisors: Prof Santosh Noronha, Prof Sanjeeva Srivastava, Prof Dieter Bulach, Prof Ross Coppel and Dr Santanu Dasgupta.

Contact details:

This 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.