Using an enzyme to battle the Big C


Cancer is arguably the biggest medical mystery the world is trying to solve today. And researchers like Debopriya Sadhukan from the IITB-Monash Research Academy are attempting to understand the chemistry of cancer, which will hopefully help design better drugs to beat this dreaded disease.

Debopriya’s project is titled ‘Understanding the reaction mechanism of C5-cytosine DNA methyl transferase’.

Possible sites for DNA methylation

“DNA methylation—a process by which methyl groups are added to the DNA molecule—plays a crucial role in carcinogenesis,” she explains, “for it controls gene expression and maintains genome integrity. In tumour cells the normal methylation pattern is disrupted by hypomethylation or region-specific hypermethylation. In such cells, the methylation pattern is controlled by the enzyme C5-cytosine DNA methyltransferase. But how the enzyme catalyses the reaction is still a mystery. We are therefore trying to understand the working mechanism of this enzyme.”

Some of the questions researchers in this field are grappling with are:

i) How is the cysteine residue de-protonated?
ii) What is the role of the Glu119 residue?
iii) What is the nature of the base that will abstract the proton from the 5-position of cytosine?

Says Debopriya, “We are trying to understand the reaction mechanism of this enzyme by a completely different approach so that we can give a much better and easier explanation of the mechanism. In mammals this methylation mostly occurs at the 5-position of cytosine, so our work is solely focused on the reaction mechanism of C5- cytosine DNA methyl transferase. We adopted a simple approach. If the deprotonation energy of the C5-H bond is equal to or less than the protonation energy of the base, then the base will be able to abstract the proton from the 5- position of cytosine. So, we calculated the deprotonation energy of the C5-H bond in the presence of different moieties of the active site and the protonation energy of different bases in both gas phase and in a solution. Though we have not yet been able to close in on a suitable base whose protonation energy is more than the deprotonation energy of the C5-H bond, we found that the difference in deprotonation energy and protonation energy decreases when one increases the dielectric constant of the solvent. This is encouraging!”

Scheme-1: General Reaction Mechanism for DNA Methylation

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 Debopriya 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, “Today’s research challenges require a strongly multi-disciplinary approach. And the way in which this Academy has been set up makes it possible for such multi-disciplinary investigations to be carried out. This gives me immense hope that our research scholars will create significant science, societal and industry impact in the future. According to data from the National Cancer Institute, there are 458.4 new cases of cancer per 100,000 men and women per year. What could be more gratifying than if the work by researchers like Debopriya can help reduce that number?”

Research scholar: Debopriya Sadhukan, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Understanding the reaction mechanism of C5-cytosine DNA methyl transferase.

Supervisors: Prof. G. Naresh Patwari, Dr. Ekaterina Pas

Contact details: oli.debopriya@gmail.com

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

Improving coverage control laws for multi-robot systems


Consider the following applications:

  • Monitoring the temperature/current or oil spills in a part of the ocean.
  • Attempting to ascertain the presence of nuclear radiation in a particular region.
  • Deploying a network of unmanned (UAVs) in a reconnaissance mission to measure enemy presence in a region.

In each, there is a need to distribute autonomous agents functioning as sensors to optimally cover an unknown environment. Algorithm design for such agents usually faces two challenges. The first is location optimization — to resolve how the agents should be ideally distributed in order to achieve optimum sensing capabilities. The second, and more important, is to ascertain the requirements in communication in order to achieve the desired optimum coverage configuration in a robust manner (for instance intervals between messages, communication topology).

Rihab Abdul Razak, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is working on a project titled, ‘New models and algorithms for decentralized and adaptive coverage control in multi-robot systems’ to help resolve these challenges.

He aims to study advances in decentralized coverage control. This is an important coordinated control problem wherein a set of robots identify optimal techniques to cover an unknown environment for the purpose of sensing.

Says Rihab, “The phenomenon to be sensed by the robots is described by a mathematical function over the region to be covered. Each robot is capable of measuring the value of the function at its position. Controllers for mobile robots have been developed so that the robots realign themselves in an optimal sensing configuration. The problem is solved by optimizing the locational optimization cost function with respect to the agent positions, and developing controllers for the robots so that they converge to the optimum of the cost function. The controllers are decentralized so that the controllers for each robot in the group work based on information local to the robot and do not require global information.”

Most of the work done in this field so far uses simple agent models to design controllers. “We aim to design controllers for more realistic agent models,” explains Rihab. “Also, we focus on adaptive algorithms where all the information about the environment may not be known, and the algorithms developed need to adapt to these unknown quantities.”

The Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars like Rihab 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, “Rihab’s work has wide-ranging applications, including rescue and recovery, radiation and nuclear spill detection, underwater oil exploration, etc. The goal is to improve existing coverage control laws.”

Research scholar: Rihab Abdul Razak, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: New models and algorithms for decentralized and adaptive coverage control in multi-robot systems

Supervisors: Dr. Srikant Sukumar, Dr. Hoam Chung

Contact details: tarihab@gmail.com

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

Seeking a new material to monitor hydrogen


The demand for hydrogen on a commercial scale is growing rapidly. This colourless, highly combustible gas is not only a large industrial and laboratory commodity, but also has the potential to be used as fuel, and this could increase the demand to more than 2 trillion cubic metres per year. Therefore it is necessary to have a dedicated sensing system with low saturation, high sensitivity and affordability to measure hydrogen.

Arif Ibrahim, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is hoping to develop precisely such a system as part of his project, ‘Nano-confined multi component metal hydride system for hydrogen sensing application’.

“Current measuring technologies use various principles — like Resistive, Optical, Bubble Testing, Catalytic Combustion, and Electrochemical,” says Arif. “We hope to come up with a thin-film-based hydrogen gas sensor using carbon-based material, which performs continuous monitoring with appropriate electronic arrangement.”

Hydrogen cannot be detected by human senses, making the use of suitable detection devices necessary. It is highly inflammable, and since hydrogen leaks can be hazardous if not detected quickly, reliable detection systems need to be tested, and their performance validated, so that they can be effectively deployed wherever hydrogen is produced, stored, distributed, or used.

Says Arif, “We have so far come up with a novel material that shows better response with pd dispersion into the matrix of that material and hydrogen gas can be sensed and continuously monitored with its lower limit by using any either resistive- or optical-based detection system. The biggest challenge is to get a proper thin film with thickness that lies under the 2D regime.”

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

The image shows the detection principle in resistive as well as optical domain. In resistive sensing approach material is deposited on the top of conductive electrode i.e. gold, silver then sensing is done on the basis of change in resistivity with respect to exposure in the hydrogen rich environment. Similarly optical approaches are based on the change in the reflectivity of the material subjected to hydrogen gas

Says Prof Murali Sastry, CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, “Hydrogen is not a primary energy source such as coal or gas but is an energy carrier (similar to electricity) and can store and deliver energy in a widely useable form. It is one of the most promising alternative fuels for future transport applications. When produced from renewable sources it provides pollution-free transport, without carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and decreases our dependence on dwindling oil reserves. If Arif is able to develop a sensing system for hydrogen that’s reliable and robust, the scope is tremendous.”

Arif Ibrahim

Research scholar: Arif Ibrahim, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Nano-confined multi component metal hydride system for hydrogen sensing application

Supervisors: Prof. S P Duttagupta, Prof. A Sarkar, Prof. Sankara Sarma V Tatiparti, Prof. Raman Singh, Prof. Gita Pendharkar

Contact details: er.arifibrahim@gmail.com

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

Tracking nanoparticle movement deep inside our lungs


Lung disease is the third leading cause of deaths worldwide, according to a study by the World Health Organization. The respiratory system is prone to numerous diseases like asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cancer. Many of these are caused by nanoparticles that deposit on the inner surfaces in our lungs.

• How does our breathing pattern affect the transport and deposition of these nanoparticles?
• Does our breathing rate during different activities like sleeping, running or walking have any significant effect on this?
• What are the differences in the breathing profiles of healthy persons and those with diseases?
• Can predicting nanoparticle movement in the lung help combat lung disease?

These are some of the questions that Chitresh Bhargava, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is seeking answers to as part of his PhD project titled ‘Deep in the Lung: Nanoparticles transport and deposition in alveolar flows’.

“The transfer of desirable (drugs) or undesirable aerosols (pollutants) in the lung occurs with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in small sacs known as alveoli (more than 300 million in number). Understanding the transport and deposition of such nanoparticles is of deep interest to me,” says Chitresh. “It enables us to study health effects — both from the point of view of potential risks due to pollutants and safety to pharmaceutical drug delivery.”

Previous studies suggest that factors such as the particle size and carrier airflow pattern determine the deposition fraction in regions such as nasal pharyngeal, bronchioles and alveoli. “It has been reported that a fine particle size (approximately 20 nm) has a deposition fraction of 90% in the alveoli”, which suggests that diffusion is the main mechanism of particle deposition. However, studies reveal that diffusion cannot be the only reason. Convective transport plays a vital role as well in the transport of particles along the conducting airways.”

During his research, Chitresh will simulate and analyze fluid flow and particle deposition in various complex alveolar models of the pulmonary tract through computational fluid dynamics (CFD). “In a series of studies, we will employ the CFD approach as it allows us to consider flows that are very difficult to model experimentally even for very small particles. However, CFD has not yet been used extensively to study alveolar deposition. Limitations such as failure to incorporate the accurate shape of the alveoli, expansion-contraction of the alveoli during breathing, and the impact of breathing rate on the transport and deposition of aerosols have influenced us to work on a more accurate method to track particles in the alveoli.”

Airflow simulation in an alveolated duct 3D model for Reynolds number 0.01. The streamline profile shows re-circulation of air in alveoli

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 Chitresh 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, “Extensive research is being conducted to ascertain new drugs and drug delivery systems for pulmonary delivery that are more efficient and safe. It is first important, though, to understand the mechanism of transport and deposition of the particulate matter in the human lung rather than directly switching to the drug delivery system for treatment of a number of diseases. Thus, the prediction of the particle deposition in the human pulmonary tract is of vital importance to evaluate the risks associated with exposure to air pollutants. We hope Chitresh’s research will lead to a novel understanding of transport and deposition mechanisms that occur in alveolar flows, which, in turn, will help us all breathe a little easier!”

 

Research scholar: Chitresh Kumar Bhargava, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Deep in the Lung: Nanoparticles transport and deposition in alveolar flows

Supervisors: Prof. Devang V. Khakhar, Prof. Murray Rudman and Dr. Guy Metcalfe

Contact details: chitreshbhargava29@gmail.com

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

Making robotic surgeries more efficient and interactive


Aspiring surgeons find surgical simulators very helpful as a training tool. However, most of these simulators use simplified tool-tissue interaction because of the real-time feedback required. This problem can be overcome if finite models are developed.

Abhishek Mukherjee, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is therefore working on a project titled ‘Modeling of the interaction of soft tissues and cells with their environment’.

It is well-documented that during surgery the tissue response is a function of force (applied by the surgeon), tool position, and the path taken by the surgeon. Abhishek is attempting to develop tool-tissue interaction models to predict feedback which could directly be fed to the haptic device if the simulations can be conducted in real time. And just in case real time computations are slow, realistic simulations could be carried out offline and fitted into meta-models, which could then be used for feedback from the haptic device.

“A part of my project deals with modeling the interaction between a robotic surgical tool and tissue to characterize the mechanical properties of the tissue. Through this, we may be able to detect the presence of a tumor embedded in it,” says Abhishek excitedly. “And then there’s the other part, where I plan to model stresses on cells when they migrate through 3D channels. This is likely to give us more insight into the physics behind such processes. Cancerous cells take more time to migrate than healthy ones, and thus might serve as a bio-indicator. Bio-mechanical interactions are complex because they cannot simply be analyzed from a mechanical standpoint — there are several biological processes involved too. I relish the possibility that I get to unravel some of nature’s best kept secrets by understanding how bio-mechanisms work. The model that we have developed could make robotic surgeries more efficient and interactive.”

A three-dimensional computational model of an indentation process to detect an embedded cancerous nodule. The colours indicate stress development in the system with red indicating high stress and blue low stress conditions.

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 Abhishek 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 first part of Abhishek’s project holds a lot of promise for efficient robotic surgery in that there is a major push to make robotic surgery more interactive and make robots ‘feel’. Unfortunately, mathematical models to do are still to be developed. Robotic surgeries are currently done based on distance estimation to the target organs, but incorporating a touch or force sensation would make the process more intuitive and interactive for the surgeons operating on it remotely. The second part of the project is important to understand the physical phenomenon behind cell migration through constricted spaces. This could give more insight into understanding the dislocation of cancer cells from their primary location to lodging themselves in a separate location to give rise to secondary tumors. Understanding these phenomena could go a long way in treating cancers.”

Abhishek Mukherjee

Research scholar: Abhishek Mukherjee, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Modeling of the interaction of soft tissues and cells with their environment

Supervisors: Prof Ramesh Singh, Prof Shamik Sen, Prof Abhishek Gupta, Prof Wenyi Yan

Contact details: abhmukh@gmail.com

 

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

Service firms and their supply chains


We’re familiar with supply chains for products, but what about services?

Should supply chains for the latter be responsive or efficient?

Does the fit between these intangible resources and supply chain characteristics have performance implications?

These are some of the questions that Raveen Menon, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is seeking to answer as part of his PhD project: Strategic Fit of Service Supply Chains.

“Service firms can deploy several resources like people, machines and tools. However, in order to give themselves a competitive advantage, they have to acquire other sets of intangible resources like knowledge and skills,” says Raveen. “My research uses insights from Strategic Fit concept to identify sources of competitive advantage for service firms. Service Dominant Logic (SDL) views operant resources (knowledge, skills) rather than operand resources (physical resources) as the prime source of competitive advantage for service supply chains. We define supply chain fit as a match between firms’ operant resources and service supply chain characteristics (viz. innovative, efficient and innovative-efficient) that lead to superior firm performance. We hope to validate this framework using survey research, and, with the help of lean management principles, examine the impact of excess operant resources on firm performance.”

Services contribute a significant share to a nation’s economic output. However, research to create a comprehensive framework for the understanding and managing of service supply chains, has been scarce. The strategic management of a service supply chain is largely underdeveloped even though they are considered as the next frontier of competitive advantage.

The theoretical model depicting the relationships of interest

“When you buy a product, it is not just the product you are buying; instead, you buy the services that the product offers. The service dominant logic (SDL) views goods as transmitters of service as opposed to being end products. Goods are mechanisms for service provision,” emphasises Raveen. “The theoretical framework developed in my study has several objectives. Firstly, to develop the concept of strategic fit of service supply chains based on operant resources. Next, to assess its impact on firm performance, and, finally, to identify the sources of competitive advantage for service firms. Our concept of service supply chain fit will aid service firm managers to understand the significance of intangible operant resources for their firm and identify, and explore, these resources to extract their maximum potential for achieving competitive advantage in their market.”

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 Raveen 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, IITB-Monash Research Academy, “Once service firms start investing resources to identify sources that can significantly provide a strategic advantage, competition will increase and the ultimate beneficiary will be the consumer. The expected outcomes from Raveen’s research are:
• A framework to classify service supply chains
• A toolkit to assess whether a service firm/supply chain should have a design aimed at agility, efficiency, or some other strategic objective.

We wish him well!

Raveen Menon

Research scholar: Raveen Menon, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Strategic Fit of Service Supply Chains Based on Operant Resources: A Latent Source of Competitive Advantage
Supervisors: Prof. Tarikere T. Niranjan, Prof. Dayna Simpson and Prof. Mohan Krishnamoorthy
Contact details: raveen.menon@monash.edu

 

 

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.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xet1SyeawEE)

• 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: sohan.suvarna@monash.edu

 

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.

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: hrchhangte@gmail.com

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

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: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/north/story/uttarakhand-floods-environmentalists-blame-it-on-centre-state-govt-for-man-made-disaster-167419-2013-06-20.

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: antara.dasgupta@monash.edu

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: uzb.mem@gmail.com

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.