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: subramoni.hariharan@monash.edu

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: sanket.pai@monash.edu

 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: sourabh.mehta@monash.edu

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.

Making batteries stronger and more durable

The current lithium-ion batteries in our cell phones or laptops can sustain for four to five hours after a full charge (assuming continuous use of the device). On the other hand, lithium-sulfur batteries would be able to sustain for almost double that time, as was demonstrated by a leading lithium-sulfur battery manufacturing company.

However, metal-sulfur batteries suffer from several problems such as poor electronic conductivity of active material, gradual dissolution of intermediate products into the electrolyte from the cathode and the dendritic growth associated with pristine lithium metal anode.

Figure 1: How a metal-sulfur battery works

Figure 2: Graphical representation of the research project

This is what motivated Arnab Ghosh, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, to work on a project titled, ‘Design of high energy metal-sulfur batteries’ that focuses on how to mitigate these problems and push metal-sulfur batteries a step ahead towards their practical application.

Says Arnab, “Lithium-sulfur batteries are considered one of the strong candidates to replace currently available rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The existing lithium-ion batteries cannot meet our ever-increasing energy demand near future, while it is believed that practical lithium-sulfur batteries would have at least twice the capacity and energy density of lithium-ion batteries. Considering the potential viability of the lithium-sulfur batteries, I believe that my research work on sulfur-based cathode materials is important not only as a PhD topic, but can also contribute towards practical application of lithium-sulfur batteries in terms of developing low-cost battery material through facile synthesis strategy.”

During his research so far, Arnab has successfully synthesized a low-cost cathode material for lithium-sulfur batteries following a facile approach. “Our synthesis strategy might encourage the direct utilization of sulfur powder (the petroleum waste) in rechargeable lithium-sulfur batteries,” he says. “Encouragingly, the lithium-sulfur batteries containing our as-synthesized cathode material could run for more than 500 charge/discharge cycles delivering adequate specific capacity and with an extremely low rate of capacity decay (0.02% per cycle).”

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 Arnab 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, “Devices have become an indispensable part of our lives. And batteries are an indispensable part of devices. Today’s research challenges require a multi-disciplinary approach. And the way in which the IITB-Monash Research Academy has been set up makes it possible for such multi-disciplinary investigations to be carried out. I am convinced that researchers like Arnab will help the Academy create significant science, societal and industry impact in the future.”

Research scholar: Arnab Ghosh, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Design of high energy lithium- and sodium-sulfur batteries

Supervisors: Prof. Sagar Mitra (IIT Bombay), Prof. Doug MacFarlane (Monash University) and Dr. Mega Kar (Monash University)

Contact details: arnab.ghosh@monash.edu

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.

Measuring soil moisture using P-band radiometry

Have you ever wondered why the possibility of life on any other planet is bleak? It is because our beautiful Earth has rich soil with liquid water which makes life possible.

Soil is the living skin of the Earth, and can be described as the interface between biology and geology. It is the water in soil that keeps the earth’s biota alive. Timely information on soil moisture is required to monitor and forecast agricultural droughts, wildfires, flood risk areas, landslides, etc.

The ability to measure soil moisture accurately is important in domains spanning agriculture, hydrology, and meteorology. In agriculture, it is useful for irrigation scheduling, seed germination and crop yield forecasting. In hydrology, partitioning of rainfall into its runoff and infiltration components depends on soil moisture. Improvement in the prediction of essential climatic variables like rain, temperature, humidity etc., is possible by incorporating accurate soil moisture in weather forecasting models.

Soil moisture is generally measured using L-band radiometry. This remote sensing approach has now been widely accepted as a state-of-the-art method, and has been adopted by leading global soil moisture dedicated satellite missions like Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP).

My research project at the IITB-Monash Research Academy seeks to go beyond L-band radiometry to P-band radiometry, which is a longer wavelength measurement that provides the potential to retrieve deeper soil moisture information. P-band radiometry hopes to do so more accurately due to reduced soil roughness and vegetation effects. However, there are very few articles available in literature to support this hypothesis.

Figure 1. a. Field data measurements for modelling; b. Sunset at our experimental field at Cora Lynn where radiometers operating at well-established L-band (1.4 GHz) and first-of-its-kind P-band (0.75 GHz) are tower-mounted.

Any new satellite technology requires a huge amount of groundwork to test the science and technology that will be put into operation. My research is one of the first few drops in the ocean in this arena of being able to remotely sense deeper depth soil moisture. A self-contained experimental set-up has been established in an agricultural farm at Cora Lynn, Victoria from where the crucial input data for my model comes in. It is anticipated that future satellites will be designed for P-band radiometers, which will use my model to study soil moisture.

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. Its CEO, Prof Murali Sastry says, “The IITB-Monash Research 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 collaborations.”

The area that I am working in is a relatively new direction of research in soil moisture study, and I am hoping that this research will be of help to a variety of users like space agencies, the common man, as well as scientists.

For space agencies like NASA, ESA, ISRO, CESBIO in particular, this work will help them understand and implement future missions for deeper depth soil moisture. To a common man, the data from such a satellite can be processed and produced as maps with which farmers can plan to irrigate their fields, thus knowing more about the already existing water under the surface. To climate research scientists, it can help them to improve their models and forecasts. It also helps in meeting the challenges in water governance.

Moving forward, I’m hoping that you will not just see the soil but will definitely feel it as a RESOURCE!


Research scholar: Nithyapriya Boopathi, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Towards Soil Moisture Retrieval using P-band Radiometer Observations

Supervisors: Prof. Jeff Walker & Prof. Y.S.Rao

Contact details: priya_bsnk@iitb.ac.in, nithyapriya.boopathi@monash.edu

This story was written by Nithyapriya Boopathi. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Precision agriculture-the future of farming

Can you describe — in five words or less — how your research work will help people like me, I prod Rahul hesitantly.

“More crop per drop!” he grins without batting an eyelid.

Rahul Raj’s PhD project is titled, ‘Drone-based hyper-spectral sensing for identification of at-risk nitrogen and water stress areas for better on-farm management’. “In this work, we are generating new indices by using hyperspectral bands (400-1000 nm electromagnetic spectrum) to identify the nitrogen and water stress present in plants. Detailed crop biophysical and biochemical parameters are also collected, with which we hope to create a mathematical model for crop nitrogen and water estimation,” he offers by way of explanation.

A research farm equipped with the necessary sensors

Rahul is a research scholar at the IITB-Monash Research Academy, a Joint Venture between IIT Bombay and Monash University which offers a dual-badged PhD from both organisations. He works under the supervision of Prof. J. Adinarayana and Prof. Jeffrey Walker.

“Farming in developing countries like India depends heavily on knowledge passed down through generations” he explains. “Some of this is unscientific, and leads not only to low productivity and degradation of resources but also to an increase in the pesticide residue content in our food, which could affect our health.”

A scientific on-farm management technique can guide the farmer to apply the input resources at the right time, in the right amount, and right quantity. And this is where researchers like Rahul are hoping to make a difference.

“Precision agriculture (PA) is an innovative and integrated approach which will help farmers to make evidence-based decisions at the farm level and ensure optimal use of resources,” he says. “PA marries traditional knowledge with information- and management-intensive technologies and this collaboration will hopefully make the system sustainable, productive, and profitable.”

Numbers are critical to any research project, and Rahul spends a lot of time in the field collecting critical data. “This is challenging, but also essential, because when the researcher collects the data himself, they have a better understanding of the nexus between the different variables.”

Why is this research so important? Rahul outlines four stakeholders that will benefit from his work:

– Farmers — who will be able to ascertain when, where, and how much fertiliser, pesticides and water they need to use;
– Consumers — who will get foodgrains with minimum pesticide residue in their food;
– Startups/companies in the agriculture business — who can attain optimal yield from farms, so that management practices don’t become a bottleneck in supplying food to every plate, and also it will open business opportunities with social impact;
– Researchers/Academicians – who will be motivated to work on inter-disciplinary challenges and opportunities in agriculture

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, is among those following Rahul’s work with keen interest. “The Academy provides an opportunity for the industry in Australia and India, as well as for IIT Bombay and Monash University, to train the next generation of talent in India,” he says. “Worldwide, we need to find an effective way to feed 7.7 billion people every day with limited cultivable land at our disposal, and this number is only going to rise. We hope that Rahul Raj and other research scholars from the Academy will provide solutions to these vexing problems.”

Research scholar: Rahul Raj, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Drone-based hyper-spectral sensing for identification of at-risk N and water stress areas for better on-farm management

Supervisors: Prof. J. Adinarayana and Prof. Jeffrey Walker.

Contact details: rahul_raj@iitb.ac.in

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 hidden riches from pineapple waste

India is a significant producer of fruit-based products. However, a huge quantity of the raw material as well as the produce ends up getting wasted.

Take pineapples for example. A significant 45-50% of the fruit comprises non-edible parts (peels, crown, core), which are lost during its processing.

This “waste” is actually a resource and contains many valuable components that are lost during disposal or landfilling. In order to address this concern, researchers worldwide are seeking sustainable and green processing methods which would have minimal environmental impact.

One such researcher is Shivali Banerjee, who is working at the IITB-Monash Research Academy on a project titled, ‘Extraction of Bio-based Chemicals from Pineapple Wastes’ under the supervision team of Prof Amit Arora (IITB), Prof Antonio Patti (School of Chemistry, Monash University), and Dr R Vijayaraghavan (School of Chemistry, Monash University). This research contributes to addressing issues that are of international significance. The pineapple industry is important not only in India, but also in Australia.

Generation of waste from pineapple processing (Darjeeling, West Bengal, 2017)

The Academy, which operates a graduate research program in Mumbai, is a Joint Venture between IIT Bombay and Monash University. Research is conducted by scholars in both countries, while studying for a dual-badged PhD from both organisations.

Shivali’s dream is to develop an integrated biorefinery from pineapple waste, where multiple products can be extracted from the same raw material by green and cost-effective extraction methodologies. She is confident that this project will directly have an effect on the stakeholders — farmers, food processing industries, and food researchers. Besides, a biorefinery-based approach would be able to link more than one industry for sustainable production of value-added products.

“Processing industries hardly pay any attention to the potential of the residues of fruit,” Shivali laments. “Pineapple waste, for example, is rich in sugars, polyphenols, enzymes, organic acids, vitamins, and dietary fibres. With appropriate treatment, this can be converted into natural preservatives, flavouring agents, food tenderisers, food additives, pharmaceutical drugs, and dietary-fibre-rich sources.”

In a field survey that she conducted in Darjeeling, West Bengal (2017), Shivali found that the large quantity of on-farm waste (leaves and stem) poses a major concern to the pineapple growers in the north-eastern part of India, and, a majority of it is therefore burnt on the fields before growing the new crop. “I am trying to recover and purify an enzyme called bromelain from pineapple waste, which has potential applications in food and therapeutics. Highly purified bromelain can fetch up to USD 2400 per kilogram (Ketnawa et al., 2012), and the economics can further be improved as the extraction is made from low value waste,” she explains. “Other important products that I have focused are on dietary fibres, sugars, and phenolics. Dietary fibres from pineapple waste could be a functional ingredient in health foods. Phenolics are other high-value chemicals that possess many health benefits such as antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic and antioxidant effects.”

Conversion of Pineapple Waste into value-added products

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, is among those following Shivali’s work with keen interest. “All over the world, fruit waste rich in valuable components is lost in dump yards or landfills. We urgently need to address this by seeking green and sustainable processing methods that could valorize the processing waste and minimise environmental impact,” he says. “The Academy provides an opportunity for industry in Australia and India, as well as for IIT Bombay and Monash University, to train the next generation of talents in India. We’re hoping that Shivali and other research scholars from the Academy will become much sought after around the globe.”

Research scholar: Shivali Banerjee, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Extraction of Bio-based Chemicals from Pineapple Wastes

Supervisors: Prof. Amit Arora, Prof. Antonio Patti, Dr. Vijayaraghavan Ranganathan

Contact details: shivali.banerjee@monash.edu

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

Understanding chromatin folding through computer simulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Understanding pitting corrosion in aluminium and its alloys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research scholar: Gayathri Sridhar, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Understanding metastable pitting in aluminium and its alloys

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

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

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

Harnessing the Ion Bombardment process to create novel nanostructures

Cover picture courtesy: Ms. Nandini Bhosale, IDC

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instance, it can be used for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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