Welcome to Mr. M S Unnikrishnan

We welcome Mr M S Unnikrishnan who has joined as our Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on September 14. He takes over from Professor Murali Sastry, who moves to a fulltime research position in the Faculty of Engineering, Monash University, Australia.

Welcoming Mr Unnikrishnan, who has earlier had a long and successful stint with Thermax as its Managing Director and CEO, to the IITB campus, Professor Subhasis Chaudhuri Director, IITB, said, “The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay always looks for creating more research opportunities for our students and professors. With Mr Unnikrishnan’s vast experience as an Industry leader, I am sure that the Academy will get a big boost in industry-focused and translational research under his leadership, benefiting both Indian industry and academia.”

In a statement released earlier, Professor Margaret Gardner AC, President and Vice-Chancellor, Monash University said, “Mr Unnikrishnan’s successful leadership and research innovation, together with his strong ties with industry, will provide a strong platform for him to continue the Academy’s world-class collaborative research, and to find innovative solutions for areas of global significance, including clean energy, sustainable water management and next-generation infrastructure”.

Farewell message to Prof. Sastry

Dear Prof. Sastry,

We will miss you!

No matter how hard we try, saying goodbye is not going to be easy.
You have enriched the Academy in myriad ways and raised it to new heights during your stewardship.
We will always be grateful for the legacy you leave behind — a set of happy people — happy students, happy staff, happy faculty, and happy stakeholders.

Thank you for helping us grow and best wishes for all the exciting adventures that await you in your future endeavours.

Thank You Corona Warriors!

Kailash Tandel networks with professor, friends to raise nearly ₹2 lakh; distributes 280 packets of essentials

Two of the Academy’s scholars, Kailash Tandel and Radhik Rammohan, have been doing exemplary work in these trying times.While Radhik has been helping the IITB community by contributing to all the efforts of IITB administration in keeping the campus and its residents safe,  Kailash, who is a fisherman’s son and also the first visually challenged PhD scholar on our rolls, has emerged as one of the youth leaders taking charge of looking after his community, which consists almost entirely of daily wage workers.

Appended below is an article that was published in ‘The Hindu’ recognising his efforts.

Kailash Tandel (35) had to go back home to Machimar Nagar in Cuffe Parade from his hostel in IIT Bombay, where he is pursuing his PhD, when the novel coronavirus began to gain a foothold in the city. Mr. Tandel was no stranger to the hardships his community faced, but this time, he was filled with dread. The locality has poor hygiene, the fisherfolk who live in the area have had a bad run at sea for months and the lockdown has added to their financial distress. Mr. Tandel, who is visually challenged, lives with his parents and four siblings — three of whom are visually challenged too — in a 12×22 feet home. “The issue is not just how people in my locality will earn enough to feed themselves but also the environment in which they live,” he said. He knew he had to do something to alleviate their suffering.

Systematic effort
Mr. Tandel’s starting point for relief work was data collection, and his research background came in handy. He is attached to the Sociology Department, which comes under the Humanities and Social Sciences umbrella at IIT. Mr. Tandel classified the people most in need in his locality into three categories: those who are economically challenged, widows with no financial support, and persons with disability. “The data shocked me,” he said. “There were 22 persons with disabilities. Thankfully, no one in the community is infected so far. But if someone does test positive, what will be the condition of persons with disability, especially since we use public toilets? Also, what are the arrangements for quarantining them?”

Mr. Tandel soon found out that professors in his institute were involved in relief work, and reached out to his guide. Mr. Tandel began to reach out to people through social media, and the funds started to pour in, including from a professor who Mr. Tandel had met for “just two minutes” last year. She gave ₹1 lakh for the effort,“as she had confidence in me,” he said. At home, he took his brother’s help to stick a pamphlet outside their door offering help. All that the recipients had do was provide their name, Aadhaar number, phone number and bank account details. The idea was to ensure there was no duplication, and money could be transferred if required.

He also connected with his former professors at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and NGOs. With their help, he has managed to distribute 280 packets containing essentials in his locality. He has collected ₹1,95,000 for relief work so far, and has tied up with a retailer in the neighbourhood for supplies. Mr. Tandel works systematically in the community, with nearly 15 volunteers. Distribution is done in a temple, typically in the afternoon, sanitisation and social distancing norms are followed, and the team maintains a log. “We call out to them one by one, and they sign saying they have received supplies. We take pictures of the receipt and send it to the donors.”

Before Mr. Tandel reached out to his own community, he had collected ₹5,000 for an autorickshaw driver near IIT, who had told him he had nothing to eat and was without work. He has also now received a call from Murti Nagar near Koliwada where 30 taxi drivers have been asking for rations. Apart from these, Mr. Tandel has reached out to people in coastal villages in Palghar, where he hails from. “People in Mumbai have help from NGOs, but such access is not easy in villages,” he said. He has deposited ₹37,000 into accounts of people in five to six villages in the district. “The list is growing,” he said.

Together for a cause
Mr. Tandel was familiar with the hardship his community has faced over the years. His parents sell flowers for a living, but that earning has now dried up, and the family is dependent on his brother’s earnings from fishing, as well as Mr. Tandel’s stipend. His PhD work focuses on how his community in Mumbai is adapting to changes in the land they inhabit as well as the waters from which they get their livelihood. “My research will help me understand more about my community, and think about why we haven’t developed. I can share these inputs with policy makers,” he said.

Mr. Tandel has not let his personal struggles — and there have been many over the years, related to his disability as well as environmental deprivation — come in the way of his ambitions or desire to help those in need. He conducts sensitisation programmes at his institute on what it means to have a visual disability, besides training programmes called ‘Possibilities’, where he helps people from all walks of life to tap into their inner strengths.

His guide, Professor D. Parthasarathy of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, spoke of his determination and effort. “He’s someone who never gets discouraged,” he said. What keeps Mr. Tandel going is the desire to see people come together for a cause. “All of us need to lend a hand so we can reach as many people as possible. It’s time for us to look after the survival of those in need. In that lies the idea of nation-building.”

Kailash was also featured on a popular a TV channel. Click here.

Academy Events in August 2019

3 Minute Thesis Talk and Poster Presentation

Every year leading up to the IITB Convocation where our graduates receive their dually-badged degrees (second Saturday of August), the IITB-Monash Research Academy conducts the Three-Minute Thesis Talk (3MTT) and Poster Competition. This year, we will conduct the event on Thursday, 8 August 2019.

The 3MTT is an event at which students present their research work in a three-minute talk. They also present their work through posters that are put up at the same venue. A panel judges the talks and the posters to identify the best talk and best poster. The best presenters are given awards at the Oskar Night (our annual awards ceremony) that will be held on Sunday, 11 August 2019.

This year, Reliance Industries Ltd is our sponsor for this fascinating, thought-provoking event.


Date: 8 August 2019, Thursday
Time: 9.00 am to 2.00 pm
Venue: Lecture Hall 21, Second Floor,
Victor Menezes Convention Centre (VMCC), IIT Bombay, Powai

Oskar Night- Annual Awards Ceremony

Oskar Night 2019, the IITB-Monash Research Academy awards ceremony will be held on 11 August, Sunday in Mumbai. It is an annual event of the Academy, to recognise and showcase the accomplishments of research scholars, staff and supervisors of the Academy throughout the year, and in the 3 Minute Thesis Talk (3MTT) and poster presentation.

During the ceremony, awards for academic achievements are presented to students in the following categories:

  • Best Three Minute Thesis Talk award for junior researchers (less than two years in the Academy), sponsored by Reliance Industries Ltd.
  • Best Three Minute Thesis Talk award for senior researchers (more than two years in the Academy), sponsored by Reliance Industries Ltd.
  • Best Poster award for junior researchers, sponsored by Reliance Industries Ltd.
  • Best Poster award for senior researchers, sponsored by Reliance Industries Ltd.
  • Best CPI (Cumulative Performance Index) award, sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific
  • Best Collaboration award, sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific
  • Best Journal paper award, sponsored by Tata Chemicals
  • Best Conference paper award, sponsored by Tata Chemicals
  • Best Thesis award, sponsored by String Bio
  • Employee of the year award

The night is graced by distinguished personalities from both India and Australia consisting of academic, industry and government professionals. The awards, consisting of statuettes and certificates, are presented by the distinguished luminaries. The evening comprises of reflections and speeches by the dignitaries, a cultural program followed by a banquet. The venue for the event is Hotel Meluha The Fern in Hiranandani Gardens, Powai


Date: 11 August 2019
Time: 6.45 pm
Venue: Paragon Hall, Meluha The Fern, Hiranandani Gardens, Powai

Academy welcomes BASF as industry partner

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is delighted to announce that it has recently partnered with international chemicals major BASF to further research collaborations, specifically in projects related to clean energy, water, nanotechnology, and chemistry.

Preliminary talks were initiated a few months ago, and once common objectives and areas of interest were identified, an umbrella agreement was inked spelling out the scope of the collaboration and the roadmap ahead. Things picked up pace during the June 2019 intake of students at the Academy, when BASF offered to support two research projects undertaken by the Academy’s scholars. It is likely that many more projects will be supported in the future as well.

Prof Murali Sastry (IITB-Monash Research Academy) and Dr Dietmar Hueglin (BASF) celebrating the launch of the partnership

When asked why BASF chose the Academy for a partnership of this nature, Dr Dietmar Hueglin, Director Innovation Campus Mumbai at BASF Chemicals India Pvt Ltd, said, “Cooperating with the IITB-Monash Academy is a unique opportunity for BASF to partner with two word-class academia in India and Australia at once. We specifically appreciate the possibility for long-term partnership in highly relevant research fields, including global grand challenges. The Academy provides easy access to talented PhD students from IITB, and, last but not least, comfortable ease of doing business.”

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, is confident that this partnership will lead to exciting outcomes. “The Academy has a strong industry focus and firmly believes in the mantra: From Lab to Land. It was conceived as a unique model for how two leading, globally focused academic organizations can come together in the spirit of collaboration to deliver solutions and outcomes to grand challenge research questions facing industry and society,” he said. “As the reputation of the Academy grows and as more organizations start collaborating with us, we anticipate that we will contribute significantly to maintaining India’s reputation as a leading-edge global research hub. Our partnership with BASF has got off to an exciting start and we hope it will get stronger in the days to come.”

4-member DBT delegation visits the Academy

The Academy was delighted to welcome a four-member delegation from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt of India for a review meeting on 14 June 2019. The delegates were Dr. Meenakshi Munshi, Dr. Suraksha S. Diwan, Dr. Sabhyata Bhatia and Dr. Asif Mohammed.

The day commenced with introductions and setting-of-context by the Academy’s CEO Prof. Sastry and Dr. Munshi. Prof. Sastry presented an overview of the DBT-supported PhD program in the Academy. This was followed by a series of presentations by the students and supervisors being supported by the DBT. The student-and-supervisor-teams spoke about their research work, the progress and the direction in which they aim to proceed.

In the second half of the day, the Academy’s COO Dr. Nagabhushana showed the delegates around the Academy building, including a visit to the state-of-the-art laboratories housed within. They also had interactions with some of the start-up companies and Industry partners based in the Academy.

Demo by Dr. Nagabhushana

Academy-DBT partnership: an overview

In order to strengthen links with the government in the area of biotechnology, basic biology and devices, the Academy had submitted a proposal to the Department of Biotechnology, Govt of India in May 2016 to support joint PhD students. After reviewing the proposal, the DBT sanctioned an amount towards support of costs for 65 PhDs in the dual-badged joint PhD program of the IITB-Monash Research Academy over a period of 10 years beginning January 2017. A list of the Academy’s students supported by the DBT as of June 2019 is appended below in Table 1.

Table 1: IITB-Monash Research Academy Students supported by the Department of Biotechnology

No Student Name IITB Department Research Topic Supervisors
1 Manasi Prashant Kane MEMS Wearable Electrophysiological Sensors for Health Monitoring Prof. Dipti Gupta, Prof. Wenlong Cheng
2 Prasanna Ravindran Kamal Prakash Nair Bio Exploring the adhesive property of sickle cell of improved diagnosis Prof. Debjani Paul, Prof. Tuncay Alan
3 Sourabh Mehta Bio Smart Nanoparticles for Detection of Vulnerable Atherosclerotic Plaques and their Therapeutic Stabilisation Prof. Rinti Banerjee, Prof. Karlheinz Peter, Prof. Alex Bobik
4 Subramoni Hariharan CTARA High Quality Protein Extraction From Plant Based Sources Prof. Amit Arora, Prof. Antonio Patti
5 Vibha Kumari Bio Identification of human host factors required for human influenza virus assembly and budding Prof. Kiran Kondabagil, Prof. Rommel Mathias, Prof. Sunil K Lal
6 Aman Pandey Chemistry Design, Synthesis and Application of biocatalysts for Continuous Flow Synthesis Prof. Anil Kumar, Prof. Neil Cameron
7 Balu Raveendran MEMS Nanomaterials enabled Palpation device for cancer detection Prof. Dipti Gupta, Prof. Sunita Chauhan, Prof. Gita Pendharkar
8 Ami Lalit Mehta Bio Blood brain barrier (BBB) on chip Prof. Prasanna Gandhi, Prof. Nicolas Voelcker
9 Shachi Saluja Chemical Ophthalmic drug delivery with porous silicon Prof. Jayesh Bellare, Prof. Nicolas Voelcker
10 Kusumika Sinha Roy CTARA Bioactives and Natural Dyes From Food and Agricultural Waste Sources Prof. Amit Arora, Prof. Antonio Patti, Prof. Kellie Tuck
11 Poornima V B CTARA Cellulose nanofibers recovery from fruits waste Prof. Amit Arora, Prof. Warren Batchelor
12 Sujata Walunj Bio The novel nuclear transport molecule importing from Plasmodium falciparum; potential drug target Prof. Swati Patankar, Prof. David A. Jans
13 Parvathy Nair Electrical Novel health monitoring system with analysis for patients with mental disorders Prof. Maryam Shojaei Baghini, Prof. Faezeh Marzbanrad, Prof. Gita Pendharkar
14 Anjana P Menon Chemistry Role of bacterial sugar-based lipids in mediating membrane-induced cell death. Prof. Shobhna Kapoor, Prof. Mibel Aguilar
15 Mallikarjuna Korrapati MEMS Tactile sensor array for biomedical applications Prof. Dipti Gupta,Prof. Sunita Chauhan, Prof. Gita Pendharkar
16 Monica Upadhyay BIO Finding cues for metabolism inside giant virus particles – Are giant viruses ‘alive’? Prof. Kiran Kondabagil, Prof. Gregory Moseley
17 Arkasubhro Chatterjee CTARA Pectin Based films/gels for antibiotic/antifungal applications Prof. Amit Arora,Prof. Antonio Patti, Prof. Phil Andrews
18 Rafath Abdul Nassar Chemical Modeling and simulations of propulsion and swimming in microorganisms Prof. Sameer Jadhav, Prof. Prabhakar Ranganathan
19 Anup kumar Prasad MEMS Amyloid formation in frog peptides: Exploring peptide-lipid interactions Prof. Ajay Singh Panwar, Prof. Lisandra Martin
20 Kajal Sharma Chemical Microfluidic route to generation of core-shell fibers for drug delivery Prof. Venkat Gundabala, Prof. Tuncay Alan
21 Silpa Mariya Chemical Engineering Modelling the subdiffusive motion of bacteriophages within mucus Prof.P Sunthar,Prof. Jeremy J.Barr and Prof.Ravi Prakash Jagadeeshan
22 Aswin Paul Electrical Engineering The Arrow of Sophistication in Biological Self-Organization Dr Manoj Gopalakrishnan (IIT Bombay) and Dr Adeel Razi (Monash University

Ami Mehta-Swiss Science Slam

Congratulations to our PhD Scholar, Ami Mehta. She is the second runner up of the Swiss Science Slam. She explained her research work on fabrication of nature-inspired patterns for biomimicry through dance and a poem.

Here is the poem:

Fractals are SMART (Science, Math and Art)

I came across a design,
Self-similar and narcissist,
Neither half, nor whole – just fractional.
Repeats and repeats beyond our imagination
Seems like a favourite of nature too.

I came across a design,
Confusing yet interesting complex
Mendelbrot developed an equation – that iterates and re-iterates to the same pattern,
Seems like a favourite of mathematicians too.

I came across a design,
Beautiful and bizzare.
Simple pattern repeating endlessly until the canvas runs out of space,
Seems like a favourite of artists too.

I came across a design,
Random and everywhere in this universe.
Remarkable are the ways of nature,
Spirals, branches, rivers, hexagons, snowflakes, blood vessels, neurons
And the list is endless.

P.S. If you read carefully, the poem is also a fractal. The last line loops back to the first line.

Research scholar: Ami Mehta

Supervisors: Prof. Prasanna Gandhi, Prof. Prakriti Tayalia & Nicolas Voelcker

Contact details: ami.mehta@monash.edu

Watch her presentation on ‘Fabrication of nature-inspired patterns for biomimicry’ which won her the award:

The 100th Ph.D. Graduate

We are delighted to announce that the IITB-Monash Research Academy now has 100 graduates, thus marking a significant milestone in the Academy’s 10-year journey.

Our Joint Ph.D. student, Vamshi Krishna Kammadanam, presented his defense seminar today (April 25, 2019), becoming the 100th research scholar from the Academy to do so. Present on the occasion were Prof. Subhasis Chaudhuri (Director, IIT Bombay), Prof. A.K.Suresh (Deputy Director, Academic & Infrastructural Affairs), Prof. Virendra Sule (Professor, IIT Bombay), Prof. Neela Nataraj (Academy Professor In-charge), Prof. Rushikesh Joshi (Professor, IIT Bombay), Prof. Bimal Roy (Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata), Prof. Vikram Vishal (The Academy’s first graduate and now Professor, IIT Bombay).

Here is what they said.

Prof. Murali Sastry: 10 years, nearly 300 students through the Academy, close to 300 supervisors associated with us, 15 industry and government partners, two startups and now 100 graduates- how cool is this! We are extremely proud of our well-placed graduates who continue to build the IITB-Monash Research Academy brand globally.

Prof. Subhasis Chaudhuri: We have achieved the feat of 100 graduates. It is a great achievement not only for the Academy but also for both the partner institutes, IIT Bombay and Monash University. 10 years ago, when all this started, I don’t think we imagined that this joint Ph.D. program will take up the speed that it has today.

Prof. Neela Nataraj: The IITB-Monash Research Academy has reached a major milestone with 100 Ph.D. graduates and this special occasion marks 10 years of successful collaboration between IIT Bombay and Monash University, Melbourne. We hope that the graduates continue to do path-breaking research, build further on the training they received from IIT Bombay and Monash University and contribute both to the academia and the industry

Vamshi Krishna Kammadanam: Looking back at my decision to join PhD at IITB-Monash Academy, I can surely say that it has been a rewarding experience. I was a little dubious at the beginning of my PhD as I was coming back to academics after a break of four years during the course of which I was working as a senior engineer. But the support that I ended up receiving from people here at the Academy really made my journey as a research scholar quite smooth as well as enriching. Both the teaching faculty as well as the administrative staff at the Academy was very supportive and helpful. Regarding my research work, I am grateful that I got the opportunity to work under the guidance of two very experienced professors. I learnt a lot from them and had the good luck of receiving their expertise. Moreover, the Academy offers an intellectually stimulating learning atmosphere that was quite beneficial to me and led to my growth as a research scholar.

Vamshi Krishna Kammadanam’s Ph.D. Research:

He was jointly guided by Prof. Virendra Sule (IIT Bombay) and Prof. Yi Hong (Monash University)

Thesis Title: Symmetric and Asymmetric Schemes with Ideal Secrecy and Secure Transaction over Physical Channel

Abstract: Communication using networks has changed rapidly in the last half century. From telegraphic poles to satellite communications and personal communications, there have been breakthroughs in the technology and logistics of communication. In the present-day world, networking of communication is indispensable for transaction of information such as in online conferences, ATMs, mobile apps for services, etc. However all previous advancements in communication technology largely ignored the problem of security against intrusion disrupting network services and confidentiality of communication. Hence in modern day communication it is of utmost importance to address and solve the challenges arising from problems of communication with security and confidentiality.

The thesis considers problems of constructing schemes for symmetric key encryption, asymmetric key encryption as well as the problem of simultaneous encryption and encoding for communication of information over an insecure channel. The following schemes have been developed in the thesis. First, symmetric key encryption for bulk data and communication over public channels. Second, asymmetric (Public) key scheme for exchange of session keys. Third, a symmetric key block cipher algorithm which simultaneously encrypts and corrects channel errors. Fourth, conditions for feedback shift registers to generate permutations.

(Email: vkkam1@student.monash.edu)

Microscopic Gardening Wins Image of the Year 2018

Microscopic Gardening: Tiny Blossoms of Silicon by Vivek Garg has been voted the Australian National Fabrication Facility- Victoria Node (ANFF-VIC) Image of the Year 2018 by Melbourne Centre for Nano-fabrication (MCN).

The image shows a scanning electron micrograph (false-color) of Silicon (Si) nanoflowers, created using MCN’s Focused Ion Beam (FIB) in conjunction with wet chemical etching.

Vivek and his colleagues are investigating fabrication of 3D freeform structures of Si, such as these nanoflowers, due to their unique optical properties. Such structures can be engineered for multicolor generation through selective absorption of light and have tremendous potential for future optics offering unique opportunities for optical security, polarimetry, spectral imaging applications etc.

“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,” Vivek explained.

Vivek is a PhD candidate with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, a collaboration between IIT Bombay, India and Monash University, Australia and recipient of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Research Scholarship. He is working with Dr. Rakesh Mote, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Bombay, India and Dr. Jing Fu, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University, Australia on fabrication and controlled manipulation of freeform 3D micro/nanostructures with ion beams. This work is a part of his thesis project FIB nanofabrication and its application in creating novel nanostructures for diverse applications such as anti-reflection, color filters, sensors etc. to name a few.

Read more about Vivek’s work here http://www.vivekgarg.org/

As winner of the competition, Vivek will take home a $200 prize.

MCN Newsletter: http://nanomelbourne.com/newsletter/microscopic-gardening-wins-image-of-the-year-2018/

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

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

Read the story below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research scholar: Antara Dasgupta, IITB‑Monash Research Academy

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

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

Contact details: antara.dasgupta@monash.edu

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

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