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 Crecha Gracy Nadar CTARA Development of green biorefinery technologies from food processing waste Prof. Amit Arora, Prof. Y. Shastri, Prof. Tony Patti and Prof. V. Haritos

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:

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.

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/

Radhik Rammohan


Radhik Rammohan

Radhik completed his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from University of Calicut in the year 2012. Following this he served as a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering Department at the M.S.University of Baroda. He completed his Masters in Engineering from College of Engineering Guindy,Anna University Chennai in the Specialization of Computer Integrated Manufacturing. He secured second rank in the university in his Specialization. He had worked on mathematical modeling and characterization of Nano Finishing Process as part of His Masters Thesis work with Dr Sunil Jha, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Delhi. He has published his research work in Leading international Conferences in the Domain of Manufacturing Engineering. Post his ME studies, He joined as a Production Engineer at Prisms India Private Limited, Pondicherry. After his Stint at Pondicherry, He joined the Robotics Lab at IIT Madras as Project Associate to work in Prof T. Asokan’s Surgical Robotics Research Team. He was instrumental in developing a Haptic Sensor for Force Feedback.
He is working with Prof Maryam Shojaei Baghini ,Department of Electrical Engineering , IIT Bombay alongwith Dr Elahie Abdi and Dr Gita Pendarkar, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering,Monash University Australia to solve Develop a Robotic Platform for Pediatric Surgery.


Link to student’s project: IMURA0817


 

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.