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Cutting-edge technology for IIT

by Satish Hattiangadi
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Prof. Narashimva Rao felt good when he was chosen as the Director of a fledgling IIT. But that euphoria evaporated within a month, when the location of the Institute was revealed. He was to become the Director of IIT Nagaland! Goodness Gracious! What technology would anyone hope to learn in Nagaland? How does one get staff to come and live there, and how does one get students to join? Fortunately for Prof. Rao, the Heads of some of the departments had also been appointed, so he was not alone in his endeavor.

The Diro and his HOD team rented a bus and embarked on the four-hour drive to the site. Five hundred acres of fairly sylvan forest land, on the banks of a lake, more like a picnic spot than an Institute of Technology!

“I am sure this is what Bombay IIT must have looked like, when they were operating from SASMIRA and coming to Powai!” said Jaggu, the Head of Chemical Engineering. In his mind’s eye he could picture a Chemical Engineering Department coming up at the very end of a long corridor and shuddered at the thought of all that walking that would be necessary.

Everyone knew that Pajama had made a killing in the software technology bubble, though few recalled that the product he had sold, “Window Dressing”, was in fact a salad dressing

Prof. Nene smiled. He had spent a few years at the Lakeside Staff Hostel at Powai, while he was an Asst. Prof. of Nanotechnology. That was a few years ago, and now he was going to head the Department!

Diro Rao was despondent, though. “The similarity ends with the looks of the place. When IIT Bombay came up, there was a big demand for engineers. Now times have changed. And Powai in those days was not really that far from Bombay, as it was called then. Nagaland is a different story! We need something special to attract staff and students here. Some cutting-edge technology! Let us get some consultant to come and advise us about which technology would be best suited for Institute.” All the Heads nodded in assent (pun intended).

The team went back to Calcutta and searched for a suitable consultant. They were happy they landed with one of the best available well-wishers of IIT – Jamadagni Deshmukh – now known to one and all as Pajama Deshmukh. Everyone knew that Pajama had made a killing in the software technology bubble, though few recalled that the product he had sold, “Window Dressing”, was in fact a salad dressing, even though a large and growing software house had purchased the rights and title for a phenomenal price.

So it transpired one afternoon a few months later that Diro Rao and his team of nodding Heads were ensconced in Arsalan Restaurant with Pajama Deshmukh, amid the wafting aromas of kababs and biryanis. Everyone was listening with rapt attention to the Angel Funding maestro talk of the appropriate technology for IIT Nagaland.

“India is still largely agricultural. So, to be relevant to our country, we should think of a technology that is associated with agriculture. Such a technology would have a great impact. Among the agricultural products that India exports, one of the more significant ones is coffee. And the best coffee being exported from India is a P-berry blend of Robusta and Arabica strains. The coffee beans are roasted to the right temperature to give the cup that delicious flavour.”

Our CPC coffee earnings would be higher than Saudi Arabia’s oil earnings!

“But P-berry coffee is not the best or the most expensive. That label is attached to a brand called CPC. India could well be producing CPC coffee, because the CPC is made with the same beans as P-berry. But the process is different. Before roasting, the coffee beans are fed to civets. The digestive juices of the civet act on the beans, and when the beans are recovered from the civet poo, they can be washed and dried and roasted to give CPC coffee. In fact, that is what CPC stands for – it is an acronym for ‘civet poo coffee’. If India switched from P-berry to CPC, our coffee exports would rise ten-thousand-fold in value, even if the same quantity of coffee beans were used. Our CPC coffee earnings would be higher than Saudi Arabia’s oil earnings!”

“Now take another example. The Panda is an endangered species. It survives on a diet exclusively of bamboo. But the funny thing is that pandas cannot, on their own, digest the cellulose. For digesting that, they have to depend upon certain bacteria in their digestive tract which can break up cellulose into sugars. Panda poo is being studied to identify those organisms. Cultivating those organisms gives a way of processing cellulose into energy. India could stop importing oil. Our balance of payments position would get reversed, and a day might come when you get 60 US dollars for one Indian rupee!”

“Just two examples are considered here. There are thousands of different animals, and the effects of their digestive tracts on thousands of edible products could be studied. You would get innumerable new products out of this study.”

“And you can add the effects of modified digestive effects. If the animal is suffering from diarrhoea or constipation, the digestive effects are going to be markedly different. IIT – N can, and should, start a Department of Poo-ology. You could have a veterinary section that took care of the animals, a culinary section that would taste the outputs to identify unique flavours, and a medicinal section to check out the use of Poo-ology in medicine.”

Diro Rao and his team of nodding Heads were in raptures about this wonderful cutting-edge technology.

Our balance of payments position would get reversed, and a day might come when you get 60 US dollars for one Indian rupee

“Yes!” beamed Prof. Jaggu, the Chemical Engineer. “We can define Poo-cleaning as a unit process! It will be a new unit process after a very long time!” He could imagine the accolades coming his way. Maybe the new unit process could be named ‘The Jagdish Ramchandani process!’

“I am sure nano-technology would have a big role to play,” said Prof. Nene. “I can already see the need for a nano-camera that can see the particles go through the digestive system. I can also see the need for a nano-spectrometer that could also follow the particle and trace the chemical history that the particle goes through!”

The decision was quickly taken to set up a Department of Poo-ology. A thousand acres of forest land was acquired to house the animals whose poo was to be studied, and a 50,000 sq.-ft. building constructed to house the department staff. Somehow IITs do manage to get funds for these things.

‘Research’ done at the Institute was primarily verification of papers already produced elsewhere, and the ensuing period had ensured that the ‘cutting-edge technology’ had lost the cutting edge

Then they scouted around for a Head of Department for Poo-ology. They checked at all the Ivy League schools, who were hearing of Poo-ology for the first time. But, since an IIT had enquired about it, they all set up their own departments, and in a matter of a few years, they had started producing doctorates in Poo-ology. But none of those were qualified enough to meet IIT’s norms.

So it was about twelve years after Pajama Deshmukh’s enlightening talk that the HOD was finally located – someone that met IIT’s norms about academic qualifications as well as teaching experience. Then, finally, the cutting-edge technology took off at IIT – Nagaland. ‘Research’ done at the Institute was primarily verification of papers already produced elsewhere, and the ensuing period had ensured that the ‘cutting-edge technology’ had lost the cutting edge.

3 comments

njain1967 November 18, 2013 - 5:21 pm

Poo-fect 🙂

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Dilip G. Banhatti November 18, 2013 - 10:52 pm

Delightful!

Reply
Grumblebee November 19, 2013 - 1:41 am

Poo-logy has existed at IITB too. Many lectures are all bovine poo. 🙂

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