Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Readers will be able to edit existing articles and post new articles directly
In 1893, a monk and an industrialist – Swami Vivekananda and Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata – met on the steamship ‘Empress of India’ en route from Japan to Chicago. Their conversation sowed the seeds of Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Tata’s mind.
“I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels. I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of a Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read,” Tata wrote to Vivekananda on November 23, 1898. By then, he had constituted a Provisional Committee under the leadership of Burjorji Padshah, who would go on to become a central character in the setting up of IISc.
Padshah, who had visited many countries to understand how universities function, wrote after his tour: “...such a university might be the crown of the existing universities.” He noted that the presence of a large number of young Indians at Oxford, Cambridge and other colleges and hospitals in London and Edinburgh demonstrated the demand for postgraduate education, mostly because “European degrees have a money value superior to that of Indian degrees; but the difference in the money value is itself the result of the differences in educational efficiency.” The committee, on December 31, 1898, presented a draft to viceroy-designate Lord Curzon. Services of Sir William Ramsay, a Nobel laureate, were sought to pick the institute’s setting. Bengaluru – where it still stands on a campus of 400-plus acres – was chosen because of the city’s good climate. Next, Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the maharaja of Mysore, donated more than 371 acres. Viceroy Lord Minto granted a formal approval for the institute, and the vesting order to enable it to function was signed on May 27, 1909.
Driver of industrialisation
At IISc’s foundation ceremony in 1909, Wodeyar IV said, “The institute should make some provision for students, who, though they possess no capital, are likely to turn a scientific training into a useful account.” The first batch was admitted on July 24, 1911, in the departments of general and applied chemistry headed by Norman Rudolf, and electro-technology under Alfred Ray.
From the start, IISc’s focus has been on research and the institute has featured in national and international rankings over the years. In 1913, Sir M Visvesvaraya, the dewan of Mysore, was nominated to its Council. He urged researchers to carry out studies that would realise his dream of an industrialised Mysore. “His association had an immediate impact on the nature of research,” IISc says. “In five years, six factories were started as a direct result of the investigations carried out here: an acetone factory in Nashik; a thymol factory in Hyderabad (Sind); a factory to make straw boards from bamboo in Bengaluru, a soap factory in Bengaluru, and sandalwood oil factories in Bengaluru and Mysore.” The success of the sandalwood oil and soap factories made sandalwood and its products synonymous with Karnataka.
Nursery of institutes
Prof P Balaram, IISc director from 2005 to 2014, told TOI: “In the 1940s, when World War-II ended, it was clear that you needed a lot of technology in India. And many engineering departments at IISc were started in the 40s and 50s. These came much before the IITs. In fact, people from here went on to create many other institutes and programmes.”
During WW-II, IISc contributed by training personnel, manufacturing military and industrial goods, and collaborating with Hindustan Aircraft Limited (now Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) to repair and maintain British and American warplanes. “This period saw an expansion of research in engineering, and new departments such as those of Aeronautical Engineering, Metallurgy, and Mechanical Engineering were added,” IISc says.
Between the 60s and the early 80s, under director Satish Dhawan, IISc’s research areas grew to include materials science, computer science and automation, molecular biophysics, and interdisciplinary work under the Centre for Theoretical Studies, which eventually led to the formation of other centres in ecology, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and more.
The social impact of advancements in science was a key focus during this period, particularly under the Cell for Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas (ASTRA), which continues today as the Centre for Sustainable Technologies.
Dhawan is just one of the many big names associated with IISc. Its first director MW Travers was an associate of Sir William Ramsay. Three of its directors were knighted – Sir AG Bourne, Sir Martin O Foster and Sir CV Raman, who also won a Nobel.
IISc counts among its former students and faculty several eminent scientists like Homi J Bhabha, founder of India’s nuclear programme, Vikram Sarabhai, founder of India’s space programme, meteorologist Anna Mani, biochemist and nutrition expert Kamala Sohonie, and solid state and materials scientist CNR Rao, to name a few.
“One of the most important things to come out of IISc is the people. While the contributions of Bhabha, Sarabhai and Dhawan are well known, there are many more,” Balaram said, adding that IISc also played a key role in establishing other academic institutions, including the IITs and organisations like BARC and Isro.
“Immediately after Independence, GN Ramachandran started the physics department in Madras University, S Ramaseshan started the department in IIT-M. PK Khelkhar started IIT-Bombay as project officer and then IIT-Kanpur as first director, while JC Ghosh was the first director of IIT-Kharagpur,” he added.
Other prominent IISc-ians include Prof Roddam Narasimha, who conceived India’s Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas; Prof Rohini Godbole, a physicist with multiple international awards known for her work on the Higgs Boson (God Particle), for which physicists Francois Englert and Peter Higgs won the Nobel in 2013; CV Vishveshwara, whose predictions nearly 50 years ago were credited by scientists from LIGO after discovering gravitational waves for the first time, and VM Ghatge.
Balaram said all of India’s PSUs in the initial years of Independence, including HAL and NAL, had people from IISc, and many institutions – NCBS, JNCASR, ICTS, to name a few – were conceived here as their founders were trained at IISc.
Moving into the 21st century, IISc has set up an undergraduate programme, several new departments and centres in the areas of brain research, nanoscience and engineering, hypersonics and more, strengthened ties with industry, and incubated several startups. It has also expanded to include a 1500-acre campus at Challakere in Chitradurga district, Karnataka. It will soon start a medical course, something Padshah had conceived 123 years ago. In 2015, Bharat Ratna Prof CNR Rao, one of IISc’s directors (1984-1994) and a former scientific advisor to the PM, had told TOI: “IISc is the only one in India with the potential of matching the MITs and Harvards.”
Today, IISc has more than 40 departments/labs offering PhD and integrated PhD programmes, several master’s programmes and a four-year BSc (research) programme. It has dozens of active patents and several tie-ups with industries taking its research into the market while more than 20,000 students have graduated from it over the years. It has become more conscious about translating research into products and has helped host a lot of companies. AstraZeneca, a pharma MNC, began its operations at IISc. “...Wipro’s first operation, too, was at IISc. Many of these things are not acknowledged,” Balaram said.
The institute, through SID (Society of Innovation and Development), incubates a host of startups in deep science, including those that have won the National Startup Awards.
1935: Max Born
Renowned Physicist And Mathematician Max Born Spent 6 Months At Bengaluru Institute As CV Raman Went All Out To Bring The Best Scientific Minds To India
But here’s a nugget from years before that, even before World War II had begun: quantum physicist and mathematician Max Born, Oppenheimer’s PhD guide, had spent six months at Bengaluru’s IISc thanks to the efforts of Nobel laureate CV Raman.
Born was paid Rs 15,000 for his IISc stint, which was more than what Cambridge, where he held a temporary position, was paying him at the time. Born and his wife also had an IISc bungalow for accommodation.
But first, the Born-Oppenheimer connection. In 1926, many years before he was to head the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer left Cambridge for the University of Gottingen – then one of the world’s leading centres for theoretical physics – to study under Max Born. This was about three decades before Born would win the physics Nobel.
According to IISc’s quarterly magazine ‘Connect’, when Raman was appointed director in 1933, nearly 25 years after IISc was founded, the institute only had four departments: general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and electrical technology, leaving research skewed heavily towards industrial applications. “Among his main tasks was to establish a physics department, a recommendation that had been made by two government-appointed review committees, the Pope Committee (1921) and the Sewell Committee (1931),” says the December 2022 issue of the magazine. He was quick to set up the department, albeit with him as its only faculty member, and initiated investigations in theoretical and experimental physics with his students, leading to several publications of high quality.
But Raman felt that if Bengaluru had to be a worldclass centre for physics, it would need world-class physicists. He was particularly keen that IISc become a hub for atomic physics. Raman’s tenure as director coincided with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and many physicists of Jewish heritage were being forced out of the country. Raman believed he could convince some of them to come to IISc. Former IISc director and Raman’s nephew S Ramaseshan says in a Current Science article that Raman identified the gaps in knowledge in India and adopted a strategy of trying to recruit “faculty from among the reputed scientists who were fleeing from the tyranny of Hitler”.
Born Comes To IISc
It was around this time that Born was invited to IISc. After exchanging multiple letters, on January 17, 1935, Raman sent Born his appointment letter for the position of Reader in Theoretical Physics. It was a special appointment for six months beginning October 1, 1935, with an honorarium of Rs 15,000.
This was after Raman’s initial offer that he take up a permanent position was turned down by Born citing several reasons, including his age – he was 52 then – and the climate. Born had in turn suggested that he would first like to visit IISc for a few months and give lectures. Born’s Cambridge University profile page says that although a convert to Lutheranism, Born was tar geted for his Jewish descent according to Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic laws. “Fleeing from Germany in 1933, Born accepted the position of Stokes Lecturer of Applied Mathematics at Cambridge before moving to Bengaluru for a period of six months.”
“When Born arrived in IISc on September 28, 1935, with his wife Hedi, he was already a distinguished physicist... In the 1920s, along with the likes of Erwin Schrodinger, James Franck, and Werner Heisenberg, he had been instrumental in developing the foundations of quantum mechanics, the theory that describes nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles,” Connect tells us.
Briton Who Got In The Way
Historical notes published by Raman Research Institute (RRI) in 1998 say that “Born enjoyed his stay at IISc and his lectures were greatly appreciated. He found that research students at IISc were very intelligent and accepted Raman’s original offer of a permanent position.”
However, this was not to be. As per the RRI notes, at a meeting to decide on Born’s permanent position, “Raman spoke of the extraordinary merits of Born… Then, unbelievably, an Englishman (little known in the field of either science or engineering) spoke in a most derogatory manner about Born…” Connect identifies the man as Kenneth Aston.
What happened? According to IISc, Raman was keen to create a permanent chair for Born and with the latter being open to the idea, two search committees were set up, one in Bengaluru (led by Raman), and the other in London (led by the physicist Ernest Rutherford). “This seemed a mere formality – both committees were in favour of offering the position to Born.”
However, Raman also had to seek the approval of the Senate – the faculty body – and the Council. With some persuasion, he was able to convince them to create a Professorship in Mathematical Physics. During the Senate meeting, Aston, an Englishman recently hired as a professor in the electrical technology department, attacked not just Raman but also Born.
“Aston went up and spoke in a most unpleasant way against Raman’s motion, declaring that a second-rank foreigner driven out from his own country was not good enough for them. This was particularly disappointing since we had been kind to the Astons… (they had stayed as guests with the Borns when they arrived until their bungalow was ready). I was so shaken that when I returned to Hedi, I simply cried,” Connect quotes Born as having written later. Per the Indian Academy of Sciences archives, between November 1935 and April 1936, Born authored several scientific papers at IISc. Scientists have since lamented India’s missed chance to become home to a mind like Born.
Ranking in the world, year-wise
2013: IISc among world’s Top 400
IISc only Indian institute in top 500 global ranking
Seethalakshmi S | TNN
Bangalore: Bangalore-headquartered Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has once again made the country proud. It is the only Indian institute that has made it to the top 500 in the 2013 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) which was released by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The 104-year-old entity is ranked in the 301-400 category.
IISc, which was ranked 45 in the world ranking for Chemistry last year, is on 43rd spot this time. The premier institute has shown a dramatic improvement in Computer Science as well. From 101-150 in 2012, it is now listed in the 51-75 bracket. In Math, however, it retained last year’s ranking in the 151-200 slot. Harvard tops the global ranking, followed by Stanford and University of California, Berkeley. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cambridge University are in fourth and fifth position respectively, in the ARWU rankings.
2017: 8th in small universities' ranking
The Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, is in the eighth place in the list of top ten small universities in the world, according to an assessment that has three institutions each from France and Italy in the list.
CalTech is placed at the top of the Times Higher Education’s Best Small Universities in the World 2017, a release said.
The three French universities in the top 10 are École Normale Supérieure (second), followed by École Polytechnique (fourth) and École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (seventh).
Italy’s three in the top 10 are Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa in fifth place, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in sixth and Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, tenth.
Small universities are defined by the publication as having fewer than 5,000 students and teach and research across more than four disciplines.
Seeta Bhardwa of Times Higher Education said: “The Best Small Universities in the World for 2017 highlights that small universities provide high student satisfaction and good working relationships between students and their professors”.
“Many students are drawn to smaller class sizes, higher teacher to student ratios and the community-like feel that a small university can provide”.
Collaboration with Rolls-Royce: low-noise technology for aircraft engines
IISc makes jet engines quieter
Rajiv Kalkod, TNN | Jul 14, 2013
Bangalore:Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore and IITBombay have helped Rolls-Royce develop low-noise technology for aircraft engines that are fitted in longhaul planes such as Boeing 747s and Dreamliners.
An 11-member team led by U Ramamurthy of IISc’s department of materials engineering began research in 2006 in collaboration with the UK-based company and recently delivered the technology.
Developed using ‘shape memory’ alloys, the technology brings down engine noise during landing and take-off. Defeaning noise levels of aircraft have triggered global protests from many residents staying near airports and forced adoption of rules such as a blanket ban on nighttime landings.
Partners: Rolls-Royce, IIT-Bombay, Imperial College, London
Rolls-Royce was involved in a tripartite research agreement with research groups in IISc and IIT-Bombay as well as Imperial College, London.
IISc & IIT-B develop low-noise technology to minimize engine sound while planes take off & land Tech involves silencer vanes that can operate at temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius and more IISc and IIT-Bombay collaborate with Imperial College, London, to make Rolls-Royce engines
Discovery goes beyond jet engines
The objective was to discover high-temperature shape memory alloy compositions with a new technique which could be adapted for engines,” IISc’s U Ramamurthy said.
The professor and his student Vyasa Shastri explained that a chamber in the engine is fitted with silencer vanes. “When the plane takes off or lands, the silencers become operational. This reduces engine noise,” Ramamurthy said. The vanes were capable of operating at temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius and higher.
“It’s been a great collaboration, developing a method to screen a large number of alloys. This has applications beyond the current material that could develop into actuators for more aircraft, into a general tool for developing alloys. It’s been very high-profile within Rolls-Royce, and very exciting for the group,” said David Dye of the department of materials, Imperial College, London.
Shape memory alloys
T hey are materials capable of remembering their original shape (hence called “smart materials”). The trigger for memory is usually temperature. For nickel-titanium (the leading shape memory alloy), the temperature range is minus100 degrees celsius to 80 degrees celcius
IISc slides 130 rungs in global varsity rankings
Chethan Kumar,TNN | Aug 26, 2014 The Times of India
BANGALORE: On an average, at least 10 institutions have overtaken Indian Institute of Science (IISc) every year in the global ratings since 2003, even though it continues to be the only one from India in the top 500. It has dropped 130 ranks in 11 years.
IISc, just like in 2013, continues to be ranked among the top 500 institutes in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2014 done by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
However, in 2013, it was close to 300, while its ranking is near 400 now, with over 50 institutes having overtaken it.
ARWU ranks universities on the basis of academic and research performance, including highly cited researchers, papers published, indexed in major citation indices, and per capita academic performance.
When IISc first made it to ARWU's list of top 500 institutes in 2003, it was in the 270-275 range. A decade later, it's near the 400 mark, dropping 130 ranks.
ARWU attributes this to the consistent drop in performance in subject-wise ranking. In 2013, IISc ranked 43 in Chemistry, while the ranking dropped to the 51-75 group this year. In 2009 (Chemistry), it ranked in the group of 76-101, retained the same position in 2010, jumped to 49th rank in 2011, 45th in 2012 and 43rd in 2013. But dropped to the 51-75 range this year.
In Computer Science, from the 51-75 group in 2013, IISc dropped to 101-150 this year. In English, where it had been in the 76-100 group since 2009, it dropped to the 101-150 group in 2014.
In natural sciences, the institute has stayed in the 151-200 group, the same as last year.
Sources in IISc credit other institutions of having performed well and feel the quality at the institute hasn't really dropped. IISc director Prof Anurag Kumar argues that the results of the efforts put in the past decade will yield results in a couple of years.
BENGALURU: The rate at which researchers at Indian Institute of Science have been applying for patents has seen a significant increase in the past decade, and the past five years have especially been productive.
Data shows that from January 2001 to December 2022, researchers and scientists from IISc filed 3,147 patent applications, of which nearly 70% - 2,157 - came in the period between January 2018 and December 2022.
In 2022, for example, scientists and researchers from the century-old institute filed 585 patents, at a rate of two patents every three days on average. This is an increase from 512 in 2021. While the number of annual patent filings crossed the 200 mark in 2017, it has been on the rise since. In 2018, at least 283 such applications were filed, while at the end of 2022 it was 585 (for that year). The increasing number of patents indicates IISc's enhanced focus on lab-to-market research, something the Indian research fraternity was found to be averse to doing in the past.
Between Jan 2006 and now, 983 patents got green signal
In fact, Prof CNR Rao, a former IISc director and advisor to PM, had reiterated multiple times that "researchers should not just find, publish and move on", and that they must convert their science into technology.
Prof GK Ananthasuresh, chairperson, IPTeL (Intellectual Property and Technology Licensing) monitoring committee, told TOI: "There has been an increasing emphasis on transnational research. While basic research continues to happen, we are encouraging faculty and students to concentrate on translating some of their works at which time innovations and products come about. Some of the patents have also been transferred to the industry in the last few years. SID has done some of this work through incubated companies, which has been on the rise.”
According to IISc, the office of IPTeL acts as the gateway to filing for IP protection besides ensuring that the value of the knowledge being generated at the institute is leveraged, by responsible licensing, for the benefit of the institute and thereby to the society at large. "IPTeL strives to enable rapid filing of IP, so that it does not unduly delay the submission of results to academic journals," according to IISc.
Ananthasuresh said that IISc, too, has been consciously facilitating increased patent filing. "The IPTeL office has been enhanced and there's a greater awareness. Earlier faculty thought that if you file a patent it delays your general publishing process, which is not true. Now there's awareness about this and more people are filing for patents," he said. He added that now the faculty, and even several PhD students are aware of what it takes to take basic research results and translate that into a product.
"We have tech biz incubation offices and a lot of activities that have increased awareness among faculty and students. We are hopeful of this number increasing further in the years to come," he said.
So far as the number of patents granted goes, the IPTeL also has figures for 2023 given that approvals usually take time and are not for applications filed in the same year. Between January 2006 and 2023, 983 patents have been cleared, including 212 so far this year. And, 81% of them (799) came since 2018.
As reported by TOI earlier, the Centre too has been augmenting patent offices in the country and time taken for grant of patents has been decreasing in the past decade. "Overall, the patenting environment in the country too is improving and that's becoming very apparent," Ananthasuresh said.
2016: Ashwagandha offers hope for Alzheimer's
The Times of India, Jan 28 2016
Seethalakshmi S & Sunita Rao
IISc research offers hope to those with Alzheimer's
Ashwagandha May Reverse Memory Loss
The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is in the midst of a path-breaking research using ashwagandha that offers a hope for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Dr Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, chairperson at Centre for Neuro Sciences at IISc, is using an extract of the ashwagandha root (an ayurvedic plant) on mice with Alzheimer's disease. Her preliminary finding is that it can reverse memory loss.
The Tatas have pledged Rs 75 crore grant for the research being done on the IISc campus.
“Research worldwide both in pharmaceutical companies and academia have failed to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. There is far less optimism as most drugs have failed in clinical trials We need to leverage the knowledge base of the tradi tional system of medicine such as ayurveda, which has been practised for more than 2,000 years. Understanding the knowledge base of these systems of medicine and using it effectively in the mo dern context is essential as we are set to see a large increase in cases of disorders of the ageing brain,“ Ravindranath told TOI.
“We are now purifying the mixture and reducing the effective dose. What is interesting is the way the ashwagandha worked in the mice. The extract did not work directly on the brain. Instead it enhanced a protein in the liver that is broken down and released into the blood to act as a sink for the amyloid and helps pull out the amyloid from the brain,“ she added.
The 2015 Nobel Prize for medicine was won by Chinese scientist Tu Youyou's for her discovery of artemisinin, a drug based on traditional Chinese herbal medicine. The drug is now part of standard anti-malarial regimens.
2017/ Malaria new tool for diagnosis created
The tool tests the rigidity of the cell
By studying the properties of normal red blood cells (RBCs) and parasite-infected RBCs, scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, (IISc) have developed a new diagnostic tool for early detection of malaria.
Currently, visual microscopic identification of the malarial parasite Plasmodium inside red blood cells (RBCs) is used, but the new tool can detect the disease even in RBCs that do not themselves host the parasite but lie near the infected ones. RBCs that lie close to the infected ones appear rigid much like the affected ones and this helps in easy diagnosis. The results were recently published in Biomedical Journal.
Blood samples with malaria infections caused by P. falciparum and P. vivax were collected from the Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute and studied. RBCs were separated out from the blood, and a single RBC was trapped in an optical tweezer trap. In this technique, laser beams are focused at the micron-sized RBC (like tweezers holding the RBC) under a microscope and imaged with a video camera.
The Brownian motion (random movement of particles) of the normal RBC was found to be different from the infected ones.
A photodetector was used to measure this motion of the trapped particle. The researchers quantified the fluctuations using the ‘corner frequency’ measurement. The corner frequency of normal cells was 25 hertz whereas it was 29 hertz for infected cells. The change in frequency was due to the difference in the rigidity of the cells; the infected cells were more rigid compared to the normal ones.
When trapped, the RBC gets folded as it is biconcave in shape and the time taken for folding inside the trap was measured. As the infected cells were more rigid they took about 1.33 seconds to fold whereas normal cells took only 0.8 seconds. A measure of folding time can also be used to determine whether a cell is infected.
“Only 2-5% of the RBCs host the parasite. But we can see the rigidity in other RBCs in the infected pool also. This is called the bystander effect and it is very helpful in our tweezers study. P.vivax infects mainly the immature RBCs (reticulocytes) but due to this effect we could see changes in the mature RBCs not hosting the parasite too. We are yet to understand what exactly is released into the blood stream that causes rigidity even in the non-hosting cells,” says Apurba Paul from the Department of Physics at IISc and first author of the paper.
According to the researchers, the tweezers technique can be used as a general screening tool for all stages of malarial infection. “The technique is very easy and does not require trained personnel as it is fully automated. Very little blood is needed, and it can be drawn at any time of the day. The changes can be seen in the blood even when the parasite count is very low due to the bystander effect,” Paul adds.
Superbugs’ antibiotic resistance/ 2021
Researchers of the Molecular Biophysics Unit, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), have found a way to block bacteria from flushing out antibiotics. This holds the potential of making existing drugs more effective against drug-resistant bacteria or superbugs.
They used a specific antibody found in Indian camels (at the National Research Centre on Camel, Bikaner) to block the transporter. The team, led by Aravind Penmatsa, assistant professor, MBU, has demonstrated it in laboratory conditions. Bacteria are generally killed by antibiotics. One of the mechanisms they use to gain resistance is called efflux, the process in which bacteria transport compounds such as drugs outside the cell, and transporters play a crucial role in enabling the pathogen to perform this.
Transporters are among major components in multidrug resistance armoury of bacteria. IISc said its researchers “have solved the atomicresolution structure of one such transporter, NorC, in complex with an Indian camelid antibody (ICab).”
“The process of efflux is very important for bacteria and a major strategy that hasn’t yet been explored as a therapeutic mechanism is to develop molecules to block it. If we can block these transporters, the drugs will gain efficacy. We can enhance efficacy of available antibiotics if we have blockers of efflux,” Penmatsa told TOI.
An IISc spokesperson said: “These insights will significantly help formulate strategies to counter transportermediated antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria, using tools like camelid antibodies.” The study was primarily funded by the DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance and the department of biotechnology.
2021: low-cost ventilator
In March last year, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit India, Srinivasan Raghavan, chairperson of the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru, asked Dr Justin Gopaldas, consultant at the Critical Care Medicine department at Manipal Hospitals, what kind of healthcare requirements might emerge. Dr Gopaldas felt ventilators may soon be in short supply. Raghavan assembled a team from CeNSE, understood the intricacies of a ventilator from Dr Gopaldas, and decided to build as sophisticated a ventilator as they possibly could in the short time they had.
A ventilator is a complex equipment, designed mostly by the world’s big medical device companies. It is needed when our lungs fail, which is what happens in serious cases of Covid-19. The ventilator gets the air from outside the body into the blood, so that the various parts of the body function well until the lungs heal. And as the lungs heal, the ventilator should allow the body to take control.
Badly designed ventilators can cause harm. “When we breathe, we suck air and generate drag. But a ventilator pushes air, it stresses the lungs, making them vulnerable,” Dr Gopaldas says. There are different kinds of patients – those who can breathe a little, those who can’t. Some Covid infected lungs are very tight, so difficult to blow air into. A ventilator has to handle all these different requirements, and deliver the precise pressure, volume, and volumetric flow rate a patient needs.
So, the device is a mix of the pneumatics through which the air flows, and lots of sensors and control codes that control the pneumatics. “We quickly realised that 80-90% of the ventilator is not the pneumatics, but the support electronics and the controls. So we moved towards a microcontroller based system,” says Sushobhan Avasthi, associate professor at IISc. The lockdown made the team’s task tough. Many components were not easily available. They weren’t getting flow meters, so Harshvardhan Gupta, a PhD student at IISc, went into the CeNSE lab and 3D printed the parts.
Saurabh Chandorkar, assistant professor at IISc, wrote 80% of the code. “He’s an ex-Intel person, and he’s very good at writing those kinds of things,” Avasthi says. Prosenjit Sen, associate professor, wrote the graphical user interface (GUI) – the touchscreen that doctors use – in a week.
In 10 days, the first prototype was ready. And by day 17, a second version. But soon after, the first wave of the pandemic had waned, and the team slowed down. And it was only last month, when Dr Gopaldas saw his ICU overflowing that he once again called Raghavan about the state of the project. The team had started working with a medical device maker, Vasmed Health Sciences, to make the ventilator. The project was fasttracked. A final certification is expected any day now. The plan is to make 25 units by the end of the month.
The ventilator will be sold initially at Rs 1.5 lakh, a fraction of the Rs 7 lakh to Rs 20 lakh and more that imported versions cost. “We are able to do it because of all of IISc’s infrastructure funded by the government, and all of our salaries paid by the institution. The control codes are the heart of the ventilator and they are developed by us. But we will make it available free,” says Raghavan.
A lot still depends on funding to take the product to market. Or the government committing to procure a certain number of ventilators. Nonetheless, it’s a great story of what an industry-academia partnership is capable of.