Bidding Farewell to The Dronacharya: Prof. Soumya Gangopadhyay

Bidding Farewell to The Dronacharya: Prof. Soumya Gangopadhyay

Oct 02, 2017 | Sahithi Ravipati Sweety Shukla

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Professor Soumya Gangopadhyay, a faculty from the Department of Mechanical Engineering is truly a quintessence of passionate teacher and a researcher. With him leaving NIT Rourkela on the 8th of September 2017, Team Monday Morning caught up with him for an hour long interview to gain insights into his life; the past, present and his future plans. Team MM brings to you the various phases of his life in the form of a tell-tale wherein each chapter is an enriching and fascinating experience in its own way.

Prologue

Going back to the beginning of the journey of his life, Prof. Gangopadhyay says that he was born in Kolkata and completed his schooling from Ramakrishna Missionary School, Kolkata. He then pursued his B.Tech in Maharashtra, M.Tech from National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research, Kolkata, and PhD from Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), Kharagpur.  Initially, confused regarding what field he should choose to make a career, he eventually chose Engineering and went on to pursue Post-doctoral Research in subjects of Mechanical Engineering and is very happy with his decision since he is really passionate about his subject now.

Chapter 1- Up Until The IIT Days

Though he always had a fascination towards machinery, he never really thought if he would even take up engineering or not. However, when he cracked his engineering exams, his main objective was to go for a core engineering branch and accordingly, he chose Mechanical. Subesquently, he completed his B.Tech and M.Tech courses and then headed off to IIT Kharagpur to pursue his PhD.

Speaking of his days at IIT Kharagpur as a research scholar, he says that he worked on ‘Surface Engineering' in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and his experience over there was fabulous. One, he got to understand the intricacies of research. Two, he was fortunate to be associated with the development of a research laboratory and he understood how a lab is created right from scratch. Third, he was impressed with the way the IIT System gave support to the young scholars and their innovative ideas. He was so fascinated that from that particular day he had this dream of building a research lab for B.Tech and M.Tech students from absolute scratch and inclined towards joining the IIT System as a faculty.

When asked why he always wanted to be a faculty at an IIT and not at any other institute in India , Prof. Gangopadhay suggest that possible reason responsible for causing such huge differences in the research and innovation field in the IITs and the system of other institutes such as in the case of an National Institute of Technology(NIT) is that the ‘statistics' matter more in the latter. People give more preference to how many research articles they have published, how many B.Tech, M.Tech and PhD scholars they have guided, and how many sponsored research projects they have been associated with, feels Prof. Gangopadhyay. Because of focusing more on the ‘quantity', the researchers at NIT are compromising on the ‘quality'. However, having said that, he also feels that the IITs also do give importance to the quantity; but the quality of research, the amount of knowledge and the expertise that the students have earned and at what position they right now matter more to them.

The secondary factor, according to him would be funding since the NITs, in general, get lesser amount of funds as compared to the IITs. But if we come out of that ‘number game', funding won't be much of a hindrance. For instance, many of his colleagues here have brought a number of research projects worth tens of lakhs as well as in crores. So, if the researchers at NIT can individually obtain sponsorship from the external agencies, it wouldn't create much of a problem, he says.

Chapter 2- NIT Rourkela

Joining NIT Rourkela straight after his PhD in 2009, Prof. S.Gangopadhyay says that his time at NIT has been a wonderful journey although it has been filled with ups and downs over the years. He is grateful for all the opportunities, help and support that he has received during his time at NIT Rourkela. Most of his favourite memories come from the times that he has spent with his students, whether they are B.Tech, M.Tech or PhD scholars and he believes that he has been truly fortunate to have been associated with his colleagues here. Prof. Gangopadhyay says that he has faced many challenges during his time here though, at the end of the day, each one of those challenges manifested into opportunities.

It is these challenges that have helped me grow as a researcher and a teacher!

Along with being a great professor, Prof. Gangopadhyay has also served as the faculty advisor for the official BAJA SAE chapter of NIT Rourkela- Team Black Mamba Racing. He says that he has thoroughly enjoyed the experience although he didn't know much about automobile engineering in the beginning. In his association with the club for the past five years, he has learned a lot from the students. He loves the passion the students have as they are extremely enthusiastic to work for the club even after long class hours.

When asked about how he always manages to be a students' favorite professor, laughing he says it must be because of his love for the teaching profession. Every question the students ask and every interaction with them give him delight. When he enters a class, he sheds all roles except that of a teacher because of his passion. This passion leads to a lot of positive energy which must have resulted in the students liking his classes, he says.

Chapter 3- Austria Times

From December 2011 to November 2012, Professor Gangopadhyay pursued his Post-Doctoral Research in Montan-Universitat, Leoben. When asked about the educational atmosphere in Austria as compared to India, he cited that the major difference is in terms of the exposure that the students in abroad get. Here at NIT, the faculty in charge of any laboratory would be hesitant of allowing the students to operate the machines on their own, fearing any mishap that might happen due to lack of proper training which will make the equipment go out of order for a prolonged period of time. In foreign universities, it's usually the responsibility of the senior staff to take care of a particular machine and to impart proper training to the other researchers so that they too can handle the equipment on their own. Basically, he feels that the normal atmosphere at the colleges in India is quite apprehensive of the cost that might be involved if something goes wrong. Nonetheless, the Professor believes that with a positive approach and with the support of the administration and the faculty, these problems can be overcome.

Chapter 4- Why Research?

Coming to the topic of what sparked his interest in the field of research as opposed to going into the industry and the corporate world, he was quoted saying:

Gone are the days when the engineering college teachers taught only the bookish things to the students. Now we are living in a world where new technology is coming up every day and hence, there is no point in learning the things which were taught about half a century back. And only surfing the internet won't give us all the knowledge. It is fine to read the recent international journals and articles, but the professor won't be able to appreciate the beauty of the articles of his students until and unless he himself is working on something related to that area. It's only through a good amount of research work, I can update my teaching skills; otherwise, I have to repeat the same things that are being done since fifty years. I also got to learn a lot of things and these nourished my interest further in the field of research.

Research at NITR

Prof. Gangopadhay finds himself lucky to be working for the Imprint scheme project by the Government of India(GOI). Along with the professors from the Mechanical Engineering Department, they have further joined hands with the Computer Science and Electrical Departments as well as an industrial partner for this project.  Together, they have come up with a proposal that the GOI has accepted. This project is worth a whopping amount of 3.6 crores INR. In this project, they are to develop a Dynamic Mechanical Analyzer using indigenous technologies which will ensure that Indian industries won't have to import it from foreign countries. This machine is essentially used to determine the characteristics of miniature components made of plastic and it can be extended to ceramic as well as metal components.

Chapter 5- Engineering: Then and Now

When asked about the differences that he finds in the engineering domain during his time and now, he says,

Yes, there have been a lot of changes; but whatsoever changes I have observed are only in the positive direction. In a nutshell, engineering is more or less based on common sense and practical approach. In our times, the main focus was only given to the fundamental aspects of the subject, not on the practical application of it. But now, a lot of emphasis is being given to the things that are actually happening in the real world. My colleagues and I teach many things which are outside the prescribed textbook. Though I wasn't acquainted with the industrial sector till my third year, here I have seen students going for internships right from second year itself as a result of which they can correlate between what is taught in the class and the industry. This indeed is a positive sign since we professors are not forcing them, rather we are actually motivating them!

Talking of the students, in his opinion, though the quality of the students is almost the same level as it was years back, their way of approach is definitely different. Since the way of the teaching has been changed, the way of the approach of the students has also changed. He proudly says with a gleam of excitement in his eyes that the motive of the students is not only to solve the numerical in the papers but to actually design a practical engineering component and realize those concepts in the actual practice.

Chapter 6- The Pinnacles of Achievements

When someone looks back at their career, there are always some points that are quite memorable. For Prof. Gangopadhyay, his first high point would be pursuing his Ph.D from IIT Kharagpur where he had the opportunity to work with many renowned professors. He credits that atmosphere for igniting his interests in the field of research and teaching. Besides this, he deems every time he was able to supervise students and learn something as a high point. In fact, whenever his students' papers are published in journals he is left very happy. He gives an example of last year where one of his students received the Best Ph.D. scholar award.

Prof. Gangopadhyay's area of specialization is Manufacturing Engineering. To be precise, it is the applications of Surface Engineering in the field of manufacturing as well Advanced Machining Processes. Over the years, he has 35 papers in International journals starting from papers written during his Ph.D to the ones he has written while working with his students at NIT Rourkela. He is collaborating with a Portuguese research group for another project that adds another feather to the already star studded cap.  

Chapter 7- The Future of Mechanical Engineering

Speaking about the scope of the Mechanical Engineering, he feels that the department is full of possibilities. He believes that to get deeper into the subject and gain exposure, having more equipment is the key. With concepts like automation rising now, he feels that students and professors alike could achieve great heights with the help of the right equipment. High-end research can be carried out he says. Although at the end of the day, he knows it may not always be feasible as funding is a finite amount.

There is no dearth of ideas, but because of the lack of equipment it is not always carried out.

Speaking of automation and other digital technologies, 3-D printing is one area that fascinates Prof. Gangopadhyay. He firmly considers that it is this idea that will be a key part of the fourth ‘Industrial Revolution’ (Industrial Revolution 4.0). Many universities abroad and even some of the IITs have started their research in this area and according to him, if everything goes smoothly in the next ten years, all the 3D structures we see in the present times can be made using 3D printing. He believes there will be a huge paradigm shift in manufacturing if everything goes well. Micro manufacturing is another field that Prof. Gangopadhyay has interest in and he thinks that it has gigantic scope in the future. He speaks of how these can play a mammoth role in everything; right from day to day applications to aviation facilities. Chuckling, he says that there are many more interesting areas in Mechanical engineering, but it is always the Manufacturing Engineering Developments that interest him as that is his area of research.

Chapter 8- Beyond Academics

Besides his passion for teaching and research, he loves to travel. Owing to his busy schedule, he doesn't always get the time to travel but he tries to travel as much as he can, whether it be in India or abroad. Along with this, photography is another one of his hobbies.

Epilogue

Now, with his upcoming move to IIT Bhilai, his dream of working for the IIT system has finally been fulfilled. Signing off with some advice, Prof. Soumya Gangopadhyay says,

From my own experience, I can tell you, during hard times and challenges, believe in yourself and work. Those challenges always manifest into opportunities. If you have faith in yourself, you can achieve anything. 

Team MM congratulates Professor Soumya Gangopadhyay for having completed a successful term here and wishes all the best for his future endeavours!

Mechanical Engineering Interview

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