The Soaring Doyen: Asimanshu Das
Ambitious and Passionate- are the words that best describe Asimanshu Das, who has recently bagged the prestigious S.N. Bose scholarship, which enabled him to work at the University of Michigan. With a mind for research and eye for success, this final year student of the Department of Mechanical Engineering has carved a niche for himself in the field of Aeronautics and Aerodynamics. Read on to know more about his journey so far.
MM: What was your childhood like? Any memories you cherish that you would like to share with us?
AD: I was born in Bhubaneswar. I have passed my 12th standard from DAV Public School, Chandershekharpur, Bhubaneswar. I used to be an average student till my 8th grade but later I gained interest in studies and the fierce competition at DAV made me work really hard. The immense coursework during entrance exam preparations made me strong enough to handle all kinds of pressure. Birds had always fascinated me and I had been intrigued by the concept of flight right from my childhood days and hence developed a passion for aeronautics.
MM: How did NIT, Rourkela happen? Did you choose to pursue Mechanical engineering or was it fated?
AD: My first choice was to pursue Aerospace Engineering at IIT, Kanpur. But when things did not turn out the way I wanted them to, I resorted to Mechanical engineering at NIT Rourkela, considering that Aerospace and Mechanical were related fields. I knew about the professors and club culture of NITR because some of my school seniors had joined the institute. At the end of the day, I was happy with the choice that I had made.
MM: Students at NITR find their first year very hectic. What about you and how did you deal with it?
AD: In our first year, we mostly had the same courses that we learned during Senior Secondary classes; so it was easy. I wasn’t a part of the fest management teams and thus dedicated a lot of time for research. Apart from that, jogging and NSS were a bit time consuming but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
MM: What got you interested in Aeronautics and Aerodynamics?
AD: I had always been fascinated by birds. When I used to go to Chilika during my childhood days, I used to watch the birds fly. I was three years old when my father took me to the relief camps, where I saw a helicopter for the first time. My fascination continued and was fuelled by the aero modeling workshops conducted in our school. I remember making a glider in my ninth grade. I wanted to be a pilot first, but then I got interested in doing something related to engineering. I had once watched a documentary on Airbus, regarding incorporation of an eagle’s ability to change its wings’ shape, into an airplane by introducing winglets. These things led me to believe that I wanted to pursue something related to aeronautics. Then during my second-year internship at IIT, Kanpur, I got an insight into the aero-modeling club of IITK and it further increased by zeal and passion for aeronautics.
MM: You interned at IIT, Kanpur, where you worked on the design of wings of aircraft. How would you describe your time there?
AD: I approached Prof. Debopam Das of IITK. But before approaching, due to non-resemblance of the research topic with the courses being taught to us, I had to first gain information about my field of work. I gained all the required knowledge by going through the book and thesis provided to me by one of the Ph.D. scholars. During the internship, we were supposed to fabricate a mallard and were asked to study the application and dynamics of its wings. After that, we performed wind tunnel testing, using a PIV technique. This project was based on concepts of Mechanical Engineering and Aerodynamics. The research group at IIT, Kanpur focused a lot on precision, which made me realize the actual concept of research, sidestepping its theoretical aspect.
IIT-K had a very good tennis court and I used to play there at night. We started working on our projects in the aero-modeling club. We started from a simple glider and then went on to construct our own flights and I had the most amazing time of my life there.
MM: You happen to be a prestigious awardee of the S.N. Bose Internship Program. Guide us through your experience in applying and bagging it.
AD: The S.N. Bose scholarship invites applications from the month of September. Only the top two students of each branch are eligible to apply for this scholarship. If they have a good research profile, then the chances of being selected increases dramatically. In our batch, the two branch toppers had already bagged an internship by September and were not interested in research; so I talked to the Asst. Registrar, following which the institute endorsed me and I became eligible to apply. Then came the part of 1000 words SOP and letters of recommendation. The SOP was basically a narrative, where I mentioned about my research interests, my aim behind applying for this internship, the qualities that set me apart, the difficulties I had faced during my previous research projects, the measures I had resorted to in order to overcome them and the technicalities of the work that I had previously been a part of. My seniors helped me a lot during the process. I did not face any problem while getting the letters of recommendation, as I had already talked to my professors about it and they were very cooperative.
MM: What does it take to be a research scholar at the University of Michigan, through the aforementioned program? How was your experience there?
AD: I had already contacted Prof. Carlos Cesnik during my second year, under whom I was supposed to work but due to the lack of funding, I had to wait for a year to be accepted. I was furnished with an assistant right from my starting days, who assisted me throughout the process. First I had to go through a conversation test, which entailed conversing with a student under the professor, who judged me on the parameters of being fit to be a part of the university. All this was facilitated through the usage of Skype. Everything was well organized and the assistant kept a check on whether we did everything according to the scheduled timeline. I had arranged for my accommodation and I also received a nominal accommodation reimbursement of 2000 dollars.
On reaching the research group, I was provided with a new SIM card and a portfolio which contained information regarding every detail that I would require during my stay there. I met my professor who introduced me to everyone. Then I started working on the topic “High altitude long endurance Flights”, my aim was to perform a ground vibration test after the flight had been fully developed. The project was sponsored by Boeing and involved aircraft with solar panels for long distance travel. To start with, I had to learn a new software named NASTRAN and had to apply it on models to testify my acquaintance with the software. They are very particular about safety and safety training was provided before the start of our work. We went for flight tests, our first plane crashed but we eventually succeeded in the second flight test and we could develop a software, which enabled entering values in order to procure the dimensions of a model. We cherished our weekends and my group mates went for swimming, hiking, trekking, wind surfing and I also followed them in doing the same. I also visited Stanford, which with its small buildings and modernized interiors was a dream destination. The professors were very liberal and gave me useful advice regarding my future options. I also had a lot of relatives staying at US, so I was sponsored free trips to their homes; on account of which I was able to explore most parts of the US.
MM: How would you compare and contrast the research scenarios in India and abroad?
AD: They are much more superior to us when it comes to equipment and instruments used in the labs. The professors of US are very liberal in financial matters. Here, spending a small amount of money requires fulfillment of cumbersome formalities, owing to which a person loses interest and gets deviated from his main goal of research. So the framework abroad also scores more when we compare it with the mechanism we follow in India. Their unprecedented organizing skills and choice of premium equipment for working lends them an upper hand. Most of the equipment here is not allowed to be used by the Undergrad students which makes it tougher for us.
MM: There is a craze to pursue foreign internships among students these days. Comment on this situation.
AD: People do find foreign internships more interesting and intriguing but I think all that matters is the experience that a person gains. Getting accustomed to their culture and getting along with them is an indispensable part of working abroad. The funding is also a big problem with foreign internships and the top universities do not accept student sans funding. Even I faced a lot of problems but my zeal to learn new things made me overcome all the adversities. Eventually, all the problems seemed trivial as I started working on my project. Maybe publishing a research paper or making an internship worthwhile is more important than solely going out for foreign internships. According to me, it is the work you do that matters the most.
MM: What changes and developments would you like to see in your department?
AD: Making equipment accessible to the students would definitely solve a lot of problems. It is a very good department and the professors are very motivating, but owing to the procedural constraints and hierarchy followed, doing productive work becomes difficult at times. The lack of funding also inhibits the students from exploring new ideas. Cumbersome procedures to seek approvals also restrict the professors from going out of their way to aid the students; in spite of the fact that they are very interested to do so. Prof. S. Murugan has been extremely co-operative and has always motivated me to keep moving forward.
MM: You are an active member of Team Roadrunner. Shed some light on your experiences while working for the powertrain system and the sponsorship team?
AD: I had been working on engines since my first semester, so it was easy for me to crack the SAE inductions. Subsequently, a few people left the team because of which we had to do a lot of work. I also explored new arenas like Solid Works and vacuum bagging, which in turn gave me an upper hand as compared to my team mates because I was always contacted for the designing of models. We also went out for many competitions where I learned ‘Smart teamwork’. This helped us to improvise our inventions, think of ways to find sponsors for our creations, revamp our designs and to utilize our budgets properly. These competitions put an end to my notions of Government colleges being better than private colleges; Manipal Institute of Technology featured one of the best teams in the entire competition. Everything that I learned at SAE helped me to bag my second-year internship at IIT, Kanpur. These small things helped me in understanding the power that passion beholds and overall it has been a very good experience for me.
MM: What other clubs are you a part of? How do you manage academics, club work, internships and so much more?
AD: Initially I attended the Open classes offered by Cyborg and started enjoying my time there with amicable seniors. Then my craze for aerodynamics and fast cars made me join SAE but I had to leave the team later because I had to concentrate on internships and foreign internships demanded a lot of prior knowledge on the area of work. Being in a club is the best part of one’s life at NITR and teamwork gives you a unique experience, which cannot be achieved by maintaining a good CGPA. It’s easy to handle academics at NITR. My hectic 11th and 12th standard days have given me the motivation to function under pressure.
MM: What are your other interests and hobbies?
AD: I enjoy playing tennis. I have been playing tennis since Class 3 and have attended state level tournaments but the work pressure in Class 8 made me take a break. However, after joining NITR, I reinvested in my hobby.
MM: What are your plans for the future?
AD: I plan on doing a direct Ph.D. after my B.Tech. Generally, an M.Tech is required prior to doing a Ph.D. But since I have conversed with many professors, I will be pursuing Ph.D. following the completion of my four years here. I wish to spend the next 5-7 years of my life doing research. I also want to do something along the lines of flying cars or maybe would try to be a part of SpaceX or Tesla.
MM: Any message that you would like to give to our readers?
If a person is passionate enough, he can achieve anything he wants to. Fix a goal and start working towards it and try not to get distracted by comparing yourself with people around you. Always try to make your parents proud. My father has always taught me to have the right attitude in every situation. All problems can be tackled just by having the right approach. Believe in the hard work that you have done and do not always focus on results; enjoying the work is more important. Even if you are not the best student but if you are passionate enough, the universe will conspire and ultimately everything will fall into place.