The Multi-Dimensional Way of Life: Dr. Dineshkumar Harursampath
Leading from the front for over 15 years, Dr. Harursampath, a distinct alumnus of IIT Madras and Georgia University and is currently working at the Department of Aerospace Engineering, IISc Bangalore. His career marks academic excellence and he is responsible for several innovations that are hard to overlook. Starting from being the NMCADLab head or founding the MultiFun team for participating in international competitions, or constantly pushing the limits of multifunctional materials –to find energy recycling and storing composites, in particular, for various aerospace and non-aerospace applications. His contributions to the technical fraternity have not only benefitted society at large but has also helped in identifying hitherto untapped yet potent markets for the versatile materials industry.
He was recently one of the panelists for the Presentation Session of the 6th NIT Conclave, hosted by NIT Rourkela. Since the event was delayed by an hour, Team MM got an opportunity to interact with this stalwart, who appeared to be a most humble, frank and amicable personality, among several other things.
Comfortably sitting on a sofa, he didn’t seem ill at ease in the continental climate of Rourkela, as opposed to the pleasant weather of Bangalore that he must have been used to. Just like any other person who was born and brought up in Bangalore, he has seen it transform over the years from a ‘garden city’ to the ‘IT Hub’ of the nation. According to a recent study by IISc, Bangalore, it was seen that the city would become dysfunctional in the next five years if the growth rate could not be stalled. Prof. Harursampth seemed confident that his city could survive and continue to flourish.
DKH: “The Bangalore I was born in and spent my childhood growing up in, was certainly greener. Traces of it can be still found in military areas but most of the natural scenery has given way to concrete buildings, which is the sad part because the planners didn’t anticipate that kind of boom. Although the infrastructure has improved, it hasn’t been able to keep up with the kind of pace the population growth that Bangalore has. However, there is still hope – Bangalore does have a comprehensive development plan and the gist of this idea is to have satellite towns all around the ring road. If that can be implemented well, the problems will eventually subside.
Dr. Harursampath has been a student of Georgia Institute of Technology, USA and also visited various foreign universities. A well-rooted individual, he busted the myth about foreign education systems being better than our own education system, by bringing to light interesting facts about the demographic of students. We asked him, what do you think the basic differences are between the universities here and there?
DKH: “We fail to realize that a lot of students in these universities are in fact, Indians, Chinese, Koreans, etc. If they can reach the level of excellence as they are in right now, having such large number of Indian students, there is no reason why we can’t reach there because the students are the ones who really make the university and all the other aspects of an institution like the faculty, infrastructure, and administrators, merely support them. I think our focus has been more on the curriculum so far and what we lacked was innovation. It is very promising to see the start-up culture catching up and young undergraduates taking up initiatives.
Coming to your question, there are positive and negative aspects on either side – Indian institutions like NITs, IITs, IISc, etc. or the ones that are in U.S. and Europe. It is a question of learning from each other and this is happening through a lot of interaction sessions, faculty collaboration programs, student exchange programs, etc. which help both the sides to learn from their counterparts and help decrease their negatives along the process.”
He has been a part of the engineering community right from when he was a student at IIT, Madras to now when he grooms and trains young engineers at IISc, Bangalore. In between, the youth of India has seen a drastic transformation with respect to internet-orientated learning, start-up culture, research scope, job opportunities and the general change in trend and outlook. Despite the salt and pepper hair, the jovial smile and bright eyes make Dr. Dinesh look like he is truly young at heart, a confidant and mentor to his students – he is certainly somebody who would know best about the metamorphosis. He welcomed this change and said,
DKH: “Nowadays, students are doing research at the undergraduate level itself which was not very common in those days and this is something we should encourage because if you are looking at focused research areas, years of thorough study has already been done there and there is hardly any benefit in diggingdeeper. In fact, it is in the multidisciplinary fields which are looking promising right now. The undergraduate students have an edge when it comes to this field because their minds have not been channelized into a single direction, yet. So, not only can they think out of the box, they can think from so many other perspectives, as well.
As a full-time Professor at IISc Bangalore which is probably one of the premier institutions of education in this country right now, he is at the helm of technical innovation and cutting-edge research. Being an alumnus of the institute and now a faculty member, we asked him why he thought it stands out among the rest.
DKH: “When IISc Bangalore came into being, several visionaries put their heads together and planned a platform that would allow the youth of the country to contribute to the economic growth of the country, as well as the knowledge base. This vision became the mission of all the faculty members of the institute – past and present. Previously, we were strictly a postgraduate institute that participated in hard-core research, as we’ve known it so far. However, four years ago we finally stepped into undergraduate research, since we realized that it had some obvious benefits that we were missing out on. We have already made a place for ourselves when it comes to postgraduate research, and now with a healthy balance of undergraduate students – I think we should be able to achieve even more.”
As a visionary, he is of the strong belief that research should not be limited to simply researching in an obsolete field, but delivering an innovation that will better the lives of common people. In this regard he brought to the limelight a recent trend at IISc Bangalore, where most of their research scholars are oriented towards creating a product that is marketable and directly applicable in real life situations. He speaks in high regard of this changing mindset and says that it will usher in an era of technological advancement, which has the potential to propel this country to new heights.
For a long period of time, academicians were told that publishing is the only thing that you need to do and that is the key to measuring your performance. Although over time, people have realized that publications do not add to the benefit of common people, and it is these common people who fund institutions like NITs, IITs, and IISc. I think we need to pay back to the society and make research problems socially relevant, define it as well as solve it in a way, so that as you very wisely pointed out, they lead to products. Slowly we should try to not stop there either, but to intellectually protect them and then convert them in to working business modules.
Aerospace Engineering was fairly uncommon when he was a student, and it has remained one of the rarer disciplines with very few premier institutes offering courses on it. As a passionate researcher, his love for his subject is without a doubt undying and strong. His face glows when he starts narrating the first time he looked at airplanes whizz above his head and how his interest deepened throughout his adolescence in all things that could defy gravity. He says it is human nature to want to push ourselves to nature’s limits and see if we can go beyond the laws of ordinary physics. Team MM asked him, how the scope for Aerospace Engineering has improved over time?
DKH: “A lot of colleges now offer aerospace engineering as a course without having any proper faculty or infrastructure. So even though the acceptance is increasing, there is a need to control the quality of students. I started this program called "Link the Top" because I felt that there were still a lot of unsolved problems in aerospace engineering. The idea is to bringsome of the best students together to interact and promote teamwork and make the field grow by making the whole forum international. This is also to improve entrepreneurship skills so that, when students graduate out of their institutes, all of them shouldn't look for jobs, but rather some of them should be skilled enough to provide jobs to others.”
His Ph.D. thesis was on Non-Classical Non-Linear Effects in Thin-Walled Composite Beams, he is the Founder-Head of the Non-Linear Multifunctional Composites – Analysis and Design Laboratory at IISc Bangalore, as well as a part of the Aeronautical R & D Board’s Centre for Excellence in Composite Structures. He has remained faithful over the years to an area that intrigued him as an undergraduate, perplexed him as a researcher and continues to satisfy his hunger for challenges as a teacher. We got him talking about why he chose this subject,
DKH: “Everything in the universe is non-linear. We may have made linear models to assume, simplify and understand the processes, which were very necessary for the times when there were no computers, but today with such accurate computers and instruments, I don't think there should be a need to make assumptions where it's not necessary or relevant. That is where the motivation to pursue the non-linear, came to me.
The other aspect is Composites. Most materials in nature, whether it is our skin or a piece of wood –materials which have evolved over the millennia are all composites. We wanted to look at Multifunctional Composites, because their properties can be optimized to serve more than one function.
Another thing that we are looking at is energy storage. The structural materials should be able to store and harvest energy, in other words, it should act like a battery. It should also act as a sensor or an actuator to become a smart material. The idea is to add as much functionality as we can to a material.
We are also working on high altitude airships for the stratosphere, which is something like a poor man's satellite. Instead of geostationary satellites, that stay at an altitude of 36,000 km, if we have 40 of these airships in the stratosphere (which is about 20 km from the surface of the earth), the wind speeds would be very low, and if we have the same kind of resolution cameras there, as we have at 36,000 km, a lot of tragic events, like the one that occurred on 26/11 at Mumbai, could be avoided. These also are fairly inexpensive and if some kind of damage occurs, we can always replace them. In that structure, as an answer to your question,
We are trying to bring in the electromagnetic functionality so that it can double up as radars and antennae. So, by combining the properties of different systems into a single system that can perform a lot of functions, we can tremendously bring down the weight reduction and enhance the performance by a large margin.
Undisturbed by the growing heat outside, Dr. Harursampath seemed excited about being on campus for the first time. He gushed about the hospitality that he had received right from the beginning and praised the institute in terms of the growth that it was undergoing with regard to infrastructural developments. He strongly opined that students drive an institute and therefore, with such brilliant opportunities at their disposal, the onus fell on the NITR fraternity to make the most of it. He was particularly pleased with the theme of this year’s Conclave, as he kept reasserting on the importance of undergraduate research throughout his interact with us. His thoughts on the Conclave were definitely positive and encouraging,
DKH: “Technology keeps advancing, even though the basic fundamentals don’t change. Hence one has to keep up pace with the new applications coming up for a particular subject. I think introducing research at the undergraduate level can help them in achieving this. Discussing this topic, not only at an institute level but also at a conclave level where more than 30 NITs can take part can bring is likely to trigger off a huge change. I am truly delighted to be a part of this process and I sincerely hope that the outcome of this conclave translates into reality at appropriate levels.”
One of the most important ideas that resonated in our interaction was definitely his love for all things multifaceted, multi-disciplinary and multi-functional. He kept emphasizing on the need to combine the best of all worlds and therefore, needless to say, we guessed he was a man who cherished his leisure just as much as his work. We asked him what he did in his free time if he had any.
DKH: “Life is much more than just your job and I feel lucky to have realized that early in life.(smiles) I make sure that I spend sufficient time with my family and educate my kids from a more practical perspective through play and travel because it stays in their minds for a longer period of time. I go on long drives and enjoy photography. About twenty years back I was keen on website development but that has fizzled out with time. What I really enjoy the most is interacting with people from both engineering and non-engineering backgrounds, because that’s what gives me a larger and clearer perspective of life. One of the reasons I don’t live on the IISc campus, even though it’s a very beautiful one, is that because there is that I don’t want to be interacting with people from a scientific background 24x7. Instead, it’s great to enrich yourself and your work with other experiences from other areas of life.”
Having overshot our time with him by more than a few minutes, his presence was demanded in the Panel Discussion which he greatly looked forward to being a part of. As we shook hands and departed, he remained resolute in his belief that the demand of today’s society is holistic development and his messages to our readers was simple,
You need to start thinking out of the box and think in a ‘multidisciplinary’ fashion. Bring in art and culture into your life, apart from just studies and academics because these aspects add colors to life. Students face stressful situations in their life, and being good in more than one thing helps you to divert your attention and sail through a tough phase. Be strong and overcome your troubles, so that you can give back to the society that has made you who you are.