Experiments at NITR Labs: An Analysis of the Laboratory Facilities

Experiments at NITR Labs: An Analysis of the Laboratory Facilities

Laboratories are the essential requisites for any student to realize his/her theoretical knowledge in practical conditions through experiments and research projects. NIT Rourkela provides one of the best lab facilities in the country, thus satiating the aptitude of practical understanding of the budding engineers it houses. Team MM surveyed some of the departments in the campus and analyzed their laboratories along with their recent purchases.

Department of Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering:

The Department of Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering, while being just ten years old, has established itself as one of the best in its class among other Indian institutes by way of the quality of research and the sophisticated equipment it boasts of. Smooth functioning labs are one of the pillars on which a department stands on, so Team MM set out to find the state of the labs in the BT/BM department.

Prominent labs of the department:

For the 3rd-semester students, Anatomy & Physiology lab, Biochemistry and Microbiology lab are prominent labs. Most of the requisite instruments and chemicals are functional and also have ease of accessibility. The department feels it has sufficient and better research facilities as compared with BT/BM departments in other reputed Indian institutes.

A testament to our department’s equipment sophistication is the Force Platform with Motion analysis, something which is not found even in the IIT’s, let alone other NIT’s

--- HOD, Department of BioTechnology

Advanced Functional Equipment:

The BT/BM department boasts of equipments only a few other organizations can claim to have, some of them are Rotary Vacuum Evaporator, Confocal Microscope and Environmental SEM (also to be used by other departments like Ceramic and Metallurgy), High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and Reverse Transcription Polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), Force platform with motion analysis and others. There are provisions for cell culture(animal cell and stem cell), a biosafety cabinet, centrifuge, laminar flow and water bath that are functioning smoothly.

Non-Functional Equipment:

Several pieces of equipment are seen to be non-functional, primarily owing to the lack of funds to repair them. Some of them are

  • Human patient Simulator- It is a computerized mannequin that simulates real-life scenarios. It promotes skill acquisitions, aids development of clinical judgment and teaches students about biological processes like respiration
  • Electron Spinning Machine- It is an extremely robust and brilliant machine procured at about 70 lakhs, currently not in a working condition.
  • Two Flow cytometer- This advanced machinery is bought at an enormous sum of 2 crores. It is a one-of-its-kind- machine that is probably not found in any other institute

The principal problem lies in the maintenance of the highly sophisticated devices as the foreign vendors charge a hefty sum of about Rs 50,000 to inspect the issues, let alone repair or replace the equipment. The fees are too high to be afforded by the institute.

Problems Faced by the Department:

Earlier, the department used to receive Operating Grants along with Department Grants, but for the last 4-5 year, the department has not received any operating grants. So, in the department grants itself, they have to suffice the costs of procuring new instruments, maintaining old equipment and buy consumables. Another problem faced is with regards to the safety of the building. The fire extinguishers are not in a working condition, and steps have been taken only recently to replace them with working extinguishers.

Since the inception of the BT/BM building, two more branches, Department of Industrial Design and the School of Management have been accommodated in this building. This reduced the space available for BT/BM departments to establish various labs. The number of faculties has nearly doubled since its inception, so more rooms are needed for them as well

At least 2 B.Tech and 2 M.Tech labs are required for BT department. I hope that when Industrial Design and School of Management will shift out, we’ll have the necessary space for establishing these labs

Suggestions regarding the department:

On asking Prof. S S Ray about future prospects, he said,

It is high time for separation of funds for the repairing and maintenance since if the advanced technical equipment lies unrepaired, the loss is incurred by the students and the institute at large. Besides, some workshops can be conducted on the working methodology of quality- imported research-based equipment to generate some revenue. This revenue, in turn, can be used to meet the maintenance cost.

One more suggestion he added is that instead of sending our students for internship to other institutes, we could arrange a scientifically advanced equipment training programme for the interested students and certificates will be awarded to them

Many reputed institutes like IIT-ISM Dhanbad have local shops installed within their campus containing stocks of the requisite chemicals by the vendors, which can be supplied in a short notice for research projects and basic laboratory experiments. Although the air-connectivity is a major hindrance, NIT Rourkela should also consider to set up a shop to meet the immediate demands.

Another suggestion would be to use a card-based system for transactions concerning the department so that the bill is generated and expenditure is borne from the institute fund. This would ensure transparency in the transaction and increased efficiency.

Future Plans:

One more faculty is slated to join the department in the coming academic year. There is a plan to develop exclusive labs for the Undergraduates and Postgraduates. The Medical electronics lab is currently undergoing an expansion, and the motion analysis lab is being upgraded.

Department of Chemical Engineering:

The Department of Chemical Engineering is one of the oldest departments in the NIT Rourkela campus and has housed numerous sophisticated equipments in its research and undergraduate laboratories and has been a witness to various research projects and experiments. The main objective of the Chemical Engineering department is to deal with chemical processes for manufacturing of different products, designing of equipments, fundamental understanding, and the technology of chemicals, petroleum, and petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, food products, etc. To accomplish this objective, the department has accommodated various high-end laboratories like the PDC Lab, Heat Transfer Lab, Mechanical Operation Lab, Fluid Dynamics Lab and Fuel and Combustion Lab, encompassing almost all the scope and facilities required to undertake the requisite experiments and projects.

Let us have a look at these laboratories and their recent purchases:

Process Dynamics and Control (PDC) Lab:

This lab generally helps to understand the dynamic behavior and automatic control of processes and mathematical tools are presented to analyze the behavior of open and closed-loop systems. Multi-Variable Control Trainer, Multi-Process Trainer, Ratio Control Trainer, I/P and P/I Converter Trainer, PID Trainer, etc. are some of the new purchases of the last academic year to help in the undergoing research projects.

Heat Transfer Lab:

Heat Transfer Lab helps to practically understand the generation, use, conversion and exchange of thermal energy and heat between physical systems. Some recent purchases of this laboratory are Emissivity Measurement Apparatus, Dropwise and Film wise Condenser, Single Effect Evaporator, Thermal Conductivity of Liquid, Forced Correction Apparatus, Double Pipe Heat Exchanger and Agitated Vessel.

Mechanical Operation Lab:

This lab helps understand the mechanical operations such as particle size analysis, size reduction, size separation by screening, classification, jigging and dense medium separation, sedimentation, filtration, centrifugation, fluidisation, floatation, mixing and agitation, gas-solid separations, handling and transport of solids using computer-aided analysis and simulation of each process/operation. Trommel, Cyclone Separator and Screw Conveyor have been recently installed in this lab for future experiments and projects.

Fluid Dynamics Lab:

The Fluid Dynamics Lab helps realize the fundamental theoretical knowledge of fluids, their mechanics, properties and various applications in day-to-day activities through experiments and research projects. Some new instruments instated in the laboratory are Darcy Law Apparatus, Centrifugal Pump Test Rig, Reciprocating Pump Test Rig with Variable Speed, Reynold’s Apparatus, Bernoulli’s Theorem Apparatus, Flow through Helical Coil, Pitot Tube Setup and Drag Coefficient Apparatus.

Fuel and Combustion Lab:

The Fuel and Combustion Lab helps to analyze the various chemical constituents such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, etc. in fuels and combustion and in determining the quantity of air required for combustion along with the volume and composition of combustion gases. Some newly installed instruments in this lab are Carbon Residue Conradson Apparatus, Closed and Pour Point Apparatus, Abel’s Flash Point Apparatus, Ring and Ball Apparatus for Softening Point Temperature, Flash Point and Fire Point Apparatus and Saybolt Apparatus which possess a potential to alleviate the quality of research work undertaken.

New Introduction:

The introduction of the Process Technology laboratory for the undergraduate students under Prof. Naresh Thota has been helpful for understanding the various basic processes and technologies involved requisite for industrial and factory applications. It helps to nurture an aptitude for real-life applications of processes and procedures. But since this is a juvenile lab, it has a lot of scope for improvement in equipment, infrastructure, and experiments.

Problems Faced by the Department:

The Department of Chemical Engineering does not face space constraints for its laboratories and provides ample room to the researchers and undergraduates to perform their experiments. It houses one of the most sophisticated equipment of the institute, the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) apart from other high-end instruments. But such equipment comes with a cost and their maintenance demand a hefty amount from their foreign vendors. The safety requirements in most of the laboratories have been at par with the guidelines which enables them to be prepared for any mishap.

Future Plans:

The Chemical Engineering Department has planned to procure the Differential Scanning Calorimeter by raising funds worth 25 Lakhs. The department possesses the potential to be at par with the departments of other institutes of national repute through its research projects by a rise in funds and procurement of other requisite high-end instruments in the future.

Department of Civil Engineering:

The Department of Civil Engineering is one of the most established departments of the institute. Civil Engineering is concerned with the improvement in the quality of basic needs of human civilization and taking care of the natural and humanly built environments with their planning, designing, construction, operation, and maintenance. The Department is actively involved in basic and applied research in the field of Structural Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Transportation Engineering, and Water Resources Engineering and Environmental Engineering along with high quality technical advisory support to various organizations through R&D projects and consultancy.

Problems in the Department:

Despite being one of the most established departments, there are many limitations when it comes to a smooth flow of research and learning in the UG and PG labs. For instance, the Surveying lab is outdated. The concepts taught in both theory and practice have no implications in companies concerned. Geotechnical lab suffers from severe space congestion. Machinery is pretty inaccurate. It causes problems for the masters and Ph.D. students as inaccuracy often leads to incorrect results. Sometimes accessories are not available. Students have to purchase it at the cost of their own money. A similar scenario exists in the Fluid Mechanics laboratory where precision and accuracy is missing in the lab. Environmental Engineering lab is way too small.

Future Plans:

Improvements need to be made on a larger scale if the interests and requirements of the stakeholders are to be accommodated. Proper support from the institute in terms of finance, if provided, can help the labs achieve a state of excellence.

Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering:

Metallurgical discipline deals with extraction of metals from their ores, transforming them in different pure or alloy form of different engineering shapes, and to study their internal structure in an atomic scale to correlate with the manifested properties. The Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department of NIT Rourkela has earned expertise and reputation for conventional fields like the study of the blast furnace, fracture mechanics, advanced materials like polymer composite, nanomaterials, thin film etc. To support these it possesses high-end equipment like UTM, XRD, SEM, DSC-FTIR, Surface profilometer etc.

The department owns some high-end instruments for carrying out research activities. Since NITR has been ranked Number One among all NITs in the recent World rankings, it becomes highly crucial that the research activities should be on par to that of IITs. The UG labs are well equipped compatible, meeting all the requirements of the BTech students.

Department of Chemistry:

Chemistry is a fundamental branch of science devoted to the study of the nature, properties, composition, and interaction of matter. Chemistry covers broadly three branches, viz. organic, inorganic and physical chemistry. The Department of Chemistry at NIT Rourkela, over a period of time, has acquired many advanced analytical equipments such as NMR, ESI Mass spectrometer, surface area analyzer, FTIR, UV-Vis, HPLC, Potentiostat/galvanostat, Fluorescence spectrometer etc. The current research focus of the department includes Environmental Chemistry, Organic synthesis, Natural products, Organometallics, Metal Clusters, Nanomaterials, Organic-Inorganic Hybrid materials, coordination chemistry, Biophysical Chemistry, Computational Chemistry, Catalysis, Spectroscopy, and Nano-Biomaterials.

UG Laboratory:

UG lab always has the required chemicals and glassware needed for the first three years of the study for Integrated M.Sc students. Required instrumentation is also present in the lab. All that is required for smooth conducting of the lab courses are present.

The only problem is with the maintenance of the same. Glassware is mostly unclean and students are mainly responsible for this. The lab assistants can always assist us with the experiments but not in keeping the glassware clean. Students do not wash the glassware properly in a hurry to leave the lab which becomes difficult later to remove the sticky salts and compounds.

Coming to the chemicals, some are stored as per instructions but some are left aside. It results in the formation of water on top of the chemicals and salts making them useless for further usage. Proper maintenance of the chemicals is a much-needed step needed for the UG Lab.

Another issue lies with the improper maintenance of the instruments present in the lab. The lab has pH meters, Conductivity meters in decent numbers, but the number of them working accurately is very less. Some have not been calibrated and some are out of order. Regular maintenance or service is not done for the instruments.

PG Laboratory:

Glassware is insufficient for the extra students that come in through JAM during the final years of integrated MSc Students. Advanced chemicals required are mostly absent and the only type instrument present in the lab is UV-Vis Spectrophotometer. There are a lot of magnetic stirrers and only 2-3 of them work properly. Centrifuges also have their fair share of problems without the regular maintenance. Advanced instruments like Rotary Evaporator is absent (which is very important for students opting for research). Simple weighing balance is out of order and the ovens do not work properly. All in all, the only positive thing about the PG lab is the availability of glassware.

Overall the labs are in possession of required instruments and equipment required for the smooth conduction of experiments. The only requirement is their proper maintenance and installation of other important instruments required for research work.

Department Of Life Science:

Beginning in the year 2013, the Department of Life Sciences is one of the established Basic Sciences branches at NIT Rourkela. Since 2013, the department has gone leaps and bound ensuring various accolades to its credit. The department has some state of the art facilities which enable the research work to be carried at full flow. At the same time, some major equipment from the UG and PG Labs are missing. Some of the instruments are limited in quantity. It often creates problems when the student strength exceeds the no. of instruments available.

Plaguing problems:

The most important faced by the department is space congestion. Research facilities and labs cannot be expanded any further due to lack of space. The Departmental Lab cannot be established owing to the space crunch. It can house the high-end equipment which are very costly and which cannot be accommodated in individual labs.

Coming to the availability of equipment, those that are highly essential have been placed in the respective labs of professors carrying out the corresponding research work. The database of the above is available on the old website under the heading of Life Science department infrastructure. Some of the pieces of equipment like RT-PCR, Dissection microscope, Confocal Microscope, Sonicator, Flow cytometer, Nanodrop Spectrophotometer are not available in the UG and PG labs.

On being asked about the state of affairs in the department, HOD of the department Prof. Bibekanand Mallick stated,

Around 10-12 lacs have been spent on procuring common accessories and instruments in multiple quantities for the UG and PG labs. Moreover, on being asked by the Institute, we have given a list of instruments and other required equipments amounting to a whopping sum of 1 crore. The list consists of around 23 high-end equipments. It is hoped that the needful would be done very soon within a year or sooner.

In the past year, 4 new projects have been sanctioned to Prof. Bibekanand Mallick, Prof.Monalisa Mishra, Prof. Mohammed Saleem, Prof. Sujit Kumar Bhutia. Prof. Bibekanand Mallick’s project has been named as “Genome-wide Profiling of PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) by Next-Generation Sequencing and investigating their role in Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma” and is being funded by DBT. Prof. Monalisa Mishra is working on the project titled “Micro RNA as a modulator for hearing the response in Fruitfly” funded by DST (Department of Science and Technology, Govt.of India) whereas Prof.Mohammed Saleem’s project has been entitled as “Spatio-temporal mapping of membrane deformation induced by Amyloid-beta 40 during neurodegeneration” funded by DBT. Prof. Sujit Kumar Bhutia’s project is based on “Deciphering role of autophagy in stemness and therapy resistance in oral cancer stem cells” funded by DBT (Department of Biotechnology, Govt.of India).

Future Plans:

Since so many research projects are underway, and the scope of improvement of lab facilities is high, it becomes highly essential that loopholes should be dealt and lacunae be meted out. Owing to the extensive research work being carried out, the department, if given, a chance can become one of the most successful branches in Basic Sciences at NITR.

Department of Physics:

Physics is one of the oldest disciplines of natural science that deals with understanding the nature of matter and its motion through space and time. The laws of Physics explain the evolution of cells to the creation of the universe. Some of the basic areas of research in Physics are Atomic Physics, Nuclear Physics, Particle Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Astrophysics. Currently the Department of Physics at NIT Rourkela is actively involved in teaching and research in various areas like Soft condensed matter physics, Biophysics, Theoretical condensed matter physics, Non-linear dynamics, Multiferroic materials, Dielectrics, Ferroelectrics, Thin Films, Composite Polymers, Phase transition, low temperature physics, magnetic materials, carbon nanotubes, Energy Storage Devices, graphene, High temperature superconductor etc.

To carry out research activities the Department of Physics is equipped with some of the sophisticated instruments like XRD with Small-angle X-ray scattering facility, Laser Light Scattering, Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching, Rheometer, Closed cycle He refrigerator, RF/DC magnetic sputtered thin film coating units, AC/DC resistivity measurement units, Precision Ferroelectric Characterization System.

The department houses in its central facility some high-end pieces of equipment like SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device), Confocal Raman Spectrometer, and VSM (Vibrating Sample Magnetometer) used in cryogenics. The department is in possession of some highly sophisticated devices required for the smooth conduction of experiments.  Quantum efficiency measuring system is being planned to procure in the coming days to enhance the research work of the scholars.

There is always some room for improvement even in a premier institute like ours. Team MM hopes necessary changes and modernization of the laboratories are implemented sooner than later so that newer and better projects can be undertaken in future.

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