A Step In The Future Of Technology: Centralised Instrumentation Facility

A Step In The Future Of Technology: Centralised Instrumentation Facility

Aradhana Gupta Akshat Sitani | Feb 17, 2020

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Cutting-Edge research in every field to address national and global needs, identify pressing challenges and opportunities in the application, articulate programs and instruments to address them and the key to development is their timely and efficient access. Driven by member-led working groups, Centralized instrumentation facility is established, and dedicated to bringing together an opportunity to research-oriented persons to use some of the world-class instruments for their research work and commit to advancing engineering.

Each laboratory is under the supervision of a designated faculty member from the Institute. Prof. Mahabir Panda currently heads the CIF with Dr Smrutisikha Bal being the Senior Scientific Officer and Dr Arindam Pal as Technical Assistant. A chosen team of faculty members are also a part of the organization.

With a dedicated website-https://nitrkl.ac.in/CIF/Index.aspx, the facility can be booked by the user but only a professor can book the Instrument on a student’s behalf.

On asking the student community, the commonly faced problems by the students who used CIF are:

  • Lack of technical staff to operate it.
  • Not all machines are in working conditions which leads to more rush with the machines high in demand
  • No notification about the postponement or cancellation of the slots.

To gain more insight into the principles of the day-to-day operations of CIF, and to address the problems faced by the student community, team Monday Morning had a conversation with Dr Smrutisikha Bal, the Senior Scientific Officer of the facility. 

Monday Morning (MM): What is the process of booking the Instruments?

Dr Smrutisikha Bal (SB): It is an online booking system started with the help of the automation cell, in which any instrument required can be booked only by the professor. It provides transparency as nothing can be manipulated. The booking can be made for the available slots. Whenever the service engineer had come, or officer in charge is not there, the instrument booking gets blocked and the next available time is shown. We modified the booking timings, as the time required to work on each instrument is not the same.

MM: Students have faced problems in the booking system because many instruments are damaged, and slots are difficult to get, and some say that they do not get notification about the cancellation of slots. How would you address these issues?

SB: After the introduction of this procedure, we have been on a testing phase, and we did invite complaints relating to difficulties in the process. Our email Id and contact info have been given on the website, and the students are always free to contact us through the mail. We are ready to take criticism to work on betterment of the system. The user of the instrument has to tell me his problem then only it can be addressed. We always look forward to taking our institute up-high in research and development by providing the required facilities to the students.

MM: According to the students, there is a lack of technical staff to operate the instruments. What is your take on it?

SB: On a contractual basis, we had recently recruited six technical assistants, and a non-teaching staff interview is also going to happen shortly. Students number is increasing, so the ratio gets changed, but recruiting the staff is dependent on the administration, but we had already proposed this in the meetings with them.

MM: How many instruments are there in CIF of NIT Rourkela?

SB: It mainly depends on the demand of the instrument, based on which we can classify them into three categories. There are 309 instruments under CIF existing in various departments. The cost of 44 instruments is above 50 lakhs out of which 20 instruments are usually high in demand. Some instruments are planned to be procured and kept in CIF premises.

MM: What more instruments are you planning to add on?

SB: We are planning to bring in two instruments, Single Crystal XRD and High-Resolution Spectrometer, which might get installed in a month. Apart from these, we have also presented a list of 10 instruments which are not yet confirmed.

MM: Tell us something about the collaboration of CIF with I-STEM.

SB: Indian Science Technology Engineering Facilities Map is a project taken up by the government of India, mandated by MHRD to link the equipment of CIF with it. It acts as a global portal whose responsibility is given to IISc Bangalore, with Sanjeev Srivastav as the national coordinator.

Facilities can be extended to the outside users like researchers of other institutes, R & D labs and industries. Internal bookings are completely free, but we are implementing charges for external users, this will generate the cost for maintenance, spare parts, etc. of the instruments. This collaboration with ISTEM is a matter of pride for the Institute because this is causing more development in the research field and inviting the researchers to be a part of the projects. If external bookings are made through the web portal, it will lead to a rise in our Institute's perceptions and affect the rankings of the NIRF.

We have registered the CIF of NITR in I-STEM in which 309 instruments across different departments which can be booked by external students through our web portal. For the staff, we are planning to do an online training program in collaboration with IISc Bangalore under which a professor, a student and a technical assistant can take the program from each department.

MM: What is the annual budget allocated to CIF?

SB: Last year it was 80 lacs, but this due to the purchase of Nitrogen Storage Facility, 70 lacs got invested in it, so one crore was allocated.

MM: Do you plan to extend the timings of CIF slots to weekends as well?

SB: Yes, with the recruitment of more technical staff we will be having the availability of a person to operate, so we can extend the timings to weekends also.

Centralised Instrumentation Facility is still in a growing stage and has planned for the extension and modernisation of the facilities provided to the students. With a vision of International reach in terms of students participation and sponsorship, CIF strives to bring in more resources and opportunities in the campus along with an improvement in the NIRF rankings of the institute.

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