A Metallurgist's Sojourn Through Books And Beyond: Prof. Bankim Chandra Ray

A Metallurgist's Sojourn Through Books And Beyond: Prof. Bankim Chandra Ray

An Academician, an Author, a dedicated Professor and a Senior Advisor to the nation's leading steel industry - TATA Steel are some of the annotations for one person, Prof. Bankim Chandra Ray of the Department of Metallurgical and Materials engineering. Not only he presents the nation with top-class engineers but also toils hard to bring up the substitutes to materials on which the country's development rests on so that these alternatives can overcome the lacunae and losses that are faced. With an extraordinary passion for his work and especially an undying zeal towards effective teaching over 30 years- something which his students, present and past recount the most about him, he has published over 200 journal papers and books.

Team Monday Morning caught up with Prof. B.C. Ray over MS Teams to garner insights into his research and books.

Here are some of the excerpts from the interview.

Monday Morning(MM): Your main fields of research include "Composite Materials," "Solidification," "Phase transformation, and heat treatments." What drew you towards this field?

Prof. B.C Ray (BCR): My main basis for the research is composite materials. It is a nonmetallic material that is used globally as an alternative for steel and metallic materials. I am working on making the composite more robust and reliable so that it can be used for bridge material, infrastructure, airport, and smart city solutions.

I have also been working as a technical advisor for TATA Steel in FRP (Fiber-reinforced Polymer) Composites, as my main research area. Tata Steel has a new wing called New Material Business. The emphasis is given on composite material, where I act as an advisor to make different products for society and nation. We are switching from metallic structures to non-metallic structures because they are lighter, reliable, and less corrosive.

MM: For an academician, publishing a book serves as a very powerful tool to impart the acquired knowledge in a specific field of study, and these books serve as vital sources for further scholarly research. Please throw some light on the most important aspects of compiling a book in the scientific domain.

BCR: Book Writing comes naturally to an experienced person. When you do research work, you interact with students, peers on a global platform, and know many things. I have been doing Paper Writing for the last 30 years, where my focus is to come out for a specific audience. But unlike a journal, books can draw a large audience.

Composite materials are now replacing 100-year-old steel, and such information needs to be brought to everyone's knowledge, and books are the only medium to do so.

Ultimately, the main motto of writing a book is to connect to the next generation and get positive criticism from my peers to learn and explore new things. I have written three books this summer and these have been published under leading publishers like CRC, Springer, and many more. I have taken the responsibility to write books and make the next generation aware of the new developments in materials systems, and I am enjoying the responsibility currently.

MM: You co-authored the book "Phase Transformation and Heat Treatments of Steel" with Prof. Rajesh Kumar Prusty and Deepak Nayak. Please share with us what the book deals with? Also, what new insights would provide to undergrad students?

BCR: Prof. Rajesh Kumar Prusty and Deepak Nayak are my ex Btech students of this institution. Prof. Rajesh Kumar Prusty is also a young colleague of mine now. The book "Phase Transformation and Heat Treatments of Steel" was one of the most satisfying books in my life because it was a great challenge for me. I had been researching composite, which had been a challenge to steel for a long time. Phase Transformation and Heat Treatment are the two classical subjects of metallurgy. The manipulation property comes from Phase Transformation, and it can be practised from heat. There is a good connection between the two subjects, although they are taught at different semesters.

So, this book attempts to merge the two subjects and share my views and experience to understand students better so as they easily apply the concepts for the betterment of society. It, too, was my dream to write a book on steel from the leading publisher during my Btech days. Moreover, publishing a book from one of the best publishers is quite tedious considering its modalities. It was also my dream to write a book with my BTech Students, and I am quite happy that I managed to fulfil these dreams with my fellow students.


MM: You co-authored the book "Molecular Dynamics Simulation of Nanostructured Materials" with Prof. Snehanshu Pal. How did the book come up? Also, please share with us how the collaboration with Prof. Pal set in motion?

BCR: Prof. Snehanshu Pal is a talented and bright young faculty. His main research area is the Molecular Dynamic Simulation of Nano Structural Materials and Understanding of Mechanical behaviour. It's not easy for a young faculty to write a book as it is a  tedious and difficult process. In such cases, guidance from a senior faculty member is needed. My main contribution was to interact and help him pen down his thoughts on the book in a better systematic, focused way. There are limited resources in the topic revolving around Molecular Dynamic Simulation. It was a great challenge to write a book in a relatively new field like this. But I was quite pleased that I could write a book on a traditional and classical topic and an opportunity to guide someone to write a book in a new field.

MM: As your research papers are more focused on nanomaterials and applied polymer composites, can this trigger a revolutionary change in the near future?

BCR: I feel fortunate to be selected by TATA Steel for this venture. They are already in the new material business for the last 2-3 years. They have started making 10000 litres of FRP tanks, and they are also in the railway sector. In the next 2-3 years, the new wagon materials will come up comprising composites and nanomaterials. So, it is no more just a laboratory talk as it has already caught up the scene. We can find them in the bullet trains. Almost all of the marine industry products are composed of FRP composites because it has provided a cure to corrosion. It has already influenced the building construction as it is 100% earthquake-proof and also the aerospace domain. The FRP composites are an alternative to steel that gives more reliable and robust structural integrity.

I am really happy because, being an academician, I could channelize my knowledge of 30 years of composites to a big Brand like TATA steel.

MM: Your book on FRP composites, "Hydrothermal Behavior of Fiber and Nanomaterial Reinforced Polymer Composites," was published this year. Please shed some light on what the book deals with.

BCR: This book can be followed by BTech as well as Postgraduate students and Researchers. My research area is to find the fault of the materials that have been cited as the best ones in the world. The book's main objective is to study these materials' behaviour and durability assessment under humid conditions. Their mechanical properties' performance has been noted and how the nanomaterial addition to the FRP can address the issues. This is not a broad area for the students, but it is still in the research stage. It carries a lot of importance in the research field. In my opinion, the most important area of research is environmental degradation, which I have been focusing on for the last 30 years, and this book is the outcome of my experience of 3 decades. This is my second book on composites, and my third book on micro and nano- phased polymeric composites is at the developing stage.

MM: What are carbon nanotubes and why the glass/fibre/epoxy reinforced with nanoparticles have attracted much attention these days?

BCR: Nanosize is a revolutionary concept because it has very high activity for even very small amounts, for instance, the addition of less than 1% of nanoparticles to the FRP composite can affect a lot of its properties. Nanoparticles make this possible because they have a vast surface area, so its surface can interact with a very proximate level. It can also change the chemistry of the polymer in the right way as the addition of nanoparticles makes the polymers stronger and tougher. The interaction of nanoparticles with bulk material can elevate properties' behaviour, which enhances the FRP composites. This is a new concept, but the potential is so high that people are working tirelessly to transfer it from laboratory scale to industrial scale.

MM: Your new book "Micro and Nano Phased Polymeric Composites: Durability Assessment in Different Engineering Applications" is expected to come up in June 2021. How is the progress of the book? Also, please share with us what would be its benefits to the scientific community?

BCR:  I am proud to be a core academician, and my tasks have been taking class, guiding PhD students and writing journal papers. But for the last 2-3 years, I have been solely involved with TATA Steel, and they give a lot of importance to the theoretical flavour of the composites. Competing in today’s world for entering different sectors like railways, aerospace, smart city solutions, and other infrastructure to beat the steel industry is very challenging. But transferring knowledge from the laboratory scale to the industrial scale is a huge responsibility. Whatever the experiences that I am gaining from TATA Steel have been penned down and compiled in that book. It has two parts. This book has two flavours, like theoretical and industrial flavour. So that's a different way of writing that book and I hope I will be enjoying it.

MM: In your career, you have worked with many different people, including professors and students from foreign universities. How is their research culture different from ours?

BCR: Yes, I had many opportunities to work with people abroad, but I think I have a kind of obsession with my Indian students, and I feel very comfortable around them. The only thing we lack here in India is the research infrastructure. The students are very bright and very focused. They spend a lot of time in the laboratory. It is surprising to see a B.Tech student spending 10-12 hours in my laboratory without instructions. This is a unique scenario as I never tell my PhD students to stay back in the laboratory. Honestly speaking, I enjoy working with Indian students more. But as I said, there is one thing that we are lacking.

India is not a very rich country, and a good infrastructure for research needs a lot of money. In foreign countries, they have a huge infrastructure and are very systematic. They have better opportunities to grow, and, in that regard, we do face some challenges. Despite these challenges, I enjoy what I do, and I feel very happy doing it. I dedicate all my work to my bright, honest, and humble students. I am extremely happy with the dedication of my students. 

MM: How can research inspiration be better promoted among B.Tech students? Also, please suggest some steps that should be taken to improve the aptitude of research in NIT Rourkela.

BCR: Well, publishing international journal papers with B.Tech students is very uncommon, even on a global scale, but I have been doing it for the past 20 years. Students come to me on their own as they feel motivated by the research culture of my lab. I feel very lucky that my students are motivated. While taking the class, I include some sort of research component in my teaching. I do it at the right time, not at the very beginning. First, I give them knowledge and information about the topic. I try to make them comfortable with the course. Creating a friendly atmosphere is important as it allows them to interact freely about their doubts with me. Then I make some inconclusive statements during my lectures. This is what triggers the minds of the students. I make them realize the significance of the research. I freely discuss what is overrated and what is underrated in the textbooks and make them aware of the various areas of research. While doing this, I indirectly try to convey to them that research is an endless journey in such a dreamy and engaging world that one can spend the rest of the life there is a beautiful way to contribute to the formation of a better and advanced world.

One of the biggest reasons behind more and more students getting attracted to research is the development of the research infrastructure. I have spent many years in NIT Rourkela, and I have seen the infrastructure improving a lot. We are working hard in this direction. It is a long process, and it needs a lot of money as well. It cannot be achieved in just one or two years. Development is still going, and I feel that we are doing well.

MM: How important do you feel it is to keep learning about new technologies at this stage of your career?

BCR: I feel that it is a question of one's curiosity and keenness. Being in the field of technology, one must be aware of what is going on in this area. In this field, the changes take place very quickly. Being in the era of the internet, we have information available to us in abundance. Everyone in this field should take the responsibility to keep themselves updated. If you respect your subject and your profession, you should know that the development is prevailing and you should be aware of a lot of contributions made every day all over the world. You should be connected with it. If you respect your field and stay updated, you might be the next person driving a big change in technology.

Like 787 Boeing aeroplanes were earlier made of metals, but now it has changed to FRP Composites. Today we enjoy noiseless take-offs and noiseless landings, quicker flights; all this has been possible because of the technological revolution, and being a part of the technical fraternity, one must be very curious to know about it.

Students must keep learning about new technology; otherwise, they cannot compete well. It is not possible to make somebody passionate about something by just the course curriculum. Passion should come from within yourself.

MM: What final message would you like to convey to our readers?

BCR: Location wise, Rourkela doesn't have a lot to offer to you. So, you cannot have a lot of fun or enjoy most of your free time in a very luxurious way.

This adversity can be converted into an opportunity. Instead of roaming here and there, where you do not get any pleasure, you should rather try to spend your time in the library and laboratory.

I do not intend to criticize Rourkela, but this steel city is not very vibrant and engaging. But the good part of this is that it cannot distract you. Spending time in the library and laboratory will be a better option. You should utilize this time well because B.Tech is the period when you have a lot of energy and no such big responsibilities. Keep yourself well informed and keep learning. With limited information, your dreams would also be limited. Acquire more knowledge, interact more with your peers and teachers. Dream big and fulfil it because everything is possible.

On a concluding note, Prof. Bankim Chandra Ray has worked dedicatedly to gather volumes of experience to steer the course of an extraordinary career and research. However, at the pinnacle of his long-drawn experience, he always believes ‘teaching’ becomes the best of him. Helping and guiding young minds across batches under his wings has been more of a trademark than a duty to realize his passion for the booming domain of Metallurgical and Materials engineering.

Team Monday Morning congratulates Prof. Bankim Chandra Ray on his success and wishes him the very best for his future ahead!

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