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Monday Morning Article Cover for: Structural Maestro: Prof. Subrata Kumar Panda






Structural Maestro: Prof. Subrata Kumar Panda

Nov 20, 2021|7 minutes

Maitrai Sinha

Utsav Shrestha

Research is a long and arduous journey yet, it is an exciting one. Stanford university releases a list of the top 2 per cent of the most cited scientists across the globe. This is a highly coveted list, with researchers ranked on the basis of the top 100,000 by C-scores (number of citations, excluding self-citations) or a percentile rank of 2% or above. This has ranked the scientists based on standardised citation pointers, including data about the number of citations, H-list, co-authorships, and a composite indicator. While research is one of the indicators of the creative processes and the minds in an institution, it is also significant for its sustainability and development. Stanford university’s top 2 per cent list provides an insight into the top minds and helps to serve as a way to check the progress of the research in terms of knowledge-driven growth that is inclined towards innovation.
Prof Subrata Kumar Panda of the department of Mechanical Engineering has been named in the top 2 per cent of the list in the field of Mechanical Engineering and Transports. He had 1892 citations, with 180 papers published and a patent to his name.

Team Monday Morning recently had the opportunity to interact with Prof. Subrata and congratulate him on his recent achievements. The full excerpt is given below:

Monday Morning (MM): Your research interest lies predominantly in the micro-mechanical modelling of smart composite structures under unlikely environmental conditions. What inspired you to get into this field of research?

Prof. Subrata Panda (SP): I have worked in the domain of Applied Mechanics during my Masters. Talking about Applied Mechanics, you’ll find several research topics from branches like mechanical, civil, aeronautical, naval architecture, biotechnology, ocean engineering, etc. As a result, when I studied Applied Mechanics in-depth, I came across the topics from all the branches mentioned above. So, applied mechanics is such a field that allows people from all these branches to converge together. Since I did my masters in that field, I had an idea about biomechanics and other related fields.

Since I was interested in the design aspect of mechanical engineering and had done my masters in Applied Mechanics, I got involved in the domain of analysing models. First, I started with analysing loads and then, I switched to focusing on materials modelling. I pursued my PhD in the domain of aerostructures and smart composites which inspired me to understand materials, types of materials, smart materials and modelling of materials, etc. So, my masters and PhD helped me groom myself to delve deeper into this field and these sorts of research.

MM: You have more than 180 publications and a patent to your name to date. What motivated you to work on such a vast number of projects? How do you approach a topic while working on it?

SP: When we talk about publications, there are some things that we need to keep in mind.

My mentor during my PhD used to say, “During your PhD, you need to focus on three things; first is your PhD, second is your publications, and third is your projects.”

The environment created by my guide always motivated me to pursue research. When I was pursuing my PhD degree in 2008, he published 15-17 papers per year and would bring us along when doing the research. He used to say, “Only if there is a fire in your belly will it help you grow”. He used to make groups and discuss projects with all of us to have good communication. That gave all of us an initial understanding of the intricacies of research and publishing papers. Since I was groomed in such an environment, it motivated me to go along this path.

Previously, I used to teach the subject of Mechanics of Solids at KIIT University. Luckily I got the opportunity to teach the same course at NIT Rourkela as well. I also got the chance to research and supervise some students which helped me discuss ideas with my students. So, I would also like to thank all the students in my group and class for coming up with novel ideas and inspiring me every time.

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Even currently, I have a group of 15-20 people, and we are working on some projects and research as well. Although we may have come up with ideas during team discussions, they can only be executed if we have good team members. So, I am lucky enough that my group is very active and are performing above my expectations which helps me a lot. Although I am focused on numerical modelling, I am slowly moving towards simulations and experimental parts, which help us discover many problems. I can explore and conduct research in different fields due to my background in Applied Mechanics and the help of my students. So, these are the reasons I am able to have publications focusing on different areas and patents.

MM: Among all the areas you have researched, which topic/field do you think has more scope and significance in capturing the imagination of future generations?

SP: I would say the domain of biomedical engineering, structural health maintenance coupled with Artificial intelligence and smart materials have a lot of scope and significance in capturing the imagination of future generations. Biomedical engineering and structural health maintenance with smart materials are two significant areas with many scopes and can be explored to a greater extend. If we can incorporate machine learning or artificial intelligence, it would create a major platform with lots of content for research. Since research has a lot to deal with data, if we can utilise ML and AI to delve and explore deeper, it would create a lot of opportunities for people.

The domain of acoustic model study within structural engineering is largely unexplored and has quite fewer facilities. Although there are some institutions in India that are exploring the domain, but we are much backwards compared to Europe and the Western countries. So, it would be great if one could incorporate ML into researching these topics.

MM: The US-based Stanford University has recently released a list representing the top 2% of the most-cited scientists in various disciplines. You have been named on the list in the field of mechanical engineering and transports. How do you feel to be part of this coveted list?

SP: It indeed is a lovely feeling. It gives a different sense of satisfaction and happiness to know I was a part of the list. But, it isn’t easy to maintain such high standards for a long period of time. This is a result of the hard work, effort which have been made for the last decade, and since the light comes into it in a different form, it gives a distinct feeling of satisfaction.

When I started as a young researcher, or even today when I am working, I, or anyone on the list, have never thought about being included in this prestigious list. We have been included in this list only because of our efforts in working in this field. So, it would help if you put in your time and effort to continue this and accordingly, you’ll be placed based on your contributions.

Also, this is not your efforts alone but a group effort and contributes to your previous generation, i.e., your mentors, your current generation, your peers, yourself and the next generation, your students. So, it is an even better feeling if your students can continue working in this field and are recognised. Three of the students who had completed their PhD under me were also included in this prestigious list and are working in different institutes across India. So, this also gave me a lot of happiness and satisfaction.

MM: How do you plan to move forward in the future in developing your research interests and areas?

SP: As said, I am currently focusing on Biomedical engineering and structural health maintenance. I have also taken projects focusing on these two topics. The biomedical project (Orthopedic Engineering and rehabilitation) was performed under the Center of Excellence under TEQIP-II. I was the co-guide in this project, and Prof. Thirugnanam was the guide. Shrishant Jena made did some analysis in the project and made some assistive devices. Based on that, we performed the Gait parameter analysis, and now, I plan to go deeper in this field exploring how human health can be maintained and monitored using the gait parameter.

Similarly, on the Structural Health maintenance section, four of my students are already working on it. Two of them are purely working on damage structure modelling and the application of smart materials in this field. We are also working on writing some proposals. We also hope to compile all the numerical analysis to a package and work with software like ANSYS or ABAQUS. We are also looking forward to other ventures of similar kind in different fields like automobile engineering, and arrangements are being made.

MM: You’ve received a patent for an “Automated Gupchup machine”, how did you approach this project? What were the difficulties that you had faced during the process?

SP: We faced some challenges along our path. It was my student, Prakash Sarangi, who had brainstormed and come up with this idea. He approached me with the idea and asked me if this was possible. I believed that the idea could be transformed into reality and hence took up the project in collaboration with him.

We researched different automated systems, and he also did a small peripheral market survey based on Rourkela. We found that there was no such thing as ‘Automated Gupchup Machine’. Since gupchup is one of India’s most favourable street food, we discussed more into this topic and applied for a B.Tech. Project under TEQIP-II. Prakash Sarangi along with Prof. Siba Sankar Mahapatra put in a lot of effort especially on the technical details, and we used the department facilities like the RP machine to create a working prototype. We did face some challenges in the process. There were some problems during the fabering process because we did not have such high-end facilities, and so, we did it in a rather mediocre facility but, we made the prototype. We also had some problems determining the amount of force to break the puri, the area to break and the depth to penetrate the puri. Then came the problem with fillings. We had to find the appropriate amount of aloo (potato) that worked for all the puri and move everything from one end to the other end. So, finding the optimum point of force, penetration of the puri and area to break, then filling in the stuffing and moving it was the biggest challenge.

Prakash applied this project for the best year project in his final year and went on to win it. He left after his final year, and I had to look after all the administrative work of applying for the patent. We had to wait for nearly three years to get the FER (First Examination Report). Then, we again had to wait for two more years due to the pandemic. These challenges are very common so, I cannot call it a difficulty, but it indeed was hard.

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MM: What will be your advice for budding research aspirants who wish to publish papers but are completely confused regarding the pre-requisites and where to start?

SP: Thinking of a publication, project, or patent requires knowledge and novelty and involves a lot of homework before going to the final stage. Undergraduate students have a lot of energy, but at the same time, they are confused too. First, they need to decide which area they are interested in and find a professor to guide them. You need a guru who can mentor you in this field. It can be anyone; a professor, a senior, or your friend, who can guide you or give an idea about where and how to start. You also need to understand that every person has a particular inclination towards a topic; like in mechanical engineering, one might be inclined towards thermal, designing, or some other field. Once you fix the area, you need to look out for professors already in this field and collaborate with them and follow their papers.

Once fixed, the area, then the person, and you can get helpful guidance, and then you need to be active. This “active” is a relative term; you can follow any number of projects depending on the “fire in your belly”, even if you don’t come to a result, you will get to learn how to approach or learn something new. As per my experience, none of the mentors would negatively respond to mentoring new or aspiring researchers.

My mantra is straightforward, anything and everything is possible; it’s just that the person and the intent must be clear.

MM: You’ve always involved your students in projects like these; how has your experience been working with students?

SP: I don’t have words to express my experience and happiness when I am involved with such projects. Anytime and every time a student approaches me or I approach them, my experience has been excellent. I need to guide my children in everything as they can’t excel in all spheres. Similarly, I need to be a mentor sometimes, and sometimes I need to act like a father, brother, or friend. I do this because I want to get the best out of my students; I must know students’ strengths; it takes time, but in the end, I could get a group of students, and we’d collaborate. We get more and more as our group has students from different years. When we talk about innovative ideas, I find new things to explore. It’s impossible to get something new to innovate every time, but we have a patent in the pipeline from 2018. But after that, I was involved in administration. But from 2019, I tried to join this “race” again, but due to the pandemic, things have slowed down. We’ve been discussing a few projects with the current batch, and they are based on issues or highly relevant problems, and we have the best minds. I strongly feel that if I can apply the student’s skills or my knowledge somewhere, anything is possible, and we are doing that. In regular classes, we used to give ideas, and people turned up with ideas to innovate.

MM: It takes a lot of dedication to continue a project for a long. What is your source of motivation which keeps you going ahead with determination?

SP: You need to have a goal. When you talk about the people who cultivate paddy, they have to wait for six months to do so, they can’t hasten it, and there’s always a chance of it getting washed up. Self-motivation is very easy to say but tough to digest. It is but the key to surviving out of failures, as it’s tough to digest.

Whenever I feel that I cannot motivate myself, I think, “how would my students be able to be motivated if I am not able to do the same?

For example, there are 12 different countries, but finally, only one would get the winner’s trophy, and the other would be a runner up, but the rest would be classified as losers. No one would think about them. Should they continue to play or give up? If they’ve been able to hold up for the last few decades, how about us? Life is a kind of game, and self-motivation is needed. There is no secret formula, and perseverance is the solution. If you look back to 10-20 years earlier, and if the people wouldn’t have worked over technology, we couldn’t have discussions like these or online classes. It evolved a few years ago, and the transition took place slowly. This is not a one day game where you expect a result of your work to be evident in a month or two. You might need to wait for years even for your work to come into the picture. This goes for all the research, patents, innovations that we’ve been committing ourselves to. It took us 5-6 years to reach this place. If I give plans for a machine in a class, it will take time to get realised. But yes, if you have motivation, you will find people to fulfil it. It is a simple principle that I won’t see, then no one will look back for me; I have to find it myself.

MM: What research projects are you part of as of now?

SP: I am a part of a few projects; even though I haven't been contributing much because of the pandemic. I’ve been working as a mentor of an MTech student, and we’re working to find solutions using smart materials and complete numerical solutions for it. I was optimising the fibre volumes, but the machine hasn’t come yet. But we have applied for generic researches, but we aren’t sure about the outcomes.

MM: You have been teaching at this institute since 2011. How has your teaching experience been so far, and how did you evolve your teaching in this online mode?

SP: It is difficult to evaluate yourself; that’s why we have a feedback system. People sometimes respond negatively, although they don’t raise issues during class. As far as evolving goes, when I had joined, the Director had advised us that here you needn’t make the students understand the basics, instead provide them with new inputs and encourage innovative outputs. Even during physical classes, I always check if the students can grasp all the concepts or not. But then again, when I wish to evaluate myself, the people with whom I compare, I am 30-40% below them.

Compared to physical mode, my self-evaluation is lesser in online mode. I used to give the students videos, and as a result some students couldn’t connect properly owing to a lack of one to one interaction. It isn’t easy to interact with, and I’m not satisfied with this. Students give feedback, and it varies. Some can understand, others respond without seeing the videos, and some provide it before the sem ends. It is student dependent. The kind of interest the student has depends on it. I try my best to give them a physical example that they can see in daily life.

MM: What do you feel about the scope of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NIT Rourkela?

SP: This is where I got a lot of opportunities and exposure. It is one of the most prominent and oldest department, with the best research environment. It matters a lot ie. you may have a refrigerator, but you can’t do anything without electricity. The environment, facility, and mindset matter a lot, and it depends on the department. We have excellent cohesion, a platform to discuss, and of course, there must be ups and downs. The way a vehicle has a brake, clutch and accelerator, we have mechanisms that facilitate the working and ensure flexibility. Our department is the best, and our mindset is clear and focused because the department itself has that mindset!

MM: In your opinion, how are the research facilities in NIT Rourkela?

SP: There hasn’t been much significant growth or decline due to the pandemic and the shifting of the department to the new building. We still need better facilities because technology is advancing day by day and we need to upgrade. There is definitely a scope for improvement.

There is no immediate solution, as it is time and people dependent. I feel that if among the BTech students, we shift the focus slightly over to research inclinations, the situation would improve.

MM: What is your final message for the NIT Rourkela students aspiring to achieve a similar feat as yourself?

SP: The message isn’t the same for everyone. I want to categorise the students based on their plans for their future. From what I have experienced, I would say the B.Tech. students have a greater potential for innovation and all kinds of research. So, my message for the B.Tech students is that if you have any idea, then immediately start following your research instinct and start working on it. You will be able to achieve anything and everything you want. So first, they must fix their goal, whether it be innovation or publication, and they should start working towards that goal from that day onwards. I can guarantee that before leaving the institute, they will either have some product or some publication in their hands.

As for M. Tech students, when they come to NIT Rourkela, most of them are looking for better job opportunities and only about a quarter of students are into the research domain. But, if they ever have a change of mindset and look forward to researching then, they should actively use the facilities and faculties here at NIT Rourkela as it will help them grow exponentially, in my opinion.

As for the PhD students, I would have to say the NIT students are all compared to IIT students due to the hard work of the previous batches so, all the students must work hard to maintain this standard and be employed in a better position. For this, again, they must be self-motivated; it all depends upon them as they are mature enough. They should also think of an idea and immediately start working on it. They should also work hard to exceed the goals by almost 20 per cent of initially set limits so that they can compete with all the other top students in various IITs and NITs. This is my view and understanding of the students at NIT Rourkela, and I would like to pass this message on to them.

Team Monday Morning congratulates Dr Subrata Kumar Panda and his students for their achievements and wishes them the best in their future endeavours.

Design Credits: Gajarla Harshavardhan Reddy

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