'Applying Research' at IIT-B

From predicting floods to making toilets that do need require flushing, students and faculty at IIT-B are busy with a vast gamut of research. Sanchayan Bhattacharjee reports.

'Applying Research' at IIT-B

Smart phone users often complain about the poor battery life of their device. One solution to the problem without increasing the weight of the phone is, to use fuels like LPG or methane which provide more than 40 times the energy of electric batteries used in mobile phones. However, it is difficult to convert the chemical energy in these fuels into electrical energy. Students and faculty members at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay have decided to innovate and find solutions to this problem. “The available technology to fuels to electircal enables an efficiency rate of just 2.6 percent. We have built a micro thermoelectric power generator, which enables this conversion at an efficiency rate of almost 5 per cent,” says Shamboo Yadav, one of the students involved in the project. With this any mobile phone using fuels will run at least 3-4 times longer than they do now with conventional batteries. According to Sudarshan Kumar, professor, aerospace engineering, IIT-B, though the project is at a developing stage, it has applications even beyond mobile phones. “It will help mirco airplane systems, power generation, quick recharge when needed,” he says.

This fuel based mobile battery is one among the 1000 research projects being carried out at IIT- B. With more than Rs 215 crores received for research and development, the scope of such projects is on the ascendency. “Around 55 per cent of students at the institute are masters and PhD students, both of which require a significant amount of research work,” says Krishna Kaliappan, associate dean, research and development, IIT-B. An internship, which was the genesis of the above mentioned research project is also offered to final year undergraduate engineering students across the country. “It is to provide innovative ideas with adequate infrastructure,” explains Kaliappan.

Another project at the institute aims to predict floods based on the rainfall received and the level of water in catchment areas through an online platform. The tool uses Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and can be used to generate flood maps. “The main objective of GIS based flood prediction is to know the extent of flooding for given rainfall conditions. If we get data quickly, then we can predict floods in real time,” says Eldaho TI, faculty, civil engineering, IIT-B. While the tool has already been tested in Airoli, Ghansoli, Nerul and Vashi, it is still a work in progress. “Once perfected, this tool can be effectively used to manage and maybe even prevent flood related disasters,” adds Anand Kulkarni, PhD student working on the project.

According to UNICEF, more than 665 million Indians i.e almost half the population of our country defecates in the open. Paucity of water is the major reason behind this shameful statistic. To tackle this problem, the Industrial Design Centre (IDC) at IIT- B has developed Dry-San, a toilet that does not need water for flushing. “The idea is to convert the waste material into a resource — liquid fertiliser from urine and manure from solid waste by a non-chemical and natural decomposition process,” informs Kishor Munshi, faculty, IDC. These toilets which have a 20 year life period, cost around Rs 20, 000 right now but are expected to cost around Rs, 7000 once mass production begins. “Dry –San is targeted specifically towards rural India which faces severe water shortages,” adds Munshi.

While there is a perception that students from IITs are inclined towards lucrative career options, the professors agree that research is becoming increasingly popular. “An increasing number of our undergraduate students often get bored with a regular job after a couple of years and return to the institute to pursue research,” signs off Kaliappan.

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