Prof V Ramgopal Rao, Chair Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Chief Investigator, Centre of Excellence in Nanoelectronics (CEN), IIT–Bombay, has over 350 publications in the area of electron devices and Nanoelectronics in international journals and conference proceedings. A recipient of the Infosys Prize in 2013, he is an inventor with over 28 patents and patent applications. Co-founder of the company NanoSniff Technologies, at IIT–B, which is developing products in the area of Nanotechnology, he has supervised over 100 Master’s students and 23 PhD students at IIT–B, in the area of Nanoelectronics since 2000.Edex caught up with him to talk about his project and the scope the field has in India.
Tell us something about the Centre of Excellence and your research in Nanotechnology.
The Centre of Excellence in Nanoelectronics was established in 2006. It is a collaborative project between IIT-Bombay and IISc, Bangalore. It is funded by the Department of IT, Government of India, and has received funds to the tune of `150 crore. Phase I ended in 2011. Phase II is underway. The Centre has nanofabrication technology and offers support to perform on-site fabrication using its equipment. CEN is a resource formed to serve academic, industrial and governmental researchers in the field of Nanoelectronics from across the country. The centre’s objective is to create technically sophisticated manpower for Nanoelectronics research.
Can students with no background in Nanoelectronics opt for this field?
CEN offers multidisciplinary research programmes involving faculty from various departments. We have students from various backgrounds — Electrical and Electronics, Microelectronics, Nanotechnology, and faculty members from different departments, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering being one of them. Nanotechnology by nature is multidisciplinary. Biotechnology students can apply their knowledge in engineering applications. They use biotech theories in sensors, for example, in cardiac diagnostic systems. The Indian Nanoelectronics Users Programme (INUP), a unique initiative for accelerating research and development in Nanoelectronics in India, was launched in 2008, to facilitate experimentation of research ideas of Indian researchers in Nanoelectronics.
What is the current scenario in Nanoelectronics in India?
Recent surveys show that there is a requirement of 5,000 to 6,000 Nanoelectronics students. Only NITs and IITs offer courses on this subject. There are even fewer places where students can pursue their Master’s. There is a huge industry requirement for these students in companies like Intel in Bangalore and Noida. A demand-supply gap is glaring in this field. Finding faculty is also difficult. Once you join the industry, the options are so lucrative that few would opt for teaching. This is one of the concerns even IITs have. Apart from this, it is difficult to get into the IITs for these courses. The academic calibre required is really high. The top 0.1 percentile make it through. We have about 30-35 students in the Master’s course, some in dual degree and around 10 PhD students. The IITs can only take in 600-700 graduates for Nanoelectronics.
How does research in nanotechnology benefit the common man?
We develop products of societal value like agricultural sensors and health care apps. The technologies developed in NanoSniff helps detect the presence of explosives. Nanotechnology can also be used in soil-nutrient monitoring. Most farmers do not know which type of soil needs fertilisers in what concentration. They have to send soil samples to labs, which take at least one day to send the results. By using low-cost sensors, farmers can be helped to choose the right amount of fertiliser.
What is the way ahead, what are your goals with respect to the facility?
With the facilities available, we intend to support the activities of other institutes in the field. We intend to use these funds to make major strides in research and development in one or two years. We plan to reach out to more than 100 institutes, students and lecturers. In six months to one year, we must be able to do a lot in semiconductor research and manufacturing. We have two mega proposals approved in relation to this. In layman terms, integrated circuits that go into mobiles, etc, will be manufactured here.
What is the scope for Nanoelectronics and what needs to be done for the field?
Nanotechnology students can start companies. Innovation is the key. They have high paying jobs. We’re already not producing enough. They can earn a minimum of `12 lakh per annum with a PhD in Microelectronics or an MTech. But there needs to be enough industry tie-ups with faculty. The Government is doing its bit. Special manpower nodal centres should be created. Vellore Institute of Technology has a Centre for Nanotechnology Research. More such private providers should come forward to offer courses.