Beyond the classroom

Beyond the classroom

NEXT IS WHAT? Mayank Srivastava (top) and Manoj Kumar Mandelia

Two youngsters, both on the list of Technology Review’s 20 young Indian innovators, are under 30. But unlike the rest in the list who are CEOs or working professionals, these young innovators are students of IIT. In fact, at ages 23 and 25, Manoj Kumar Mandelia and Mayank Srivastava are the ‘babies’ of MIT’s Technology Review list.

Mandelia, who is studying integrated MTech from IIT Kharagpur, won the honors for his solution to wastewater management. He has developed a product that uses the concept of microbial fuel cell (MFC is a bio-electrochemical system that drives a current by mimicking bacterial interactions found in nature). His product, called LOCUS (localised operation of bio-cells), when integrated with sewage treatment systems, can treat waste water and generate electricity.

Mandelia explains that the product can reduce greenhouse emissions. The Locus is currently a lab-scale model, and is being tested at IIT Kharagpur.

Mayank Srivastava (25), student at the Centre for Excellence in Nanoelectronics, IIT-Bombay, has come up with a solution for  devices that fail under high voltage or electrocstatic discharge conditions. Typically, these devices (called DeMOS) are used in a wide range of applications like radio-frequency power amplifiers or USBs, but they fail under high voltage situations. Mayank’s modified system solves that problem.

The IIT experience

So, how has an IIT education shaped them as innovators? Explains Mandelia, “I entered IIT in 2006 and when I look back four years, I see I am a changed person. It has been a wonderful experience at IIT, learning from peers and celebrating every success. As always learning outside the classrooms has been most transformational. Opportunities in the IITs are plenty and making use of them is up to the individual.”

Mandelia, who is from Kharagpur, says an IIT education was an idea to do something different, to experience how it is to work with some of the best brains in the country and contribute something significant to society.

Talking about his IIT stint, Srivastava explains, “My personal experience at IIT Bombay is really great. During the three-four years of stay at IIT Bombay, I really learned a lot both in the technical and non-technical fields. Supervision and guidance from professors/mentors has made me capable of doing independent research. Apart from research this stay has greatly improved my personality too.”

Lessons from failure

So, what do the young innovators think of science education in India?

Mandelia feels very fortunate to have done his primary education in India. “When we go outside of the country, we realise that we are far ahead in most areas than peers from other countries.” On the flip side, he points out that students in India are not encouraged to think independently. “We are not taught to appreciate failure as a stepping stone. We are not taught to accept mistakes when we make them. The idea of penalising students for every small thing that goes wrong leads them to cover up for failures or mistakes by manipulation, taking away the chance to learn from experience.
This has to change if innovation has to come from universities and colleges,” he explains.
For Srivastava, scientific research or a science education depends mostly on the mentors and the students themselves.

“The only thing India lacks is the ability to trust our own capabilities. This is also one of the reasons for good students moving to foreign universities for their research. If we can develop this ‘trust’, we can compete with any of the leading research groups in the world, while doing research in India,” he explains.

So what should an IIT aspirant aim at?

Here’s Mandelia’s advice: “Study with your full potential to enable yourself to get into this ecosystem. Your aim should be to grasp the concepts and learn as much as you can in the two years you get to prepare.”

“It takes nothing except some hard work and effort to get into an IIT, but eventually it gives you a lot,” adds Srivastava.

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