Dr. Raghavan B. Sunoj, Professor, Department of Chemistry, IIT Bombay was bestowed with the 2019 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This award is one of the highest research honours. The award recognizes Prof. Sunoj’s outstanding contributions in providing molecular-level insights on organic reaction mechanisms and how catalysis happens. We take immense pleasure to extend our heartiest congratulations to him for this achievement.
Prof.Sunoj’s inclination towards the teaching profession began at a very early age. He salutes his mother, herself a national award-winning teacher for being his inspiration and role model and gives her credit for laying the early seeds of being a teacher. Her vision and actions helped him gain a better perspective of the profession. His fondness towards teaching was further amplified while pursuing his masters where he had the opportunity to become a guide to three of his fellow classmates, thus giving him his first experience as a teacher. Recognition and appreciation from his lab seniors when he explained some advanced research concepts, further affirmed his career plans. Finally, the time spends at IISC gave Prof.Sunoj clarity about his future calling. We are fortunate that he selected IIT Bombay and has been a professor here for over 17 years.
We have to thank him for the supercomputer “SpaceTime” at IIT Bombay. A group of professors led by Prof Sunoj presented the detailed proposal for setting up “SpaceTime”.He believes IIT Bombay is the best place to be if you want to be a professor while simultaneously pursuing your research.
Prof Sunoj’s research area mainly revolves around catalysis. He along with his team use computational stimulations using Quantum Chemistry programs to try to look at chemical reactions from greater depths with the goal of making amendments to the reaction conditions and catalysts, to increase efficiency. In the past three-four years, they took a transition to use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning tools to solve the problem. He mentioned that AI and ML have bright prospects in their field of research. He further adds that students are showing great interest in the chemical applications of AI.
“Necessity is the mother of invention”- Prof Sunoj expresses that it is the need for better efficient systems that make his research on catalysts very significant, relevant and sought after, today. We can find chemical reactions all around us and increasing reactions are depleting the resources. He is of the opinion, that that we need to come up with more efficient use of resources at disposal to provide a sustainable future and that is only possible via Research.
Prof Sunoj believes, “Awards and recognition will come your way if you are doing well and if you are above average but it does not make much difference in one’s working style or timeline.” He mentions that this award has attracted a lot of respect for him. Young researchers now look up to him for motivation and inspiration. He uses this opportunity to motivate young minds to further explore possibilities in research as a career. This award has also brought in numerous lecture invitations from various colleges. He aims to become a notable researcher in India and across the globe.
We admire Prof Sunoj for his candour and passion for his work. He often chooses it overtaking holidays or spending time for himself. This can also be seen by the fact that he does not use any social media platform, not even WhatsApp.
Prof Sunoj has always made his best efforts to keep students (especially undergraduates) aware of the possibilities of research and all the options available at them. He also came up with an article for IIT Bombay magazine on the topic: Why should an undergraduate be a researcher? He praises summer research interns as they provide exposure in the research field. He affirms his wish of continuing to motivate students to explore research and use their analytical brainpower in the right direction. He feels that there is a lacuna of interest in research, due to the prevailing misconceptions and norms among people combined with the greed for monetary gains and herd-culture. Furthermore, he encourages students to take part in initiatives like ITSP, Satellite program, IITB Racing team which lies in the research lines.
Prof Sunoj metaphorically admits of being a sprinter rather than a long runner in the field of research which implies that he is willing to bring about a change in this world with his research rather than commercializing it to make money. He believes that it is the intellectual gratification that matters more than wealth or fame. He is not against the idea of commercialization and states it to be one’s personal decision based on various factors.
Prof Sunoj is well known for his amazing rapport with his students. He is known to maintain long-standing relationships with his students. He can have hour-long conversations on various topics outside class, personally help them with any problem or through the Chem-Orbitals profile on Facebook or guide them in their career decisions. He admits to having adapted with the changing times to connect with the newer generation more. He mentions that he has turned himself to resonate with the students. He feels that, with abundant unfiltered information available on the internet, people are not working hard to rectify facts from myths and thus end up having half correct or even incorrect information. This affects the education system gravely. He says that the easy disposal of answers has killed the fun of pursuit and curiosity to some extent.
Lastly, he advises everyone to explore all the options and find out what they like thus making an informed decision in their careers ahead. He urges us to not fall for the herd mentality or peer pressure. He emphasizes the importance of paying attention while listening, along with ample mindfulness of things around. According to him, “Without research, there is no hope of coming out of this viral pandemic and in the long run, it is the work one does, that matters and not the money one earns”.
He concludes by saying, “If you shake the tree too hard the lower hanging fruits will fall”.
Prof Sunojexpresses his heartfelt gratitude towards IIT Bombay administration for their support in his decision of setting up the supercomputer “SpaceTime” that has now opened the gate to many possibilities and eased out the research work of many professors including him. He further adds this to be one of the key stepping stones in winning this prestigious award.
Sir, we thank you for your time and for your valuables insights on various topics. We wish you luck and continued success in all your future endeavours.