We are honoured to present an interview with Prof. Atul Srivastava, a Swarnajayanti Fellowship Awardee, who earned his M. Tech in Mechanical Engineering and his PhD. from IIT Kanpur. He worked as a scientist for six years at the Raja Ramanna Center for Advanced Technology, Indore. Post his experience as a scientist, Prof. Srivastava joined IIT Bombay as a professor in the Mechanical Engineering department. He is currently pursuing research and teaching at IIT Bombay. He has been an inspiration to many.
Congratulations on being awarded the prestigious Swarnajayanti Fellowship Award for your research! Could you please share the story behind pursuing this research, especially in the varied field of Heat and Mass Transfer, Bioheat transfer, and Optical techniques for whole field measurements?
Prof. Srivastava: Thank you so much. It was indeed an honour to receive such a prestigious award and fellowship. I have always been interested in interdisciplinary projects and research, and hence did not intent to restrict my research to the only concentrated field of Mechanical Engineering. In the professional space, I enjoy overcoming challenges from varied fields. In fact, the project which fetched me Swarnajayanti Fellowship Award was also interdisciplinary in nature.
Could you please brief us about the project that fetched you Swarnajayanti Fellowship Award?
Prof. Srivastava: The chief aim of the crystallization of silicate melt droplets project is to understand the forming mechanisms of the early solar system. By conducting lab-based experiments, we intended to cultivate an interest in obtaining knowledge about the possible formation conditions prevalent during the solar system formation. The team simulated conditions that can be as close as possible to the actual conditions, for instance, non-contact conditions and high vacuum in our lab to facilitate the solidification of such molten and floating magnesium silicate dust particles. To achieve the desired result, we used spherules of small diameters (1-2 mm), which mimic the shape and sizes of chondrules – a small spherical structure found in natural meteorites. These levitated samples create the required non-contact conditions through a facility that is one of its kind in the country. Under the simulated lab conditions, morphological textures, commonly found in natural chondrules, were reproduced, which, in turn, can be related to the possible formation conditions that would have been prevalent during their early formation phase.
Kindly elaborate on your current research projects and other research areas of interest.
Prof. Srivastava: Apart from the formation conditions of the solar system via crystallization of silicate droplets, I am also working on a few other projects such as:
These projects are varied and inter-disciplinary, along with numerous practical applications in the future. Recently, my project - Numerical study on the possible scanning pathways to optimize thermal impacts during multiple sonications of HIFU, was published in IEEE biomedical engineering journal, which was indeed a delight for our team.
Request you to please elaborate on the potential outcomes that will be beneficial for the industry.
Prof. Srivastava: I would like to indicate that as the future devices get compact, the associated heat flux levels will increase and, eventually, it would be essential to incorporate effective heat dissipation methodologies in the future devices. Our two-phase heat transfer projects can provide efficient heat dissipation solutions for next-generation devices. We are actively working with Cummins' India Ltd. for applying the cooling solution as a practical application in the industry.
The work on two-phase heat transfer could be instrumental in mission clean water and clean energy and resolve massive water contamination issues, particularly in rural sectors of the country. Focused studies on the biomedical application of lasers and focused ultrasound can be a breakthrough in the medical device industry. We have shown that through HIFU, it is possible to optimize the scanning pathway non-invasively and reduce the total treatment duration. A few well-known hospitals have already shown keen interest in the project and, we hope to commercialize it at an affordable rate.
As we are aware, pursuing research as a career is an adventurous journey. Request you to highlight the challenges you had to overcome in your career?
Prof Srivastava: In-house development of facilities required for the project on crystallizing high-temperature molten droplets was one of the crucial challenges faced by our team, but the team chose the innovative path by creating the equipment scratch. Dealing with extremely high temperatures (>2000 `C), the intense radiation effects associated with such high temperatures and integrating high-speed cameras with appropriate filters in real-time using our indigenous equipment were enormous challenges for the projects.
I would also like to highlight that convincing these students for projects in the interdisciplinary area is a big challenge. Coming from the mechanical field, they are more inclined towards core mechanical concepts like fluid/heat mechanics, etc. and hence remained anxious in the initial days of the project. Regardless, after an initial disillusionment, I have witnessed that students came through some phenomenal work. Currently, we are entirely indigenous in our work.
I believe the existence of challenges is omnipresent in any field or any research area. What matters is to rise to the occasion and face the challenges with all the blood and sweat.
Request you to throw some light on your journey from a research scientist to an engineering professor at IITB.
Prof. Srivastava: I was a scientist at the Raja Ramanna Center for Advanced Technology, Indore, for six years till 2011, post which I joined IIT Bombay as an Assistant Professor. During my tenure as a scientist, I experienced organized work in different areas. However happy I was, there was a vacuum that led me to rethink my professional journey.
As I enjoy interactive sessions with young minds, I felt the deep urge to reach out and teach the bright minds of our country. IIT Bombay was undoubtedly then and is the best place to pursue my dream even today. The Institute is like a home, and the conducive environment at IIT Bombay speaks for itself. I am reliving all the moments at IIT Bombay, which I may have missed as a student or a scientist.
I am also the Sports Chairman at IIT Bombay, which has motivated me to pursue my out-of-work hobbies on campus. All in all, the transition from a scientist to a professor has been a beautiful and seamless journey.
Since you have been teaching at IIT B for an extended period, could you share any insights on the Institute's culture and how it has evolved?
Prof: Srivastava: I am a decade old now, and it is magnificent to witness the evolution of the Institute's culture. Over the years, I have noticed our undergraduate (UG) students pacing their interests towards research-based projects. It is commendable to witness our B. Tech students moving out of their comfort zone to explore broad horizons. I highly admire that the Institute has cultivated a diverse ambience for students who can now explore through wide horizons. I would say that students need an overall enriching experience of life. One must not limit it to only research and academics but collect experiences from every aspect of life.
Request you to impart some advice to the students who are keen to pursue research, particularly in your field?
Prof. Srivastava: First and foremost - do not fear failure.
Consider failures as a building steppingstone of success that makes you stronger. Keep your eyes and mind open. Be fearless to learn new things and comprehend the amount of interdisciplinary research you can in your research journey. Live life to its fullest. Do not limit your strength only for studies and research. Invest your time wisely and opt for exciting hobbies as they help develop your personality.
Lastly, respect your parents and stay humble.
What will be your dream project that you would like to explore in the future?
Prof Srivastava: It is my dream to make some meaningful contributions towards cracking the mystery behind the solar system's formation through our ongoing efforts in this direction. Translating the current research ideas on the biomedical side to clinical levels and thermal management of high heat flux systems are equally essential to be realized. I would also like to demystify all my current projects mentioned above. The overarching aim is to merge the desired results for the larger good and incorporate them for practical use.
I aspire to motivate my students. If I am successful in inspiring even a fraction of the students and training them well through teaching and research, I will consider that my most significant achievement.