Interview with Dr Vivek V. Ranade, winner 2004 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Awards
On behalf of Adbhut.com, Dinker Charak interviewed Dr Vivek via email. We thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule and talking to us.
Dr Vivek V. Ranade was born in Jalgaon, Maharashtra. He has done his pre-doctoral and doctoral studies at UDCT (University Department of Chemical Technology), Mumbai. Winner of prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar in 2004 for Engineering Sciences (one of seven streams the award covers), he is currently working in National Chemical Laboratory, Pune.
A voracious reader (especially Marathi books), his interest encompass a wide range; from novels to fantasies like “Ratnapratima”, by Shashi Bhagwat to philosophical like “Geeta Rahasya”, by Tilak to short stories & novels in English with occasional non-fiction serious reading.
He also enjoys sketching, trekking and regularly goes for trekking with his students.
What is your current topic of research? Can you briefly describe the subject for us?
My research is focused on understanding multiphase flows and using this engineering insight to enhance performance of industrial multiphase reactors. “Reactor” is a vessel in which chemical and physical transformations are carried out in industry. For example, propylene gas is transformed to poly-propylene (solids, which are used in variety of applications) in a reactor. The objective on any engineer is to ensure that the desired transformations are practiced in a best possible way. Our group studies multiphase flows and develops computational models which facilitate engineering of industrial reactors.
What is the importance of the knowledge derived from this research?
As indicated above, the understanding and the developed models are useful to realize performance enhancement (producing more products, better quality products, reducing energy consumption, lower impact on environment, more safe operation and so on).
Often, there are many indirect discoveries and invention when researching a problem. Has research in your field led to an accidental/indirect discovery or invention or advancements?
Not really. There are some instances where we had to invent new methods in light of constraints we faced on our computational and experimental resources. These new methods were then accepted as better ways of doing things.
For what exact research/find were you granted the SSB award?
The award is given for the last five year’s research and not for a specific project. The citation given by be award committee is as follows: “Dr. Ranade has made important contributions in advancing understanding of bubble column, stirred and trickle bed reactors by developing various novel CFD models. The models have helped in predicting unsteady as well as time-averaged flow characteristics of chemical reactors. They have provided new insights about multiphase systems and helped to achieve significant performance enhancements in industrial practice.”
What drove you to this field of research?
It is a difficult question. What I can say is I was always interested in engineering (which implicitly represents understanding of how things work and devise methods to improve the way things work). I completed my 12th standard from Satara. I was not very familiar with “Chemical Engineering” at that point of time. However, my stay at UDCT educated me about chemical engineering and more importantly scientific basis of chemical engineering. After my third year of chemical engineering, I was staying in hostel during the summer vacation (while I was undergoing industrial training). During those two months I started going to the laboratory. Professor J.B. Joshi (who is now Director of UDCT or rather UICT now) introduced me to the world of multiphase flows.
He mentioned to me that he is planning to procure a state of the art flow measurement system called “Laser Doppler Anemometer”. At that point I decided to do my Ph.D. with him rather than going to USA. Thus, if we want to single out one factor which drove me to this field of research, I would say my interactions with Professor J.B. Joshi was the most important factor.
Which philosopher(s), scientist(s) and author(s) have inspired you and how?
I read “Geeta Rahasya” by Lokmanya Tilak at the beginning of my Ph.D. work and I was really influenced by it.
Any story (funny or inspirational) from your life that you would like to share with us?
About India and Science
Are you happy with the R&D done in India? If yes, what are the scopes of improvement? If not, what needs to be done? How can an ordinary citizen be of more help?
No, I am not happy with the R & D done in India, particularly in Indian companies. Many of the companies are still not serious about R & D. Relative importance of R & D and technology in general is rather low in Indian enterprises. There are several non-technological reasons as well for which entrepreneurs prefer to buy technology from abroad rather than develop it here. There are some exceptions like pharmaceutical industries. However, overall scenario needs significant improvement if we really want to become R & D powerhouse.
Answering “what needs to be done” is not easy. Though I have some thoughts on this, spelling out concrete suggestions will require some dedicated time.
“Why spend money in R&D? Let others do the research and we can follow. Why not use the money in R&D and spend it on poor!” People often say this. What is your reaction to this?
The statement needs to be evaluated based on “cost to benefit” analysis. If our costs of R & D are yielding less benefits than when using those funds for helping poor, I see no problem in stopping R & D expenditure. However, more often than not, R & D investments are likely to yield much larger benefits than other investments (at least in the long run). The real problem we have is how to enhance return on R & D investments. We need to develop appropriate blend of R & D priorities (some with yielding immediate benefit and some with promise of huge benefit at a later date). Of course it is easy to say this than practice it.
On hind sight one may be able to classify priorities in these two categories. However, it is extremely difficult to decide priorities upfront.
There is a huge disconnect between India’s scientific past and scientific present. Is that an issue? If yes, how do you think it can be confronted?
That is an issue to an extent, we should use it to do better. All of us have to work very hard and intelligently to enhance our scientific understanding and technological prowess.
Are you happy with state of awareness about India’s current scientific achievements? If not, how do you think it can be made better?
There is certainly a significant scope to improve state of awareness about India’s achievements. CSIR is making some efforts to increase awareness. It is however even more important do useful science which people will be curious to know about.
Cover pic of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar from historyunderyourfeet.wordpress.com.