The Year 2015 has seen continual growth of IIT Mandi, with consolidation of ongoing efforts and some major new initiatives. The Year 2016 holds promise of much more progress and excitement.
The Year 2015
In 2015, IIT Mandi has passed its first comprehensive external review with flying colours! This happened as follows: In January 2015, I completed my term of 5 years as Director. MHRD constituted a committee to review my performance. During its visit in May, the committee met with representatives of faculty, staff and students, and went through detailed presentations on all aspects of IIT Mandi. So, the review was actually a review of the whole of IIT. The decision to grant me a second 5-year term was essentially a measure of the Committee's high regard for the accomplishments of the faculty, students and staff of IIT Mandi.
In 2015, IIT Mandi started new degree programmes in Civil Engineering and Physics. After a series of planning workshops on Civil and Infrastructure Engineering in 2014-15, we hired 4 young faculty in this area and started BTech(Civil) with an intake of 25 students. With help from Professors in the TU9, Germany and IIT Madras, our new faculty have been busy designing the curriculum for the BTech and planning for teaching and research labs. Located in the living lab of the Himalayas, I'm confident that the civil engineering programmes at IIT Mandi will soon earn renown. During 2015, the faculty in BioX have been busy initiating research with medical and agricultural applications. They have designed an MTech in biotechnology that will start in mid-2016. In August 2015, the first batch of iPhD students in Physics joined. Students with a BSc degree enter directly into the PhD track, receiving an MSc also after about 5 years.
In keeping with our vision of working for society, our faculty have been taking up R&D projects with industry. Industries that sponsored new projects during 2015 include Purdue Pharma, US ($96,000 for social network analysis and decision making) and SCL, Mohali (Rs. 81 lakhs). This latter project for commercialisation of new resist materials for VLSI fabs is a follow-up of the prestigious Intel project worth $315,000 that has been running for the past 3 years under the leadership of Prof. Ken Gonsalves, Visiting Distinguished Professor at IIT Mandi and Celanese Acetate Chair Professor, University of North Carolina, Charlotte. In addition, faculty are working with several other companies such as AIndra, Bangalore (medical image processing), Evive Healthcare, Bangalore, NMSWorks Software, Chennai, (network management), and BHEL, Haridwar (power systems).
In 2015, we organised two Convocations in Kamand. In March was the 2nd Convocation with the President of India as Chief Guest. Everyone worked beyond the call of duty to make the arrangements for this momentous event. Everything was ready to perfection on D-Day. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and the President's helicopter could not land in Mandi. The Convocation proceeded thanks to the presence of the Governor and CM of Himachal. In October, we organised the 3rd Convocation. IIT Mandi now has 339 alumni: 7 PhDs, 17 MS and 315 BTechs.
Our faculty and students have won many laurels. To mention a few: two papers by MS scholars, Aditya Chauhan and Manish Sharma, on novel energy materials were featured on the front cover of the international journal Energy Technology in February and December. MS scholar Aditya Chauhan was awarded the Young Scientist Award in the Indian Sciences Congress, 2015. Shubham Ajmera of the graduating BTech batch became the 1st student from IIT Mandi to get a direct job offer from abroad, landing a job with Google, California.
We are proud that IIT Mandi was the first of the new IITs to occupy its permanent campus in 2012. In April 2015, we completed shifting the BTech programme to Kamand, with hostels, classrooms, labs, sports facilities, etc catering to about 500 students. Many of the PG students and almost half the faculty also live in Kamand. With shifting of the Finance and Accounts Section, the IIT Administration operates entirely in Kamand. Only a few research labs, research scholars and faculty remain in the Mandi campus. Extensive sports facilities have been developed in Kamand. The Sports and Estate Sections have developed outdoor facilities for cricket, football/hockey, tennis, basketball and volleyball. The indoor badminton courts now have high-quality wooden floors. Kamand is also an ideal location for walking, hiking, climbing and mountain biking.
Those of you who visited Kamand during 2010-15 would have fond memories of the narrow, winding road with breath-taking and heart-stopping views of the 2,000' vertical drop to the Uhl River! By mid-2015, the HP PWD transformed this road into a broad, scenic 2-lane highway, complete with guard rails and parapets on all the precipitious sections. This Major District Road now compares favourably with many of India's National Highways!
In keeping with our commitment to the pristine mountain environment with which we have been blessed, we have started an effort to preserve and study the plants of the region. With the guidance of renowned horticulturist Dr. Chiranjit Parmar of Mandi, we have established a Botanical Garden in the South Campus. This Garden serves several purposes. Medicinal herbs are grown for use by the campus residents. Trees and shrubs of this area have been planted to provide a recreational area for families, and to provide inputs for our BioX researchers. Interpretive signboards are being put up for the benefit of visitors.
The Year Ahead
In 2016, the IIT Mandi community will continue to show their mettle in myriads of ways, from high-impact research publications to innovations in teaching to better learning to innovative new technologies to benefit society to more efficient administration. Some notable targets for 2016 include:
Shifting the entire Institute to Kamand: The pace of construction has picked up, and we expect most of the remaining PG students to shift to Kamand in Feb 2016, and the remaining faculty and research labs to be accommodated in Kamand during 2016. By the end of 2016, Kamand will have 800 students, 90 faculty and 100+ staff working and (mostly) living here.
Growth of hi-tech industry in Mandi: With increasing interest in entrepreneurship thanks to the efforts of our E-Cell, we plan to set up an incubation centre close to IIT. This will house our own student entrepreneurs and also provide facilities for established companies that wish to collaborate with the faculty and students of IIT. In time, this centre will grow into a full-fledged Research Park.
New Masters Programmes: In 2016, we expect to admit students to Masters programmes in biotech, mathematics and some engineering fields. This will provide an impetus to the research ambitions of the faculty, and provide personnel to propel India upwards in the science and technology sphere. The ratio of PG:UG students has increased to 33:67, well on the way to the target of 60:40.
Evaluation of our Unique Programmes: IIT Mandi has earned a name for our Practicum approach to teaching-learning, especially in the BTech. This emphasises learning-by-doing and inter-disciplinary team-work. We plan to document these programmes and quantify the benefits in terms of learning outcomes.
In 2016, I look forward to working with every one of the faculty, students and staff of IIT Mandi and with well-wishers elsewhere in taking IIT Mandi to new heights. Striving together, we will prove that the serene Uhl River Valley in the Himalayas is an ideal location for world-class research, learning and innovation, for the benefit of India!
With Best Wishes for a Happy and Rewarding New Year.
Timothy A. Gonsalves