Category Archives: Lectures/ seminars

The Third Civil Engineering Annual Student Symposium: A report

The Civil Engineering Department organized its third in-house Annual Student Symposium on Aug 26-27, 2010. An outcome of the enthusiastic initiative of the students of the Department, the first symposium was held in 2008-2009, the Centenary Year of the Institute. Under the umbrella of the Department comes three divisions – Structural Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering and Water Resources and Environmental Engineering, and a centre – Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CiSTUP).

Forty Six students, from all the divisions, presented their research work over these two days under four broad themes: I. Analytical and Numerical Modeling, II. Laboratory Testing and Experiments, III. Uncertainty and Stochastic Modeling, and IV. Other themes. There were 10 sessions of presentations, all chaired by senior research students themselves.
Five student volunteers under the supervision of Prof. Madhavilatha managed the event. Breakfast, lunch and tea on both the days were provided by the Department. All the student presenters were gifted a watch and an Institute bag.

“The idea with which the Annual Student Symposium was started is to increase the interactions between the students from the different divisions, who would otherwise be oblivious of each others’ research initiatives, and to enhance the academic vibrancy in the Department and I think we have been successful in achieving that feat” remarked visibly contented chairman Prof. P. P. Mujumdar after the completion of the event. “It is truly a technical feast, in which we celebrate our academic energies” he added.

There was a wide range of topics covered varying over different spatial and temporal scales. Some works focused entirely on theoretical research while some were staunchly application oriented. While some presentations portrayed technical work at large depths, some were preliminary studies or literature surveys. Even the freshly admitted students could benefit from such an exposure to the wide spectrum of research going on in the Department.

This year there were two awards adjudicated by a jury of three judges – Prof. Srinivas, Prof. Debraj Ghosh and Prof. Tejas Murthy. The award for best technical paper went to research student Asha Nair, and research student Guruprasad bagged the award for the best presentation.

The professors also pointed out suggestions for improving one’s content and style of presentation. Sticking to time during presentations was particularly stressed upon. Students were also invited to offer constructive feedbacks. It was an informal exchange of ideas all throughout. The ceremony was concluded by felicitating the volunteers and the judges.

Arpita Mondal (Civil)


The 13th Mecheng in-house research symposium : A report

As a Ph.D. student who in four years has only had a glimpse of the research life, it is probably not my place to say this but it is my belief that effective communication is an integral part of all research. Communication in all its forms – between student and advisor, between author and paper-reviewer, between author and paper-reader and so on. Amid all the specialization and super-specialization that cutting-edge research is about today, the importance of communicating one’s ideas to a community of scientists outside the immediate purview of one’s chosen field of research is often missed. Newton’s incredibly humble words on the subject were, “If I have seen further, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”; to present one’s work and field questions from scientists from outside the community, unaware of the conventions and practices, dogmas even, of a different branch of science, sends new giants onto the field, breaking set patterns and structures of thought that may have crept in unnoticed. And that role, on a departmental scale, has been played admirably by the Mecheng In-house Research Symposium.

The idea of the Mecheng In-house Research Symposium was set rolling in 1995 when the first edition of the Symposium took place. Some of the current faculty-members in the department were research students then and today they sit on the other side of the speaker’s dais, undoubtedly richer for the experience. 15 years hence, the symposium has become a regular feature with only 2 editions having been missed in between. The symposium is typically spread over a span of 2 days in which senior Ph.D. and M.Sc. students make short presentations, similar to a conference, with a question-answer session at the end. Students were also required to present posters on the topic in a dedicated poster session. This year, the poster presentation was made optional for students also making oral presentations and the move was met with wide approval from the students in question! M.E. students were encouraged to present their work too but participation was limited to a few enthusiastic ones.

In general, this year’s event was the largest one so far and was ably managed by the team of students – Santosh D B Bhargav, Vikram, Sivaprakasam, Sudarshan Hegde, T J Ramnath Babu, P Chaitanya Choudary and Naresh, with Ramnath and Meenaxi Sundaram responsible for the extremely well-designed website and information booklet, respectively.

A highlight of this year’s symposium was the presence of the department’s summer interns among the audience and the large number of invited talks. At the risk of limiting the definition of each speaker to his/ her profession, the speakers represented a diverse set of career options available to a student looking for a future in research, ranging from a school teacher to a space scientist,. The first talk was by Mr. Prakash Vaithyanathan who, armed with a Bachelor’s degree from IIT-Madras, chose the path less-travelled and joined St. Hilda’s school, Ooty with the aim of spreading the science bug among a younger audience. His talk entitled ‘Ideas from an ordinary mind’ was on the role of innovation in problem solving, listing various offbeat projects conceptualized and implemented by him. The talk came in for some criticism, however, for not being very practical and for attempting to oversimplify solutions to problems such as energy conservation that have persisted over time.

The second presentation of the day was by Mr. R.R. Akarte, Consultant Advisor, Engineering Research Centre (ERC), Tata Motors, Pune. The speaker was introduced by Prof. M.L. Munjal, a long-time friend and collaborator. The talk was a frank and impressive summary of the progress of Tata Motors from being a truck-maker to a provider of a wide range of transportation solutions, from passenger hatchbacks and sedans and light commercial vehicles to special-purpose defence vehicles. Along the way, Mr. Akarte highlighted a very relevant point, that of the importance of designing home-grown solutions starting from scratch and the ensuing learning. He illustrated through examples the financial consequences of relying on foreign companies for tie-ups or even consulting. He also acknowledged the help that TML has received from IISc in setting up laboratories and facilities towards this end. The talk ended with students posing questions and given last year’s publicity blitzkrieg, a large number of questions were based on the development of the Tata Nano.

The second day saw more presentations and invited talks. The first invited talk was by Dr. Ranganath from ISRO who spoke on ‘Deployment Mechanisms in Spacecrafts’. The talk was aimed at presenting the students with a feel for working in a government research lab. The impact of the talk, though informative, was considerably lessened by the talk extending beyond the prescribed limit, upsetting the schedule for the rest of the talks of the day as well.

The last two invited talks were by alumni of the institute. Dr. Sandipan Bandhopadhyay (PhD, Dept. of Mech. Engg., IISc) who spent some time in the industry after graduating before returning to academia as an Assistant Professor at IIT-Madras, chose to speak of his experiences in both. The talk, while being very entertaining and balanced, failed to present students with a concrete set of criteria to choose one over the other, in the opinion of this writer, choosing instead to focus on the more commonly discussed questions of remuneration and freedom and the idiosyncracies of industry.

The last talk was by Dr. Vidyashankar Buravalla (PhD, Dept. of Aerospace Engg., IISc), researcher at General Motors, India Science Labs and visiting faculty at IIT-Kanpur and some universities in the USA on the experience of working at GM-ISL in general, before focusing on the work of his research group in the area of Smart Materials. The talk served to highlight the relative similarities of work at GM-ISL to research in an academic environment and the differences from some other organizations. The talk ended with “rumbles and grumbles” as he described them, in which he spoke of some of the shortcomings in research students, namely a lack of feel for the numbers in an engineering problem and an abstraction from real-world situations in general. The criticism, however, was well-received and spoke of the maturity of the department as Prof. G.K. Ananthasuresh observed in his closing address.

The proceedings ended with the organizing committee being felicitated for their efforts and with the audience being encouraged to give their feedback. This marked the end of two days of a ‘family affair’ as it was aimed to be, following which the students went back to their everyday lives of grades, progress reports, intractable experimental setups and infuriating reviewers and editors!

Click here for photographs from the symposium! (Photographs courtesy the organizing committee)

Maneesh Kunte (MechEng)