This time in the "Know your Professor" series we bring you the tale of Prof. Suman Chakraborty, who is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Kharagpur. He joined the institute in 2002 and has worked in many prominent research areas for which he has been awarded several prestigious awards, giving our institute a distinct recognition.
Prof. Suman Chakraborty was a student of St. Lawrence High School, Kolkata. In his student life, he always scored good marks in the examinations but was not able to make up to the top rank in the class. He indulged himself in a lot of co-curricular activities. Coachings and tuitions were not prominent in those days.
Real consciousness towards career came in his mind after passing matriculation, prior to that he wasn't very serious towards his goals. His aim was always to learn fundamentals rather than focussing on memorizing anything without understanding it. Prof. Chakraborty is very thankful to his school teachers as they were the one who laid the basic foundation of his academics.
From his heart, he wanted to become a scientist, typically a "physicist", because understanding the fundamentals of basic science has always intrigued him. His father is a Ph.D in Physics so seeing him working made him curious to learn more about physics. But, according to Prof. Chakraborty, "When you choose a career, it is always a combination of what you want to do and what society wants you to do." There was always an element of risk in choosing basic science as the career option as you have to be one of the best to lead a good life but even if you are a mediocre engineering student, you can earn good amount of money. In high school level, Prof. Chakraborty lacked confidence, he did not believe that he has the adequate amount of potential to reach the top. So, he thought of engineering as a safe career option for himself. But, later on, he realized that it was certainly not the right way to think!
Engineering and Science
Now, Prof. Chakraborty believes that there is a very thin line between engineering and science. It all depends on one’s perception. Engineering is "know how" and science is "know why". One cannot think of "know how" without knowing "why" or any concept cannot be utilized in real life with knowing "how". Things have become quite interdisciplinary these days. When you work on something very important, which can be utilized in real life, medical science, engineering etc, everything seems to converge.
Prof. Chakraborty completed his Ph.D thesis in a record-breaking time of one year, although he did not intend to do so. The main reason behind this was his intense passion for research and the freedom which he got from his supervisor. He said " A problem well defined is a problem 80% solved", so in research, defining a problem becomes very important. The problems on which he was working excited him so much that he utilized almost 24 hours a day. He often used to miss his breakfast and rush to the supercomputing lab, where he used to work. He took a small break for lunch and continued to work until the sunrise of the next day! Although, Prof. Chakraborty believes that it is not the ideal way to work as it can have adverse effects on health. He further added, "if you are driven by your passion, you are bound to do extra hours of work." The amount of time one takes for completing his Ph.D is not important, what important is, "the output".
Joining IIT Kgp and his research fields
At the time of joining IIT Kharagpur way back in 2002, he didn’t have any long-term plan. He knew that his primary job was teaching and research. But his inclination towards research was more so he used to devote a lot of time working with his Ph.D students. His research area includes- Microfluidics and Nanofluidics, Interfacial phenomena and phase change and Computational Fluid Dynamics(CFD). Microfluidics and Nanofluidics find its applications in wide varieties of fields including biological and nonbiological applications. Cooling electronic gadgets that tend to get heated includes the emerging application of Microfluidics and Nanofluidics. In the medical domain, there are several outstanding challenging applications like to understand the mechanism by which cancer progresses. Making diagnostic devices which perform thousands of tests on a drop of saliva or blood in a very quick time involves the use of Microfluidics and Nanofluidics. Prof. Chakraborty says that he will soon include B.Tech students in his field of research, mainly those students who can bring these technologies from a lab to rural areas, where there is a need of rapid diagnostic at a low cost. The application part is the most important one because there is a high probability that machines which work very well in the lab may not work the same way everywhere due to the difference in temperature, humidity etc.
Another important area of Prof. Chakraborty’s research is Computational Fluid Dynamics(CFD). Computational Fluid Dynamics(CFD) includes two aspects namely, algorithm development and the application. Before working on CFD, one should have the clarity whether he wants to work on algorithm development or the application part. The traditional application of CFD is in automobiles, aerospace etc. But, today CFD is very integral part of medical science. It helps in understanding the mechanism of how blood flows through arteries and veins and various blood borne diseases. Also, there are many challenges associated with it. CFD goes hand in hand with manufacturing because ultimately our aim is not just to get a white collar job but to bring these technologies to real life.
Awards and Honours
Prof. Chakraborty has been the recipient of several awards among which includes the Scopus Young Scientist Award(2008), Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize(2013), the highest national award in the field of science and technology, and much more. He developed an original device to analyze the flow of blood from a droplet into a microcapillary channel and many more citations of his works lead him to the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award.
Learning from failures
Throughout his professional life, Prof. Chakraborty has faced a lot of failures. When you become successful, people only highlight their success and tend to hide their failures. But he believes that every failure teaches you a lesson. Failures are the pillars of success. As an example, when he wrote his first research paper during his masters at IISc, he was very thrilled and confident of getting a very good review. But his research paper was rejected. That was not much disappointing because it often happens, the thing which demoralized him was the comments on it! He felt quite low after reading bad comments on his research paper. But he decided to take a lesson out of it and decided to improve his presentation part. Now, he has about 340 research papers to his name, accepted by reputed journals!
Prof. Chakraborty has several other responsibilities. He is Associate Dean of Sponsored Research and Industrial Consultancy(SRIC) and head of School of Medical Science and Technology. He is quite new as Associate Dean of SRIC and is still in the learning process, taking inputs from the Senior Dean. They are trying to create the best opportunities for the students so that they have exposures to high-level research. Scientists from various other institutes and organizations are also being contacted to have more advanced research.
Prof. Suman Chakraborty’s hobbies include playing cricket and listening songs. Earlier, he used to play cricket with his students. Now, he doesn’t play cricket anymore but he loves watching cricket. He is fond of listening old Hindi songs of Kishore Kumar.
Our present standing and what needs to be done?
He has worked temporarily in many reputed universities like the Stanford and much more. He is of the opinion that the level of teaching and the students at the undergraduate level are not parallel. It’s just a question of organizing our activities. Rankings are not what we should primarily focus on as they are sometimes distracting and misleading. This cannot change overnight but our vision should be towards excellence. We should not go for mediocrity. If we publish our publications, it should be in well-reputed journals, if we develop technologies, it should be at par with the world’s best. We should have a pride in our system and promote research culture in our institute. Just being a good teaching institute, we will only ensure that we make good products which are used by others. This will take us to nowhere leading in no national development. So, we should have a good research based system which starts at the undergraduate level and goes on to Ph.D level. Apart from having brilliant B.Tech students we also have brilliant Ph.D students and they should be provided with the proper environment. According to Prof. Chakraborty, "Our future is very bright as we are heading in right direction focussing on excellence!"