“Microwave Engineers High on Demand But Supply Rate is Minimal”

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Did you know that there are some areas in electronics departments that need more attention in terms of faculty and student strength than the others? Pragati Agarwal from academia.electronicsforu.com got a chance to interact with Dr Ananjan Basu, head at the Centre of Applied Research in Electronics (CARE), IIT Delhi who shared his views on campus trends, faculty-student strength and ongoing researches.

The Centre started its journey as the School for Radar Studies in 1971 and was set up with an initial grant from the Radio and Communication Project Office, Ministry of Defence. Initially, its objective was bringing in advanced technology for defence with main areas of focus as Radar Signal Processing and Phased Array Techniques. Soon after this, the R&D scope was broadened to include areas of signal processing, microwaves and microelectronics. In 1977 the School was renamed as the Centre for Applied Research in Electronics (CARE) following which its focus shifted towards academia. Excerpts below…

Q What are the areas that are more in demand in the academic field of electronics?

Although this trend keeps on changing as it basically depends on the varying cycle of demand and supply, Microwave is the area that sees greater demand for faculty members as very few have this specialisation. In fact, there are many institutions that do not have even a single faculty member with an expertise in microwaves. One of the reasons for this might be the lack of awareness among UG students who do not prefer this specialisation for their higher studies.

Q Shed some light on your experience as the Head of CARE at IIT Delhi? What have been your challenges in this journey?

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It has been only two years that I have been designated as the head of CARE and I am still learning a lot of things as there isn’t any end to learn. You do not have to have exclusive talents to function as Head of Centre. All you need is to know some administrative duties and teaching skills to be associated with academia which I believe every professor has. However, the biggest challenge I have faced till now is hiring faculty for the centre.

Q Why do you have to face such crisis in faculty recruitment?

One of the major reasons is that after PhD the area of research becomes extremely narrow and the high level of knowledge that most candidates possess becomes limited to a specific area which may not fall in line with our requirements. Another issue we face is of most of our skilled minds from India getting attracted to the lucrative job offers from abroad. We do not face much competition from Indian industry as there is a very little scope in Indian industry for candidates interested in research. However, foreign companies take away the creamy layer from India that can serve as potential faculty members in institutes.

Q What is the procedure for hiring faculty members of CARE?

The procedure is pretty simple but there are many rounds of interview. First, there is notice of a vacancy on our website and we receive applications from people. Most of them are filtered according to the areas of expertise. After selecting candidates whose area of specialisation is in line with our requirement, we ask for a presentation on skype or face to face. Next, there is the final interview by the IIT Delhi selection committee.

Q What are the focus areas of research in CARE?

We mainly focus on three areas of electronics – signal processing, microwaves and microelectronics. We are working on utilising millimetre and terahertz waves for imaging. Millimetre waves have frequency around 30GHz to 300GHz and they cannot penetrate through hard solid objects. However, they can penetrate through clothes or in the human body to some degree. We are, at present, exploring its use in imaging.

Terahertz waves have frequency around 1000GHz and they are approaching infrared rays. We are exploring their use for identifying dangerous materials like explosives, among other applications. Apart from that, we are working on SONAR technologies for underwater detection and navigation, a coastal defence system for Navy and Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) including Millimetre Wave MEMS.

Q Which projects from CARE would you rate as the most innovative ones?

For a research, it is really difficult to identify something as most innovative. However, two of CARE’s projects from its early years have made major contribution to the electronics as a whole. One was a Deck Landing Mirror System-an optical system enabling fighter planes to land on the aircraft carrier. It was installed in INS VIKRANT. Another major contribution was a ferrite phase shifter which was used in Rajendra Radar. The technology was developed at the CARE and the products were manufactured in Central Electronics Limited (CEL).

More recently we are contributing towards using RF MEMS in defence applications, SONAR signal processing for detection and classification of targets and unmanned system for coastal defence. Another project in which we are contributing towards social good is Ganga Dolphin. By using technology, we are protecting the endangered species – dolphins from extinction. In this project, several NGOs and some Japanese organisations are also involved.

Q How many research projects do CARE see at a time?

Currently, we have around 10 major sponsored projects from different organisations like DRDO, Navy, DST. Apart from that, almost every student in the research centre has their own Masters or PhD project, some of which are tied to sponsored projects. While some of these projects are futuristic, some are not but overall there would be around 60 to 70 in-house projects.

Q What is the annual intake of students in CARE and is there any specific area towards which more students are inclined?

We take around 30 students for MTech and seven for PhD every year. There are two types of candidates in PG – GATE qualified and Defence sponsored. The strength is almost half and half for both, sometimes the number of GATE qualifiers are more. When we ask the candidates about their area of interest, we generally notice a uniformity in preference in terms of all research areas we offer. However, the defence sponsored students are more inclined towards microwave and signal processing compared to microelectronics.

Q Is it always true that research by a PhD student usually has more potential than a PG student?

A PhD student spends at least three to four years here, sometimes the duration stretching up to five to six years as well. On the contrary, a PG student spends only two years at the centre. Thus, it is quite natural that research of a PhD student has more potential. Moreover, for an MTech student, it is not mandatory to have a unique research contribution on a particular topic. Although we prefer unique research areas, it is not a minimum eligibility criterion for obtaining a PG degree, which, however, is for PhD students.

Q Is there any research from CARE that has turned into a startup?

If we look back at our history, ideating startups was not exactly our focus area but now we are warming up for the same. It is still a new concept for us but there is a team in signal processing that is planning to initiate a startup. Apart from this, there is a separate Technology Business Incubator Unit (TBIU) in IIT Delhi. They help in providing seed money, location and contacts in the industry for startups by students of IIT Delhi across departments.

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