Dr. Thomas J. Colacot received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from IIT Madras in 1989. After his post-doctoral stint in the US, Dr. Colacot went on to pursue an education in management, acquiring an MBA from Pennsylvania State University in 2005, while working at Johnson Matthey. Dr. Colacot is currently a Johnson Matthey Technical Fellow, having been promoted from Global R&D Manager in Homogeneous Catalysis.

Dr. Colacot’s contributions to the field have resulted in many awards and accolades, amongst them the prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry 2012 Applied Catalysis Award and Medal, 2016 CRSI Medal by the Chemical Research Society of India and election to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK. He is the first Indian to be awarded the American Chemical Society (ACS) Award in Industrial Chemistry in 2015.

We were fortunate enough to be able to talk to Dr Colacot when he visited the institute to receive his award.

…..we learned a lot from them, not only about chemistry, but also about life. Maybe that’s what made us acquire the “IIT BRAND” back then.

Can you tell us about your time in insti?

My time in insti was very intense. The Chemistry Dept. was like a monastery. Many of the professors. were strict, though we learned a lot from them, not only about chemistry, but also about life. Maybe that’s what made us acquire the “IIT BRAND” back then. The discipline IIT taught me helped a lot in differentiating myself from others.  The best part about IIT was the bicycle rides. I used to ride at least 5-6 miles everyday. It is a very good exercise for the students. One interesting thing during my stay would be the huge computers that were just coming up.  We used to have punching cards to get access to the computer in order to solve a program like crystal structure and it used to take 3 WHOLE MONTHS for the computer to solve it. We had to book our slots with the computer and sometimes we used to end up with access to the computer at ungodly hours like 3 a.m. The eateries outside Tharamani gate was the place we used to frequent to satisfy our hunger at these times. Another interesting change my batch witnessed was the installation of ceiling fans in our hostel rooms, until then we used to manage with table fans. Back in those days, Tharamani was still a slum area and I know people who bought real estate property with their scholarship money from insti. Although frankly speaking my best memory of insti would be the Special Fried Rice and Mutter Paneer Curry Cauvery Mess used to serve on Saturdays for dinner, followed by the movies at OAT.

How has insti changed over the years?

This generation is highly blessed with the gift of communication. Back in those days, we didn’t have any internet facilities , we had to look up some magazines or research articles for openings in colleges abroad, and fill out the manual applications and send them. Back then, half of the colleges wouldn’t even have received our applications due to the poor postal services or address changes back. Other than that everything else is pretty much the same.

I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could do fundamental research (in understanding the structure and activity relations important in developing organometallic based catalysts) and make money for the company out of it, which is a very rare combination to achieve in the corporate world.

Can you talk a bit about your passion towards chemistry and your current area of research?

I always had this passion to see how I can practically apply the concepts learnt from my text-books, that is what drove me to chemistry. I did my PhD here in inorganic chemistry which didn’t have much application back then, so I shifted to Organometallic Chemistry during my Post-doc. I then went on to work on catalysis, cross-coupling technology viable for applications in drug synthesis, organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) and liquid crystals, catalysis for organic synthesis. My company, Johnson Matthey was the first to develop a catalytic-converter which is now being widely used in automobile exhaust systems. I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could do fundamental research (in understanding the structure and activity relations important in developing organometallic based catalysts) and make money for the company out of it, which is a very rare combination to achieve in the corporate world.

What is your reaction on receiving the DAA award this year?

A lot of awards I received earlier, including the Royal Society of Chemistry award, American Chemical Society award, etc had cash money, appreciation,etc. But when your alma mater recognises you for your work, it’s a whole other thing. This award really means a lot to me. I am pretty sure, among all the awards I receive, this will be the one I will always cherish. IITM is always a special place in my mind.

Charity should become a part of the curriculum. IIT is giving us immense wealth in terms of knowledge, it is our responsibility to give back to the society too.

Any advice for our readers?

Charity should become a part of the curriculum. IIT is giving us immense wealth in terms of knowledge, it is our responsibility to give back to the society too. Mentoring and leadership should happen at every level. I suggest students to take diverse courses during their stay here. It helps broaden their skill-sets along with giving them a whole new perspective to life. IITM has the cream of the crop, as far as students go. They should think about how they can change our country for the better, by creating more clean streets, classrooms, bathrooms, as well as develop a culture for ethics, religious tolerance etc. You are all fortunate to be a part of IITM.