As preparations were in order during Alumni Day, Prasanna Venkatesh (Editor, Chennai36) manages a quick few minutes with the chief guest and our Distinguished Alumnus, Dr. Subra Suresh (B.Tech Mechanical Engineering, 1977, President of Carnegie Mellon University)
How did you get into metallurgical sciences?
I was a student of Mechanical Engineering and took one or 2 classes in Metallurgy. In US, all my degrees were in Mechanical Engineering but for my PhD I worked with someone who was a Metallurgist and that is how I got into the field.
For my Post doctorate I was in the Material Sciences department. So I was always in either of Mechanical or Materials Science Departments. When I joined MIT as a Professor, it was in the Geosciences department.
What is your opinion on the progress of higher education in India?
I think India is a key player for a variety of reasons. There are a large number of very good students due to the large population, unlike some small countries which are struggling. Opportunities are relatively new and many have opened up in last 20 years. It is going to take time. So we are still a developing country. You need facilities; we need the govt to put money into research. IITs are building up the no of PhDs. Need to set an international benchmark .
Leading industries did not become leading industries overnight and one can argue that the IITs are relatively young- 60 to 70 years compared to Oxford, Cambridge and other universities which have been around for much longer. It is going to take time. Sustained investment and an emphasis on quality are what I think is needed.
What future for Metallurgy and Material Sciences do the world and India hold?
In world, materials are a part of everything. Hence, a topic that is generating a lot of interest. Fields may change, but things that went out of fashion are coming back. For example, with the increasing interest in energy, fracture mechanics is coming back in a big way. Shale gas, which is related to energy, is generating interest. A lot of research these days is energy related. Fields may come and go but groups of interest will always be there.
What system in IIT from your days would you hold on to?
With respect to systems, my time here was different from your time. There was no connection to the outside world. Many of these things have come in the last 5 years. Your entire life inside was what you do with your friends or what you study. It’s different now, I won’t say better or worse. Only face to face conversations were there back then and it was all about developing friendships, developing bonds and making connections.
Now we can befriend a lot of people easily and connections can be made easily.
Coming to my education, I had a 5 year program. 8 semesters of Maths and 6 semesters of Physics. I felt these things weren’t necessary for an Engineer. Later on I realized even with a degree in Mechanical, I could move into Bio-Medical or Material Sciences & Engineering due to these basic science courses. Things that you think are not important- Operations Research & Computer science, build a very strong background for Engineering and could help you move into any branch. My foundation was very strong, I realized it much later.
Do you believe that courses have been diluted over the years?
Not necessarily. You have access to online materials which was not available in our time. There was some redundancy in things that were taught at that time and the pace of life was slower. We had one semester of filing away a piece of steel. I never used drawing for anything in life. I guess it is probably worth condensing those topics.
What one thing have you taken back from IITM?
Its probably the simplest life I had. There was no hassle and we had so much time. I’ve never had that time since 1977 when I graduated. I think it’s a beautiful campus- you can think about and figure out things. There are not many campuses in the world as beautiful as this.
What message do you have for the students?
Don’t change your passion. If you are good at anything you do, if someone tells your META is not a fashionable topic, don’t worry about it. If you are the best metallurgist, you have more options than an average computer scientist.
CMU was founded by Andrew Carnegie who was a metallurgist. This is something you should know. He was a young person, came from Scotland at the age of 13. He built up the entire town of Pittsburgh as a metallurgy town. There are 20 institutions in world that has the name Carnegie in them. Good things come out of metallurgy.
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