Pradeep Pai, a 2nd year Chemical Engineering student talks about his research internship at IISc under an IIT-M alumnus, who is now a celebrity in the field of Non-Newtonian fluids. Read on to know about uncharted territories, mustard seeds and trekking in Bangalore.

Why research?

I was initially unsure of whether to pursue research or industry for my career. So, I decided to try a research internship to get a better picture of research. Since with a good CGPA, research is always an option, I applied for this internship.

How did you apply for the internship?

I applied through the Summer Research Fellowship Program of Indian Academy of Sciences. They accept applications during the month of November. You are asked to provide your academic transcript and SOP. You are expected to state your research interest and why you want to pursue research in your SOP. They then forwarded your SOP to all professors who are a part of the Indian Academy of Science. The professors then choose interns based on their requirements and field of research. There are also other ways to apply for this internship, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research also has a summer research internship. You can also apply directly to the Chemical Engineering department of IISc or even directly contact a professor.

How did go about with your SOP?

I was quite honest with my SOP. My father works in Manipal group and I tried some research in Manipal Institute of Technology in my first-year semester holidays. But since it was not a structured research internship I did not enjoy it. I mentioned this in my SOP and said that I wanted to pursue a structured research. My area of interest was Non-Newtonian Complex fluids and it turned out that the professor in IISc was working in that field. So, I was selected. But they have a cap on number of IIT interns in this program.

This field is an uncharted territory with no literature to refer to or no method to verify results and that makes it interesting

What was your research about?

My research was about the mechanics of dry granular particles. These particles (like mustard seeds) flow like fluids but also form heap and resist flow unlike ideal fluids. So, they exhibit properties of both fluids and solids and are classified as complex fluids or Non-Newtonian fluids. This is a very rare research and there are very few labs in the world which deal with complex fluids. We carry out experiments to analyse the stress profile of these fluids under the action of force. Since this kind of research has never been done before we cannot verify our experimental results. So, we model this run simulations also. This field is an uncharted territory with no literature to refer to or no method to verify results and that makes it interesting.

I have seen first edition, signed copies of books in this field written by important authors addressed personally to the professor

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At IISc Bangalore

Who helped you navigate this uncharted territory?

I worked under Prof. Prabhu R. Nott. He is an IIT-M alumnus (Chemical Engineering 1985). He later got his PhD from Princeton University. He is a celebrity in the field. Most research papers you can find in this topic are either from a lab in France or from the lab of Prof. Prabhu R. Nott. I have seen first edition, signed copies of books in this field written by important authors addressed personally to the professor. It was wonderful working with him.

Was your research in anyway related to your college curriculum?

In third semester, we have a course called Fluid Mechanics. In this course, we are introduced to tools and models to deal with ideal Newtonian fluids. This is an extension of that. But here we run experiments and simulations and create our own model to fit systems which do not follow the properties of ideal fluids.

My lab had equipment, so costly that I was afraid to even touch them. But they let me set up my own experiments using those.

How was the working environment in IISc?

Working environment in IISc is dependent mostly on the lab you work in and the professor. Indian Academy of Science wanted work to go for 8 weeks continuously including weekends and national holidays. But that usually does not happen. My lab was closed on weekends, though you could work if you wanted to. Also in my lab people don’t mind when you come and no one forces you to work. But the professor expects a lot from you. However, in some labs interns worked from 8 am to pm.

My lab had equipment, so costly that I was afraid to even touch them. But they let me set up my own experiments using those. I worked with 4 other interns from NIT-Trichy, RV college, NIT Hamirpaur and BITS Mesra. The Chemical Engineering department in IISc is very small – around 90 students and 10 faculty. So, you get to interact with everyone. Some interns choose to collaborate with multiple labs too.

Would you suggest this internship to someone? Why?

Yes. There is common perception in Chemical Engineering that you have to get either a core internship at HUL, PNG or ITC or a finance internship at Goldman. Due to this trend and the higher stipend associated with these people do not prefer research internships. Even people who are inclined towards research loose interest do these reasons. If you really want to keep an open mind about research then this is an ideal internship. Even if you are confused about research then you might as well take this internship.

Lessons learnt?

I learnt that research needs a lot of patience. Initially I would go through a lot of research papers not even understanding what’s going on. You should keep asking people about what’s going on if you want to understand things. Initially it seems difficult but when you continue you start getting results. Unlike lab work at college this needs a lot patience. You have to sit for three days, sometimes even a week to debug one code. Patience is thus very crucial to research. Another thing is I got to meet a lot of similar minded people and learnt that if you keep an open mind, you get to learn of things.

Do you see yourself taking up research as a career? Did this internship help you arrive at the conclusion?

I realised that I really like research now. It’s very convenient for me, because my field is completely uncharted. I am not sure if I will pursue research but if I do I will continue in this field.

And the feeling you get once you solve a problem is awesome and unparalleled

What was the best thing you liked about this internship?

My internship was very relaxed. You try something and if you don’t get it you can always try it the next day. I once had a problem which I couldn’t solve for three weeks and then one day I had a eureka moment when I finally solved it. And that kind of feeling you get once you solve a problem is awesome and unparalleled. But the funny thing is you immediately come back down with another problem. It just keeps building like that. In my internship, they don’t expect you to complete the research. You can try multiple approaches and even if you don’t complete it, you can report what you have concluded so far. The main intention of the program is to give you a feel of research.

To visit any place during weekends we had to jump over walls

8 weeks in Bangalore… How did you spend your free time?

The main thing about Bangalore is that the weather is so good. Since I had Saturday Sunday off, I got to meet a lot of people from many different colleges. I like to travel and during the weekends I trekked. And the best thing is that the professor encourages you to travel around Bangalore. The place where I stay is 10 km from the main city and there was 9:30 curfew. So, to visit any place during weekends we had to jump over walls. I visited Bhannerghatta one week, travelled around Bangalore another week, went for a night trek, visited Coorg and Humpi. It was a wonderful experience.

Authors: Renganathan Subramanian (BT-CH ’20) & Hari Ramachandran (DD-MM ’20)

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