“Passion is the genesis of genius”.

This beautiful and motivational line seemed very true as soon as we started our talk with Dr. Ramani Ramakrishnan, a man of immense talent and experience in his field of expertise. A member of the Professional Engineers of Ontario (1984), he is an amazing person to talk to. Very humble and self-effacing, he finished his pre university from Loyola College and B. Tech in Civil Engineering from IIT Madras in 1970. He is currently a full professor in Department of architectural sciences, Ryerson University Canada. Over an hour long interview with him, he talks about his education, the places where he worked, his other interests and his advice to our students.

“As soon as my B. Tech was over, I immediately left for USA without seeking any employment. Though the majority of my classmates went to IIMA, I didn’t. I knew what I had to do next. And luckily enough, I gained a position as research assistant at NASA. I was very scared as I needed to suddenly shift from Civil to Aero, but things worked out comfortably with time,” says he with a smile. He did his masters in helicopter noise and PhD in Jet noise from NASA Flight and Sound Centre in Langley. To his credit, he was the first person in the history of the program to gain PhD equivalent in the first attempt. He was in a very niche field as an aero acoustician until he did his post doctorate in England at ISVR. They even offered him a permanent position which he refused because of the much higher salary offered by Lockheed and due to some issues with staying in England. From 1980 – 1982, he worked as a scientist at Lockheed-Georgia Corporation, Atlanta. He then moved to Canada in 1982 and has been working there for the past 33 years.

I always ask my wife and daughter to stay outside for 5 minutes during which I check the acoustic characteristics of the auditorium we go to

“My claim to fame in Toronto is that I fixed the toilet flushing noise of the richest man there”, he says wryly. He has experiences in acoustics consulting, noise control, some vibration control, aero acoustics and even building acoustics. His passion and love for his subject is very evident from the fact that he checks out each auditorium he goes to. “I always ask my wife and daughter to stay outside for 5 minutes during which I check the acoustic characteristics of the auditorium we go to”, he tells us. Among the long list of projects that he has done, he tells us about a vibration project – tuned mass damper for the aircraft control tower in Ronald Reagan Airport in DC. Apart from working on some projects during that time, he also taught part time architectural acoustics in a second tier university. He recalls that the knowledge that he delivered were highly practical and hence students of the university were highly sought after. In 1997-2000, he also worked at Aiolos Engineering Corporation as a senior Acoustician. His department encouraged private practice too. He mentions to us that North America has a very good research funding and all it requires is good discipline. Very proudly, he tells us that money doesn’t worry him. If a job is interesting and isn’t exploiting him, he will take it immediately.

Getting past these topics of career and jobs, he recalls his days at IIT Madras. “I was a child you see. I never did much work at home. I was exactly 90 pounds and 4 ft 11 inches, the minimum body requirement to qualify for IIT. We had two years with same courses for everyone. And with every second week as workshop week, campus was more of a concentration camp for me. Foundry and smithy made me feel like an ironmaster,” he says jocularly. “I went to my father, the very first week, and cried in front of him saying that I won’t be able to do it. It was quite later that I realised that the education given to us was amazing in all aspects,” he says with much contentment.

Since I come from a family of musicians, with my mother a great singer and my father a musicologist, I have great interest in music

“I love to do a lot of things”, he says when we ask him about the other things that he does. “I am a member of Ramakrishna order and also give lecture on Bhagwad Gita. I believe that reading four verses a day relieves a man from all tension. Also, since I come from a family of musicians, with my mother a great singer and my father a musicologist, I have great interest in music. I with my wife started KALA ARTS in 1996, a quarterly magazine which reviewed classical Indian arts and good art films. Several people wanted to sue us for that but we didn’t care for them as long as our reviews were true. Later, eventually I gave up in magazine as I needed to spend time with my daughter, who was in tenth grade.”

He also is a part of ENVICLE, a social program running for 15 years under which they teach maths and science to students in a small village called Alamathi.

We ask him about his NASA project and his enthusiasm seems palpable with every moment as he narrates his story brilliantly to us. “We had to build world’s largest and loudest reverberation test chamber at NASA Glenn. It was the loudest sound ever made by humans that would make you go deaf in a second and kill you in less than a minute. All equipment has to be tested in that room initially for twenty minutes and if nothing cracks/breaks then only they can be sent to space. It was an eighty million US dollars project and took them a long time to build this. India also has these test chambers, though smaller. Two of them are located in Bangalore and one in ISRO Trivandrum.”

During his one year sabbatical in India, he has done a lot of projects. Together with research interns, he is building an auditorium in Taramani for the Asian School of Journalism that seats 300 people where it is possible to deliver lectures without using a mike if one knows how to project his voice. He, with six architecture students, is evaluating classical Sabhas using audience survey, field measurements, and drawings of auditorium and computer simulations. Also, he worked for Dakshinchitra, a cross cultural living museum of art, where he designed an acoustical retractable roof for the auditorium that again needs no mike for a good performer. “Meantime, I also had the privilege to meet Balkrishna V. Doshi (87), in Ahmedabad who is one of the greatest architects of India”, says Dr Ramani.

Since he also believes in sustainability, he is working with some students to build a two thousand sq, feet house for four people in a remote corner in Ontario which will not be connected to any grid and is self-sustainable. While talking to him, we knew the only thing this passionate man lacks is time. Had he been provided with more time, he would surely do more and more work.

Be committed to your work, since it’s worth it for a man to become a naturalist if he loves nature rather than following the crowd to become Brilliant Clerks

As an advice to us students, he says “Try. For if you don’t succeed, try again. You will fail better this time.” Being a great supporter of swami Vivekananda, he quotes his words to us. “Face the brute”. He doesn’t forget to mention that B. tech from IIT Madras is considered as one of the top five degrees in the world. Not only does it mean that we excel at academics, it gives us confidence to do anything we love. Out of his 250 batch mates, only 50-60 of them are engineers. The rest of them are working in diverse fields. “Be committed to your work, since it’s worth it for a man to become a naturalist if he loves nature rather than following the crowd to become Brilliant Clerks”, he guides us as we end our conversation.

 

Keep checking this space for an account of Dr Ramani’s memories of his IITM days!