By Piyush Babele
Engineering has been dominated by Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) for decades, and there's little to choose between the premier institutes scattered across the length and breadth of the country. To remain at the peak of this mountain takes some doing, and IIT-Kanpur has managed to do just that, retaining its position as India's best engineering college in this year's India Today-Nielsen survey.
What sets the institution apart in a star-studded line-up? An all-pervasive entrepreneurial spirit driven by professors and imbibed in equal measure by the students entering the hallowed portals of IIT-Kanpur. Sample some of the research projects underway at the institution over the past year. IIT-Kanpur is coordinating a multi-institutional initiative called 'Generation of Solar Hydrogen' to tackle India's perennial fuel crisis. The project aims at developing workable designs of a solar hydrogen system to bifurcate hydrogen from oxygen in water and use it as fuel. "This project, when completed, promises a long-term economic solution for the country's economic growth and need for alternative fuel using multiple technologies," says Sanjay G. Dhande, director, IIT-Kanpur. The institute is working on a GPS-based real-time train information system for Indian Railways codenamed Simran. Jugnu, a micro satellite developed by students which was successfully launched from Sriharikota, and Digital Mandi, an online market for farmers to sell their produce, are some of the other prominent welfare projects commissioned successfully by IIT-Kanpur in the academic year 2011-12.
IIT-Kanpur was established in 1959, with P.K. Kelkar as its first
director. The institute began functioning in the borrowed building of
the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute in 1959. Under the Kanpur
Indo-American Programme between 1962 and 1972, IIT-Kanpur received
technical assistance from a consortium of nine leading American
institutes in setting up academic programmes and developing laboratories
for instruction as well as research. When it began, IIT-Kanpur had just
100 students on its rolls.Today, the institution has over 5,000
students and 350 faculty members.
The success has been achieved despite the constraints of the 'system'. As Dhande points out, "The spirit of innovation that could have been unleashed in India remained trampled because most of the intellectual property was controlled by the British or foreign companies. The licence-permit era didn't help either. At IIT-Kanpur, students have been encouraged to form start-ups after they pass out so that they can innovate. The research work undertaken by both students and faculty has often resulted in patents being awarded. All these activities make the academic environment at IIT-Kanpur invigorating."
The results are evident. During 2011-12, 15 technologies developed at the institute were licensed for commercialisation and 13 national patents were filed. Fifteen companies are currently being incubated at the SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre at IIT-Kanpur. "The number of externally funded ongoing projects has reached 522 with a sanctioned amount of Rs 344 crore. During 2011-12, the institute received sanction for 107 sponsored projects worth Rs 58.71 crore and 74 consultancy projects worth Rs 7.27 crore," says Ajit Chaturvedi, dean (research and development).
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