9th May 2012 New Delhi, India

Science and Innovation in Thiruvananthapuram

Where I visit Thiruvananthapuram, a city with an exciting portfolio of science & innovation, and discover that you can travel 6000 miles around the globe but still find a connection to your roots.

I recently visited Thiruvananthapuram, capital city of Kerala, with Ian Thornton, a colleague from the UK organisation NESTA. He’s working on a project to map the changing landscape of Indian research and innovation. The aim of the project is to create a resource for policymakers, higher education institutions, and innovative companies interested in more productive and strategic engagement with Indian counterparts – if you’re interested, watch this space for the report!

We decided to visit Thiruvananthapuram because some of Ian’s initial work had suggested it was emerging as a real hotspot for research and innovation activity in India. First port of call was the CSIR National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) for a meeting with their Director, Dr. Suresh Das. The Institute has 66 scientists and around 125 PhD students and Dr. Das explained the way they are divided into five interdisciplinary divisions covering Agroprocessing and Natural Products, Biotechnology, Chemical Sciences and Technology, Materials and Minerals and Process Engineering and Environmental Technology.

An impressive range of fundamental and applied research is carried out under those headings, from fundamental photonics research to a new method of processing fresh ginger. A few highlights of NIIST work which I took from the meeting were:  they’re building their own pilot plant for bioethanol production;  a method of rare-earth phosphates and oxides which is being piloted in Kollam; and a ceramic-membrane based water filtration system piloted in Bangalore, where I live, by BHEL.

Dr. Das made clear the Institute was very outward looking, with collaborations encouraged with industry and other national and international academic partners. For instance, they are a partner on an FP7 photo-voltaics project with collaborators in India, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Israel.

More personally, it was a pleasure to travel half-way round the world and to the tip of India, only to find that Dr. Das had studied for his PhD in Newcastle, the town where I was born. It was a potent reminder of the breadth of ties the UK and India share, and the value of the UK’s world-class universities in promoting the relationship between the two countries.

We also visited the International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS), where we met Satish Babu, the Director, and heard about the work of ICFOSS and some great ideas on the application of Free & Open Source Software in innovation.

Finally, we had the tremendous privilege of meeting the Kerala Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, and some of his senior officials. We talked about Kerala’s approach to promoting innovation and the Chief Minister told us about his office webcam – a true innovation in open governance!

Over the last 3 years alone over £80 million of joint research funding has been announced between Research Councils UK  and their Indian counterparts. My short stay in Thiruvananthapuram left me in no doubt that the potential for research collaboration between the UK and India is even bigger. I’m certain I will return soon.

2 comments on “Science and Innovation in Thiruvananthapuram

Comments are closed.