Indian scientists lead research in universities around world

Home News Indian scientists lead research in universities around world

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, well-known Indian American IT entrepreneur Desh Deshpande introduces you to Dr Sangeeta Bhatia, rather than talk about it himself.

A PhD from MIT and MD from Harvard, Bhatia is a young researcher who has used nano-technology to create micro-livers—an innovation that is helping pharma companies make drugs safer. In 2006, The Scientist put her on its list of ‘Scientists to Watch’.

India-born and Oxford-educated Ajit Lalvani is the head of infectious diseases at London’s Imperial College. Lalvani has been a cutting edge researcher at Oxford, whose inventions of diagnostic products for tuberculosis patients culminated in the formation of an university spin-off company, Oxford Immunotec.

“It was very satisfying to see our research translating into clinically useful tools for TB patients,” says Lalvani, who has been honoured by the Royal College of Physicians for his research with the prestigious Weber-Parkes Trust Medal.

Bhatia and Lalvani belong to a breed of Indian or Indian-origin scientists who are involved in cutting edge research that are expected to change the way we live. Some of them may follow in the footsteps of Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the 2009 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry. But their ilk is growing.

So what makes the scientific community of Indian origin tick on global campuses despite the apathy towards research in India? While traditionally, students from top science and technology institutions in the country such as the IITs are more likely to move to the West with corporate jobs or for management degrees rather than for cutting edge research, the number of Indians at the top hubs of science and technology research too is rising.

While lack of infrastructure and funds in India are some of the reasons for the lack of interest among students towards research, the factors which have attracted the best brains from around the world to hubs such as Cambridge, Massachusetts and Stanford is the critical mass of exciting work going on in these places, where new ideas and technologies are being developed.

Best students from around the world, including many from India, are attracted because their work gets noticed.
In the case of Bhatia, the technology licensing office at MIT and the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation have both been critical to helping her get new technologies out into the world.

“You need to talk to lots of people and then adjust your technology to fit the need,” she says. MIT has a class where a team of students can help with this process and earn course credit. Next, you need a shepherd into the business world. The Deshpande Center calls these people catalysts, volunteers from the business community who have experience commercialising early stage technologies.

“We used all of these to launch Hepregen, an MIT spinout. For me, having a commercial entity was absolutely critical to connect effectively with industry,” Bhatia adds. Around the campus, she sees a large number of young people of Indian origin with a deep interest in invention and innovation.

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