What Works In Practice

This is a series on the research views of BPHC professors. To read up on the first part, click here

Last time around, we interviewed a professor of Physics (which happens to be a highly theoretical subject) and as such, research there is of theoretically profound nature. Now, we attempt to brace together the perspective of Prof. G. R. Sabareesh from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and get more insight into practical applications. Keeping in mind the technical intention of this series, we go a little deeper into the details behind his research work.

To give a little background, Prof. Sabareesh did his PhD and Post-Doc in Wind Engineering from Tokyo Polytechnic University, Japan.

  1. What, specifically, are your fields of research?

I work in two fields:

The first is on wind effects on the stability of structures like buildings and wind turbines. We attempt to quantify how a material structure resists wind flow with certain characteristics. ‘Load’ is another term for the forces acting on the structure.

The second field is called ‘Conditional Monitoring’. We try to predict when structures fail (‘fail’ is just engineering jargon for ‘not behaving as required’). To do this, we must gather data based on past trends. This is primarily a question of studying the mechanical vibrations in the structure, done by passing acoustic signals through a model of the structure.

Take as an example the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It is the tallest building in the world and reaches about 843 m. At such heights, the winds blow really fast, and hence pose a direct threat to the structures staying in place. If they move back and forth, they are said to be unstable. Hence, we must design the geometry and material composition based on the requirements of high wind speeds. This involves computation of physical parameters like pressure and wind loads.

  1. Who funds your research?

Funding comes from different sources. The Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, gives travel grants and lodging expenses. This program is for select few faculty only.

I joined BITS in June 2014. When we join, we get something known as a ‘Research-Initiation Grant’. This is to give us a kick-start, at least until we can secure our own funding from some other source.

We also get an additional ‘Competitive Research Grant’ by BITS.

  1. What background is needed for an undergraduate student to work on a research project with you?

I have mentioned that I am working on two major topics, namely wind loading on structures and Conditional Monitoring. The first one requires only an introductory knowledge of fluid dynamics, which is taught to undergrads in 2-1 pursuing Mechanical and Manufacturing streams. To pursue the second topic, you need to know how to deal with mechanical vibrations. This is taught only in 3-2.

  1. What do you think about the research environment of BPHC?

I believe it is indeed conducive for original work, and is encouraging to both the students and faculty, when compared to most other private colleges in India. I have previously mentioned the ‘Research-Initiation Grant’, that stands testament to this fact. For the student, I feel quite strongly that formal projects are an excellent way of bringing students to the research frontier. There are two types of students: those who are very serious about research, and those who are just enthusiastic but are in possession of little background. We can cater to the latter category by involving them in informal projects first to give them some exposure, after which they can choose whether or not to pursue this topic.

Comparing BITS with IIT is not very helpful. They have better funding and equipment, but the students have more or less the same mentality. There is a symbiotic relationship between student and faculty.

  1. Do you have any international collaborations?

One, at the moment. I am working with professors from Tongji University, Shanghai, China in a project under the Natural Science Foundation, China. I regularly go to the university and perform experiments. Unfortunately, this collaboration is only allowed for myself and hence I cannot involve students with this. Besides, I go to symposia like the 8th International Symposium on Bluff Body Aerodynamics in North Eastern University, Boston. These are often done with the participation of BITS Alumni.

  1. Is the current coursework enough to inform the students about your research topics?

We have a course on Wind Energy. An elective on Condition Monitoring is also coming up and is being drafted now. So, yes, we do have strong coursework, that more than meets the requisite training essentials.

Arvind Ganesh

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