15=6+8+22

No, its not the title of Chetan Bhagat’s next novel (though it could well be). A colleague in the School of Life Sciences pointed me to a new site, Nature Index, “A global indicator of high-quality research” that “tracks the affiliations of high-quality scientific articles. Updated monthly, the Nature Index presents recent research outputs by institution and country.”

niThe 15 in the title above, is the overall ranking of the UoH, relative to all Indian institutions, based on our publications in all scientific fields, with 6, 8, and 22 being the rankings separately in Chemistry, Life Sciences and Physics. This is for the year 1 September 2013 to 31 August 2014, and presumably other time periods can be queried on the NI site as well.

There is reason to be pleased. We are the highest ranked University overall, and above us are only institutes like TIFR, RRI, IISc and consortia like the entire IIT system or all the CSIR laboratories put together. And this has happened in spite of the poor funding for science in the country, and for Universities in particular. As we are painfully aware, the real level of funding that we have to contend with has been very very meagre…

The ranking is based on the Article Count, namely the number of articles published from the institution. More formally, “a count of one is assigned to an institution or country if one or more authors of the research article are from that institution or country, regardless of how many co-authors there are from outside that institution or country” in computing the AC. There are other measures that can make us look even better such as the Fractional Count (FC), “that takes into account the percentage of authors from that institution (or country) and the number of affiliated institutions per article. For calculation of the FC, all authors are considered to have contributed equally to the article”, and the equation in the title then becomes, if we use the FC, 8=6+11+19. And to normalize, the corresponding equation for another Central University with which we share many similarities is 18=22+3+29.

In all these lists, there are no Universities that are ranked above us in Chemistry, one in the Life Sciences, and very few in Physics, so these country specific rankings say as much about us as about the funding patterns, the focus on research, and on infrastructure and support. Nevertheless, if anyone out there is looking, its pretty clear which among the Central Universities really is a University of Excellence.

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#s 4, 5 and 7: A UoH triple play

Untitled 2For reasons that are truly too dreary to get into, I had to spend a little time on the Web of Knowledge, that useful (but often dangerous!) engine of discovery.  Again, for reasons too dreary to elaborate, I thought I would find out which scientific contributions from India were most significant in terms of their impact. Each of these terms is loaded, of course, but here are the filters that I applied.

  • I searched for papers that were published from India between 1 January 1999 and today. This amounted to a total of 540,649 publications in all.
  • I removed all papers from this list where one or more authors was from the USA, bringing the number down to 515,720. (That’s 24929 collaborative publications between the countries in the past 15 years. Not a lot.)
  • I further pruned the list by removing papers where there were coauthors from the UK, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and Russia. This brought the total to 484,153. (5 countries, 15 years, 31567 papers. Really not a lot.)
  • Since one needs a valid subscription to the Web of Knowledge to see the results, I’ve put up a snapshot of the results page above, using the feature in WoK of ranking papers by “Times Cited”. This can tell you which papers have been cited maximally by other researchers.
  • Judging impact by this indicator, it turns out that the paper with most impact that is purely “from India” is the 2002 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON EVOLUTIONARY COMPUTATION publication,  A fast and elitist multiobjective genetic algorithm: NSGA-II by K. Deb,  A. Pratap, S. Agarwal and T. Meyarivan. Its been cited an impressive 5574 times.

What is really quite remarkable, and a matter of justifiable pride, is that the School of Chemistry of our University figures thrice in the top 10 papers in the list. The 2003 Chem. Rev. paper by  Basavaiah, Roy and Satyanarayana, the 2002 Acc. Chem. Res. paper by Desiraju, and a 2002 paper by Kotha, Lahiri and Kashinath in Tetrahedron figure at Nos. 4, 5 and 7. While Profs. Basavaiah and Desiraju were  on the faculty when these papers were written of course (and Prof. DB continues to be with us), Prof. Kotha of the IIT Powai is an alumnus, having earned both the M. Sc. and the Ph. D. from the UoH, in 1979 and 1985 respectively.

Some caveats. Of course, in this age of globalization the “from India” tag is not necessarily prized, and in any case it can be quite irrelevant as to which ideas are truly from India. Most cited is also not necessarily the most significant work, and a longer sense of history is needed to judge significance. In journal terms, the word impact has its own connotations, mostly negative, but still.

All this apart, its quite nice to see our work up there in the rankings. The institutional affiliations of other authors on the top 10 papers (to further normalize the list) include the IITs (Kanpur, Mumbai, and Roorkee), IUCAA (Pune), IISc (Bangalore), JNCASR (Bangalore), and JNU (New Delhi).

Pretty good company to keep.

The Palamuru Seven

37On Monday the 27th January, I was in Mahbubnagar,  at Palamuru University, to attend the Annual Convention of the Andhra Pradesh Akademi of Sciences (APAS), to keep an old commitment, namely to deliver the Sitamahalakshmi Memorial Lecture. And I was fortunate in at least two ways…

The first was that I got to see- after too many years- Ranga, aka Professor S Ranganathan who taught us Organic Chemistry so brilliantly at IIT Kanpur. Ranga, who is now at the IICT in Hyderabad, retired from Kanpur after decades of teaching generations of chemists. His classes were wonderful, and he was one of the first to seriously try to get some of us interested in biology- I remember him and Balu (Professor D. Balasubramaniam, also now in Hyderabad, and at the LV Prasad Eye Institute) inviting a number of people in ’73 or ’74 to try to educate us philistine M Sc students of the exciting things that were going on in biological chemistry. Some of my classmates took the bait, but it didn’t work out in my case… But more of that in another post, maybe.

The second was that I got to see seven of our colleagues being inducted into the Akademi at one go- the largest contingent from anywhere to be so elected! In the alphabetical order of the handout, here they are :

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M. Ghanshyam Krishna of the School of Physics was elected Fellow. His work focuses on the growth, characterization and applications of thin films.

Subramanyam Rajagopal of the Department of Plant Sciences, School of Life Sciences was elected Fellow. (OK, so the photo is an older one, and he does not sport the mustache now…) His group is working on bioenergy related to photosynthesis and phytomedicines. His major research contribution was on abiotic stress effects on photosynthesis apparatus of cyanobacteria, algae and higher plants.

Samar Das, of the School of Chemistry, was also elected Fellow. The focus of his research effort is to synthesize metal-oxide based inorganic compounds and to exploit their host guest, ion exchange and catalytic properties.

Pradeepta Panda of the School of Chemistry was elected an Associate Fellow. His  work is on the design and synthesis of various porphyrins.

S Srilakshmi of the UCESS was elected an Associate Fellow. She is a geophysicist, and the only woman in the group.

S Srinath of the School of Physics was elected an Associate Fellow. His areas are Magnetism, Multiferroics, Oxides, Nanomaterials  and  Thin films.

S Venugopal Rao of theACRHEM was elected an Associate Fellow. He does a lot of things, as you can see on his homepage, but to mention a few areas of his interest,  Semiconductor Nonlinear Optics: Optical frequency conversion techniques [Second Harmonic Generation, Sum Frequency Generation, Difference Frequency Generation], Optical Parametric Oscillators/Amplifiers in the near- and mid-infrared spectral region and construction and characterization of femtosecond/picosecond Ti:sapphire lasers.

And in addition, there were many other colleagues from the UoH there: they had already  been elected to the Akademi in earlier years. The President, Dr Ch. Mohan Rao, being an alumnus, made the presence of the University even stronger, and drove home the point that we are the preëminent research university in AP. And, of course, also in the country. Nice!

Even better Khabar

imagesThe news that Prof. C N R Rao has been awarded the Bharat Ratna should be warmly welcomed in our University. After all he is one of ours, being conferred an honorary doctorate of the University in 2005. And importantly, he has been a mentor, directly or indirectly to many of our colleagues in various science faculties at the UoH.

a56c607e-c8fb-43ae-9c52-eaff0054b27eMediumResHe was on the faculty- one of the biggest stars of the stellar Department of Chemistry- at IIT Kanpur where I did my M. Sc. (Chemistry) in 1974. Actually, he was on the interview panel that selected me for admission in 1972 – no entrance exams then- and although I then did not know who he was, I can still remember one question he asked me then: How many molecules of water are there on earth? It was a serious enough question, and as I was grappling with estimating volumes, dividing by 18, multiplying by Avogadro’s constant and doing all that I could to come up with an answer, he added: When its not raining! 

I took Physical Chemistry from him the next year- he was an inspiring teacher in many ways- and over the years I have stayed in touch with him enough to be very very impressed by his tenacity and his passion for science. In Kanpur when he was already famous and had nucleated the Department of Chemistry, he was just about 40. That he has stayed current and obsessed with his science for the next four decades (and this shows no sign of abating) is phenomenal.

But the news of the Bharat Ratna to him is welcome in many many ways. It is, as he says, also a recognition of the value of science, of scholarship, of research. Having seen the institutions he has built, one could give it for that alone. And CNR does not mince his words- he is an outspoken advocate for research, and has let government after government know that funding for science is inadequate. As we all recognize only too well, funding for higher education is inadequate, and our only hope for excellence is that we get funded at reasonable levels. In the past two days alone, he has raised the sensibility of not just the political class, but indeed the public at large of the need for funds, for support. We need more champions like him.

… and this

UntitledI was asked by the Dr. K V Rao Scientific Society to be at their annual meeting and also to give away their annual awards on the 13th of the month.  Founded in 2001 by the friends and family of Dr. Rao (who retired as Superintendent Chemist at the Geological Survey of India) the KVRSS seeks to actively promote and encourage young scientists. This is a rare entity, an orrganization devoted to science promotion at all stages, including the grassroots- they run a number of programmes to nurture talent at the district level as well as recognising the work done in institutes of higher learning.

UntitledIt was therefore a very good feeling to see that three of the awardees this year were students of the UoH, Pidishety Shankar of the School of Physics, Supratim Basak of the School of Chemistry, and M Hanumantha Rao of the ACRHEM. It was equally heartening to see a number of young students from all across the state receive commendations, and the confidence with which all the awardees spoke was very reassuring.

Another achievement of the student body is the victory of our  University Football team in the Fourth Inter-state A. P. football tournament that was held at IIIT-H. As one of the team members and vice-Captain,  Achyut Kulkarni wrote in a mail to me, this is a first for our University, and a feather in the  captain, William Haokip‘s cap! The team came by my office along with the Physical Education Officer and their coach-

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The team members are, in addition to  William Haokip (Captain) and  Achyut Kulkarni( Vice-Captain), Kedar Kulkarni, James Tuglut, Kunga Chongloi, Joel, Asif Ali, Bujair, Sai Abhinav, Muanpuia Tlau, Mesevito Terhiijah, Subhash Nayak, Nrusingha Behera, Sense Alaji, Leon Dailiam,  and Yunus Bava.

It was such a pleasure to have all that energy in the office that day- a nice change from the usual goings on. Thanks for coming by, guys, and keep the UoH flag flying high!

Inspiration Transfer

We had an unusual treat last Sunday, 11 November. Professor Rudolph A Marcus of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1992) was conferred the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) of the University of Hyderabad.

Marcus, a theoretical chemist, was awarded the prize in 1992 for work that he essentially carried out in the 1950’s, on an explanation of how electrons are transferred from one species to another. Electron transfer is, arguably, the simplest form of a chemical reaction, characterised by the fact that no “bonds are made or broken”. Because charges move around though, there is considerable reorganization of the environment. As has been gradually recognized over the years, electron transfer plays an important role in phenomena ranging from photosynthesis to corrosion. It is not an exaggeration to state, as has often been done, that without it life cannot exist.

The event on Sunday was structured around a formal scientific talk entitled Electron Transfer Reaction Theory in Chemistry – from the Isotopic Exchange Reactions of the 1940s and 1950s to the Modern Solar Energy Conversion Era (see the abstract below). In a discursive introduction to the history of the field, Marcus explained the various different experiments that were necessary to validate the theory and just why the gap between the original theory and the award was so long.The talk was riveting, and not just because Marcus is a Nobelist: the vibrancy and enthusiasm in the delivery belied the speaker’s 89 years. He still teaches and guides students, he finds himself getting interested in current experiments, and is always out to test his theories of which there are several. From the time of his Ph D, which dates to 1946 or thereabouts, to now, it has very much been a life in science and a life of science…

But the true value of his presence came through in his subsequent interaction with students both outside the auditorium (see the picture above) as well as in the Conversation with Rudy Marcus, a free-flowing exchange when anyone could (and did) ask him questions on any aspect of his work and life. As a colleague wrote to me the next day: Two hours with Rudy was like a two semester course!

There was much to learn from him- mainly his passion for science and his approach, that combined a deep appreciation of mathematics with a respect for experiments, and the knowledge that theory cannot be applied if it is not “simple” to do so. And it was difficult not to be enthused- he has been an inspiration to generations of theoretical chemists !- by his continuing curiosity, his enthusiasm, and his intensity.
In his long career, starting at the Brooklyn Polytechnic, then at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and now at the California Institute of Technology, Rudy has taught generations of students, though he has not had a very large research group- four or five students and a couple of postdocs most of the time. The problems he has attacked typically focus on experimentally observable effects. Speaking earlier in Bangalore, on the need for research that solved practical problems, Rudy stressed the importance of universities in enabling the creative process, namely the freedom to think. I have not found it said better or more economically: “In an university, you will be subjected to a regimen of methodological thinking, intellectual labour and structured intellectual activity. At the end of this, one earns cognitive freedom. Such freedom cannot be claimed as a right.

He has used this freedom rather well.

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