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View from India: The year that was…

As we usher in the New Year, it’s time for some retrospection and acknowledgement of the individuals and institutions that made an otherwise pandemic year memorable.

Go Green

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) has awarded its Regional Leadership Award to CtrlS, Asia’s largest Rated-4 Hyperscale data centre. Caring for planet Earth has been integral to CtrlS's DNA. What makes this announcement worthwhile is that the company has explored various possible solutions for energy efficiency and sustainability and reduced the PUE (power usage effectiveness) to 1.35, thereby reducing energy consumption at its hyperscale data centres in India. “At CtrlS, sustainability is a key focus and is a strategic component of our organisation. We are further sharpening our focus on usage of natural sources of energy such as solar. We are in the process of constructing a 1,000-acre solar farm to power our data centre facilities. We plan to achieve carbon neutrality (net-zero emissions) by 2030,” said Sridhar Pinnapureddy, founder and CEO, CtrlS data centres. This could be seen as a lesson in conservation, be it electricity consumption, water conservation and re-cycling. It would be nice if we could have more examples of paperless and solar-lit offices – this is both environment and pocket friendly.

Customer service software company Freshworks got listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The company raised more than $1bn from the public and markets, and 500 of its employees have become millionaires. Though Freshworks is now headquartered in California, its engineering staff is based out of Chennai, where it was founded. Covid has enhanced the need for customer service; as air travel drastically came down, the communication and digital connectivity quotient went up as client interactions and preferences began happening remotely. Naturally, customer service software is important for tracking customer information and storing their data.

In the News…

Indian physicist-academic Professor Rohini Godbole was honoured the Ordre National du Mérite this year. This National Order of Merit ranks among the top honours by the French government.

Dr Godbole has won global recognition for her research on the different aspects of particle phenomenology, a pursuit that began three decades ago, and is best known for her work at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. At CERN, she has contributed towards the design and implementation of the Large Hadron Collider and the Next Linear Collider.

The research on high-energy photons is relevant and may form the basis for the next generation of particle colliders. Such aspects are used to examine the fabric and composition of the universe.

Besides carving a niche for herself in the realm of participle physics, Godbole champions women’s participation in STEM. As a scientific communicator, she has gone that extra mile to encourage women to pursue science and has co-edited Lilavati’s Daughters, a collection of biographical essays on women scientists from India, along with Ramakrishna Ramaswamy. 

In 2019, the Indian government bestowed on Godbole the Padma Shri Award in the field of Science and Engineering-Nuclear for her lifelong contributions.

Other than strengthening the scientific collaboration between France and India, Godbole supports women’s visibility in science and is a professor at the Centre for High Energy Physics at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore.

Dr Srikumar Banerjee, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, died of a heart attack in Navi Mumbai on 23 May 2021.

Banerjee, known for India’s nuclear programme, was a physical metallurgist by profession. What sets him apart is his ability to tell the country the practical applications of specialised alloys that could be used in nuclear processes. Prior to the Atomic Energy Commission, he was the director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) where he propelled nuclear thinking through research in nuclear fuel cycle, besides exploring materials for nuclear fusion reactors. He was engaged in frontend and backend capacity building for nuclear fuel cycle. The seeds were sown, and BARC evolved as the cradle of India’s nuclear energy programme. Besides nuclear power, Banerjee’s research encompasses material science and engineering, along with its applications.

A far-sighted leader, Banerjee could foresee the applications of radiation and isotope technology in agriculture, healthcare, and food preservation and industry. The visionary, who was mentored by Professor Robert W Cahn at the University of Sussex, won the Robert Cahn Award in 2016 – this award is for an outstanding scientist who has the bandwidth to break barriers between disciplines and people. 

“Dr Srikumar Banerjee will be remembered for his pioneering contributions to Indian science, especially in the areas of atomic energy and metallurgy. He was also an outstanding mentor and institution builder. Saddened by his passing away. Condolences to his family. Om Shanti,” expressed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet.

The sight of burnt charcoal along with a heavy iron box could put anyone off, but the burning embers fired one girl's imagination. That’s Vinisha Umashankar from Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. The 15-year-old school student is quite an eco-warrior and went that extra mile to think about the charcoal emitting from iron boxes, which are commonplace in residential areas. That lingering concern led her on until she arrived at solar panels. Some introspection into the school textbooks gave better clarity and an idea clicked with the country’s National Innovation Foundation and engineers helped her with creating a prototype for and patenting. That’s the genesis of Iron Max.

The innovator’s mobile ironing cart may appear simple, but the difference lies in the solar panels fitted on the roof. The solar panels produce 250 watts of power per hour and the battery charges with five hours of bright sunshine; this powers the steaming iron box for about six hours.

The benefits are already filtering through: Vinisha received the Children’s Climate Prize in 2020 from the Children’s Climate Foundation in Sweden, and in September became one of 15 finalists for the inaugural Earthshot Prize, launched by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, which had over 750 nominees; five winners will each get $1.3m to scale-up their environmental solutions.

She went on to make global news as she was invited by Prince William to the COP26 Summit. Her powerful speech urged world leaders to support innovations, solutions and projects to repair the planet.

Let's hope more such innovations create an investment environment and give rise to the new wave of purposeful enterprises. Whoever said "catch them young", said it right. Spot talent, nurture them, and hopefully see the outcome. I will sign off on that note.

Here’s wishing you a merry Christmas and happy New Year!

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