Dr. Saptarshi Basu, an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), is an eminent researcher in the area of experimental thermal and fluid sciences. He has vast experience in various optical diagnostics techniques, such as laser-induced fluorescence, Rayleigh scattering and laser induced incandescence. His research focuses on the fundamental understanding of transport processes (mass, momentum, energy and species).
“I particularly work in multiphase flows as encountered in gas turbines, thermal storage and materials processing,” he explains. “An example of my work is investigating spray atomization and droplet combustion in gas turbines or spray dryers using high-fidelity laser-based experiments.”
After completing his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Jadavpur University, Dr. Basu worked as a consultant in the IT industry for three years, but always felt “a sense of emptiness.” It was then that he decided to pursue his master’s degree and PhD from the University of Connecticut, USA.
He modestly admits that he was an ‘average student’ in his engineering days mostly because many of the subjects didn’t interest him enough. However, during his PhD, he began studying subjects that later fueled his research interests. He was awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship (First Position) by the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Connecticut, for “outstanding academic research.”
His inspiration to become a researcher came from working as a graduate research assistant in a department lab. He recalls, “On my second day in graduate school, my advisor gave me 15 research papers to read and outline a research project I had to execute. The project was ‘Laser based diagnostics of water transport in PEM fuel cell.’ I was just an engineer, who had just come out of a management consultant job in the IT sector. It shook me up. Research is hard and requires a lot of thinking and reading. Once I got into the groove, it was loads of fun. Fun was something I never had during my 3-year stint in the IT sector.” He credits his undergraduate and graduate mentors for shaping his career.
Dr. Basu currently works on six diversified projects which have a common unifying theme: understanding transport of mass, momentum or heat in different systems. For example, a project on ‘externally heated nanoparticle-laden droplet’ (DST-funded) tries to delve into the fundamentals of how particles move and agglomerate in acoustically-levitated state to form different structures; this research has applications ranging from inkjet printing to gas turbines and pharmaceuticals. Another project, an Indo-US collaboration, tries to look at instabilities, heat transfer and performance characteristics of molten salt in high energy thermal storage systems, used in solar thermal applications.
“My overarching plan is to provide a rigorous and complete understanding of spray combustion, atomization and transport in a highly turbulent environment like gas turbine. My primary plan is to develop the physical understanding on how flow-spray-flame dynamics couple that leads to instabilities and loss of efficiency and performance in power generation systems. At the same time, I want to take further the understanding of flow dynamics, particle transport and heat transfer in different systems like thermal storage, spray dryers, pharmaceutics, spray cooling etc.,” he explains.
Recently, Dr. Basu received the Swarnajayanti Fellowship for 2013-14. Dr. Pradip Dutta, INAE Chair Professor at IISc, commends Dr. Basu’s work. “Prof. Basu's research is simply outstanding,” he says. “At a relatively young age, he has established himself as a leading expert in combustion research and thermal transport in multiphase systems. There is absolutely no doubt that he is an appropriate choice for the SJ Fellowship. Apart from the volume of work, the quality of his research is outstanding. In addition to academic importance, Prof. Basu's work is very relevant to industries, which includes new applications in the Indian context, such as thermal storage for solar power generation.”
Dr. Basu’s lab at IISc has state-of-the-art facilities and equipment required for research in combustion and thermo-fluids. He also has over 150 publications and a US-issued patent to his name.
On receiving the award, Dr. Basu says, “It provides a vehicle to achieve my goals in research through the generous funding it provides. It also provides me a launching pad to execute my research goals and showcase my findings to the scientific community.” He also stresses on his family’s contributions to all his accomplishments, adding, “I dedicate my small achievements to my parents and my wife. Without their support and inspiration, nothing would have happened.”
Dr. Basu finds research very exciting because of the freedom it provides to pursue goals by planning, thinking of and executing ideas in a vibrant environment. Brainstorming with colleagues and students is his favorite hobby, which he finds intellectually enriching. “Thermal and fluid sciences appealed to me since it is full of processes at different length and timescales. These processes couple with each other in non-linear ways to give rise to global observations and behavior from micro scales to astrophysical scales,” says Dr. Basu. Prof. Richard Feynman and Prof. Ludwig Prandtl, pioneers in their respective fields, are his role models.
“It [research] allows me to serve the nation since my work can help in improving different systems that is relevant to people on the whole. The joy of working with the young bright PhD students and nurturing them to become ace researchers is a motivation no other job provides,” he adds.
Being a teacher and guide to many students who look up to him for inspiration, Dr. Basu advises them to “aim big but dream even bigger. Work hard but imagine harder. Have passion in your work and put in your best efforts.”