The proud recipient of TIMES NOW ICICI Bank NRI of the Year Award 2017 for his outstanding and immense contribution in Academics across Asia-Pacific, is the highly respected Indian-Australian Professor Suresh Bhargava. Mr. Bhargava gets candid about his life, his inspiration, his love for Science and more in an exclusive interview with Indus Age. Excerpts:
Compiled by Nidhi Kumari
How do you look at your journey in the field of Science and Research?
I became a lecturer in the I P College Bulandshar, Meerut University College in 1972 at the age of 18. Then I wanted to become an IAS/IFS officer and went upto the interview stage but failed twice. After that I left India in 1979 to UK as a Commonwealth Aacdemic Staff scholar, lucky enough – as only one was selected from whole India in Chemistry in that year under this scheme, worked for PhD under prominent scientists, even examined by Noble laureates, Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, FRS and then moved to Australian National University (ANU), Australia. Scince & Research became my destiny rather than my first choice but then I started seeing the change in the world where the house of education was becoming the hub of knowledge economy. I moved From ANU to CSIRO Lucas Heights and then finally to RMIT University in 1990. I quickly realised the great siginficane of doing research with Industries and linked my research with the real world applications. Here I am – Now I have multi disciplinary group of more than 60 scientists including PhD students from diferent disciplines, a network of collbaorative laboratories in more than 17 countries and now trying to develop new innovative technologies and creating intelligent minds for tomorrow.
Till date we have published over 400 articles in refereed International Journals, 10 book chapters and more than 100 lectures around the globe. I have supervised more than 50 PhDs (including many Indians) and developed and contributed in developing several technologise for Australian Indistries.
What drew you to this field (of science and research)?
Science produces creativity in your mind and engineering tanslates this creativity into innovation. The whole world around us is revolving on this paltform. All the beauty and challenges of this nature are hidden in Science and Technology. I want to see this world through my journey with Science and Research.
What has been your inspiration all these years?
Many people inspired me throughout my journey with Science and Research but most notables are – Bharat Ratan Professor C. N. R. Rao for doing excellence in Science and Dr R. A. Mashelkar who inspired me on how to translate the research excellence into relevance. Research without much application means very little and if you want to take some piece of the knowledge economy then you must do applied research. “Doing the things differently” is not enough but doing the things differenlty which makes the difference is more important now a days.
It is not easy to work in a different country with a different background particularly in Australia. You need a motivator and an inspirational Mentor. I was always motivated by Professor Margaret Gardner, who was my Vice Chancellor for many years and now the current VC of Monash University. She always supported innovative ideas and research. My long time Guru, Professor Peter Coloe, the current Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Science, Engineering and Health at RMIT University, a tough master but also a real supporter at the time when you need him. My supervisor Professor Martin Bennett, FRS was always the source of inspiration since I landed in Australia and he is still with me as a researcher.
Most recently I met my New VC Martin Bean who is unique, a dedicated champion of students and inclusive education, inspired me to do the research which has a real impact on people’s life, environment and sustainability.
Which moment of your life would you call as the turning point?
I realised that research must show its relevance quickly but not in the next 10 or 20 years and for that I must connect my research with Engineering to produce a real product for application. So when I joined RMIT University in 1990, I started to build a multidisciplinary research group which is now an established centre of research excellence known as “Centre for Advanced Materials and Industrial Chemistry”.
This platform is now focusing on solving the real industrial problems and we have done it many times successfully. I also dedicated my all research towards Environmental issues of our life such as “Air Pollution Control” and “Waste Water Treatment” and our PhD students are highly skilled and are graduated with a global research experience.
How do you look at Indo-Aussie relationship in the field of science and research?
It is getting better and stronger evey day. I am also proudly involved from the day one of the establishment of Australia – India Strategic Research Funds (AISRF).
Also the image on India in Australia is different –I have created and continuing to sustain a series of joint symposia/workshops entitled ‘Australia-India Joint Symposium on Smart Nanomaterials’ to bring together key Australian and Indian researchers on a single platform. The symposia promote regular collaborations between the two countries in the areas of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials and focuses on the development, application and theoretical aspects of nanomaterials.
The second phase will be for these countries to come forward and develop innovative technologies together. Australia has excellent knowledge, India has human resources and the big market so I do not see any reason why this cannot happen but we need some champions from both sides.
In your words, why is scientific research important for the ordinary citizen?
Our everyday living and life is attached with ‘science’. Both life and living have problems but nature has also provided its solutions through scientific research therefore some one has to search for it.
Everything we use in our day to day living: weather it is clothes, drinks, energy (LED invention) have come from science. It is a continuous process; some one has to search constantly to make our life better.
Scientists have a dual responsibility – to conduct research and then passing the benefits of their research to the common end users in a very simple and a usable way.
What is the research problem you solved during your most recent project/s?
There are two latest findings that I am very proud of.
Designing and developing nanoengineered surfaces for Mercury sensing.
AtoZofNano – Nanotechnology Thought Leader Series – Suresh Bhargava
The Age – “Mercury Falling” (19-11-2009), Nanowerk – “Pioneering nanotechnology sensor can precisely measure mercury”, Nano techwire.com – “Measuring Mercury with Nanotechnology”
Science Alert – “Gold nano-hairs find mercury”.
This is a technology that I developed over a period of more than ten years. More than 60,000 babies are born with mercury related diseases every year in US alone. It is an air pollutant which must be managed and removed from our breathing air.
Second- most recently we designed and then synthesised some very novel compounds of gold which are showing remarkable anti cancerous properties (~300 times better than the market drug cisplatin). There is a long journey ahead of this finding but it definitely is worth it.
What excites you the most about your work?
Working with young scientists.
My students are my strength. When I was one of them, my mentors gave me the lesson of linking my passion with my research, the same I am trying to pass onto my students. Together we are capable to create excellence in our research outcomes.
Has there been any obstacle or challenge that you faced in your path?
There were many—without challenges there is no excitement and thrill of achievements. Coming from a different cutural background, working in a different country and adopting to its culture is not an easy task.
Since childhood, I have been a follower of Swami Vivekanand and believe in his statement– “Life is a great chance, seek for the highest, aim for the highest and you will get the highest”.
What is your philosophy on- ‘Life’, ‘Success’ and ‘Failure’?
Never give up as I just said above.
Failures are the first step of your success, depends on how you take it.
Success is not easy to achieve–I also believe what Gandhi said- “They will ignore you first, then they will laugh, then they will fight with you, then finally you will win.” Never give up in this process.
What is it that you like to do when you are not working?
I love Hindi poetry, music and of course – Cricket.
You have won the TIMES NOW ICICI Bank NRI of the Year 2017 across Asia Pacific; what does this recognition mean to you?
A lot – It means, my country still cares about me. We are still linked.
It also gives me new responsilbilities towards my mother country. I am trying my level best to connect Science and Scientists of both countries.
Particularly I am also trying to produce some Indian Scientific leaders; so far I have supervised more than 25 young Indian researchers.
Message for young and aspiring brains:
The age is not a barrier to bring changes in science. Do not wait for your professor to lead you, defientely do not wait until you become one. The time has changed. It is the 21st century where technology is catching up with the speed of thoughts. On 26th July 2017 I organised a unique event,first of its own kind: “Academic Sharp Brain” program in Melbourne. I just delivered a talk at ABC which may be worth listening to. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/)