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A group of 12 lead researchers from Deakin recently visited India for 10 days to interact with key Indian research partners and students as part of the Deakin India Research Initiative (DIRI).
DIRI is the umbrella program for HDR students enrolled at Deakin but who are conducting their research with industry and institute partners in India.
There will soon be more than 25 DIRI placements in India.
Highlights of the trip included a two day symposium with the theme “Trends in Molecular and Cellular Applications in Nano-Sciences” co-hosted by Deakin and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and a one day workshop on BioNanotechnology with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi.
The conference at CCMB involved presentations from researchers from Deakin, CCMB and several partner institutions.
Thirteen DIRI PhD students attended the conference and presented their work at a poster session at the end of the second day.
There was a great level of interaction between researchers and a number of new areas were identified for collaborative projects, particularly during the outdoor drinks and dinner event hosted by CCMB Director Professor Mohan Rao.
There is clearly a great synergy between the Deakin and India based partners, extending well beyond the shared passion for cricket!
Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), Professor Lee Astheimer led the delegation and was delighted with the level of energy and the increased understanding the Deakin academics gained of the Indian research environment in Hyderabad.
“The conference and visits by our staff to other local research centres was important as it showed the exceptionally high class of facilities and the leading edge research being done in India," Professor Astheimer said.
“For example we visited the new futuristic CCMB medical facility for Clinical Regenerative Medicine which plans to be one of the first clinical centres for genetically personalised diagnosis and treatment ."
After the CCMB symposium, the group broke up into a number of sub-groups that visited partner industry and institutions in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Sastra and New Delhi for more focused interactions.
This included visits to biotech labs Vimta, BigTec and BioCon and to institutions like the India Institute for Chemical Technology, National Centre for Biological Sciences and SASTRA University.
Again these visits were extremely successful and were a testament to the skills of Deakin's India Office staff in planning and co-ordinating all of these activities.
“Until you have been to India a few times you don’t appreciate how difficult it is to arrange a single program let alone something of this scale,” said the head of the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, Professor Hodgson.
And he should know – this was his 38th visit to India.
The group reconvened at TERI in New Delhi for a program of interactions that will pave the way for a greatly increased collaborative program.
A MoU initiating this collaboration was signed in Australia in April by TERI and Deakin in the presence of Minister of Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal (India) and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Australia.
The objective is to develop a Research Centre for Bio-Nanotechnology related to agriculture, health and other areas. The workshop explored the current relevant research programs of the two institutions and included a tour of the proposed location for the centre.
TERI’s research leader Dr Alok Adholeya spoke highly of the potential for this partnership.
“There is a great opportunity to leverage off the already successful research collaborations between Deakin and TERI to grow a world class centre of excellence that will also have a strong translational component – in other words both TERI and Deakin have strong reputations not only for doing great research but also for implementation," Dr Adholeya said.
“In India is it essential that we can demonstrate how research can make a difference – particularly to the poor.
“One example of our own research has been the development of a novel system for mycorrhizal soil supplementation, improving crop outputs and soil health. In fact, the proposed campus for the new Centre was transformed from a deserted waste land into a lush green landscape in just a few years as a demonstration of this technology."
Professor Hodgson noted an important flow on effect from this that will benefit the collaboration.
“The proposed campus is not only green but also has two turf cricket pitches which are sure to be used for matches between the collaborators,” he said.
The TERI workshop was followed by a debriefing session where all considered the entire trip to be highly worthwhile.
Associate Professor Peter Beech, who co-ordinates the DIRI student program and met with all students during the tour and while identifying areas for improvement, spoke in glowing terms about the reaction of the students to the Deakin visit.
“I think the tour has been fantastic in building a bond and closer understanding between the students and supervisors,” Professor Beech said.
“There can be a sense of isolation with this type of program but now that the students have interacted face to face with their Australian and Indian supervisors, I can already see a major improvement in their comfort with the program.”
During the final day in Delhi most of the delegates finally saw a little more of Indian culture, visiting the Taj Mahal and other sites in Agra (despite the uncomfortable heat with temps above 40C). A few diehards spent the day in meetings with TERI staff to finalise the plans for the new Bio-nanotechnology Centre.
The members of the tour were: Professors Lee Astheimer, Peter Hodgson, Colin Barrow, Kevin Nicholas, Qipeng Guo, David Cahill, Leigh Ackland, Ian Chen and Associate Professors Jagat Kanwar, Christophe LeFevre, Peter Beech, Cuie Wen and Dr Xavier Conlan supported by India office staff Ms Ravneet Pawha, Mr Pawan Solanki, Mr David Das, Ms Asha Franklin and Mr Nagasarath Pandurangi.