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Deakin University's new partnership with The Energy And Resources Institute in India is already turning out to be one the best strategic research alliances the university has made.
Shortly after Deakin University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sally Walker, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TERI in April, the Indian research body's CEO, Dr Alok Adholeya, received the highly- prestigious Innovation For India 2010 award presented by the Marico Innovation Foundation.
Dr Adholeya and TERI were honoured by the IMF for their project, The Greening of Malara: Solid Waste Dump Site. The project has significantly improved the quality of life of people living around a factory owned by TATA Chemicals.
The MIF citation reads: For the first time in the world, a highly alkaline and saline site has been recovered to successfully develop a green cover with a living eco system by the use of bio fertilisers and bioremediation techniques.
This award reinforces the view I and a number of Deakin academics formed on a recent visit to India: there is a lot of research being done in India that is right at the cutting edge. So entering into partnerships like the one we have with TERI under the umbrella of DIRI, the Deakin India Research Initiative, is proving strategically astute.
There is much Deakin can offer to India, and there is much that India can offer to Australia, particularly in the crucial area of creating a sustainable planet on which to live. One objective of the Deakin-TERI partnership is to develop a Research Centre for Bio-Nanotechnology related to agriculture, health and other areas.
We visited TERI's research campus, where the new Research Centre for BioNanotechnology will be housed. The campus is self-sufficient, providing all its own water and energy, even to the extent that it supports two turf cricket grounds as well as lush gardens.
What was even more remarkable was to learn that before it became a TERI campus, it was barren ground. Dr Adholeya spoke highly of the potential for the new TERI-Deakin Centre.
"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," he 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."
Other 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.
We visited the futuristic CCMB medical facility for Clinical Regenerative Medicine that plans to be one of the first clinical centres for genetically personalised diagnosis and treatment. Visits like these and other Deakin researchers have made recently have created opportunities for collaborations that can that make a difference to the lives of people in a wide range of communities.
The new alliance with TERI takes these connections to a new, cutting-edge level.
Prof Lee Astheimer is DVC (Research) at Deakin University