Professor Ravikrishnan Elangovan
· Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology
Dr Elangovan has been a faculty in Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology since 2010. He is a under graduate from IITD from the same department, graduating in 2004 as B.Tech and M.Tech in Biochemical Engineering. He did his doctoral studies from University of Florence, Italy in muscle physiology and Biophysics. After a brief post-doctoral research in TIFR Mumbai, he has joined IITD as assistant professor since 2010.
I teach two core courses: Design of Bioprocess Engineering and Enzyme science and Engineering. Other than these two core courses I offer electives courses i.e., Physical and Chemical Properties of Biomolecules and Biophysics.
My research training has been mostly in Biophysical studies, particularly on a molecular scale. A lot of physics is involved in biological process for example, protein folding and functioning of molecular motors. I am particularly interested in understanding molecular motors or molecular machines; these are nano sized biological components capable of generating movement and force.
*in response to our bewildered look*
Let me explain with an example; there is a motor called bacterial flagellar motor found in microbes. Like a propeller of a submarine this motor drives a helical filament called flagella and helps in the movement of the bacteria. We are trying to study this motor and understand the torque generated by this motor and its properties. It is the one of the most interesting molecular motor we have found. Some of these motors rotate at around 1700 rps and even in the fanciest expensive cars you will be able to reach somewhere around 4000-5000 rpm. This nano motor is faster than the fastest Ferrai that exists! So, the best machine available right now is found in one of the most primitive life forms! The energy source that drives this motor and its working principles of this flagellar motor are still not known and that’s what drives us as well.
In a tangent to our work on single molecule biophysics, we started some technology application project. My colleagues (Dr Shalini G, Chemical and Dr Vivekanandan P, KSBS) and I wanted to apply the optical methods developed for single molecule studies to tackle societal problems. We picked Typhoid diagnostics; and it is common knowledge that Typhoid is an infectious disease causing a large number of incidents and deaths worldwide. We were fortunate to be funded by Department of Biotechnology for our project. At the same time two pass-out DBEB students (Mr Saurabh S, Mr Vikas Pandey) got enthusiastic about the work that we were doing and joined hands with us. Today we have filed three patents and spin of Startup “Valetude Primus Healthcare Ltd”. We are excited about our journey and hoping this technology will find some use in clinical setting as well.
As a student at IIT Delhi
I feel very fortunate to be part of IITD. I had quite an exciting time when I was student. I came from Trichy, Tamilnadu to Delhi with few words of Hindi and with lot of excitement. For the first two years I was distracted by everything, from learning Hindi, to sports and all the extra cultural activities. I was a moderate student and bunked classes whenever I could. My interest in biology was strengthened by passionate teachers and great mentors I had/have in IITD. Other than academics, I continued to work on research projects that gave some exposure to the research problems and approach.
My advice to current students will be to maintain a basic CGPA of 7, no matter what you do in IITD. Also, after JEE training, the kind of effort required to keep a 7 CGPA is almost nothing. In fact it will take lot of counterproductive work to go below 7 CGPA. :P
Memories at IITD
I was in Vindhyachal hostel. I had a senior who used to live in same floor. He was doing a course X. Minors were here and he was preparing for the exam by night out. But he dosed off, overslept and reached the examination hall 15 minutes late. The professor did not say anything, gave him the question paper and answer sheet. He looked at the paper and realized that he did not know anything that was asked in the question paper. He returned an empty answer sheet and was back in 20 minutes. The minor papers were distributed a week after the exam; most of the students were getting 0.3/0.5/.75 out of 10 marks. When this senior’s paper came, the professor showed his paper to everyone in the class. This student had got the highest marks in the exam, 2/10. Everyone was surprised! He had not written anything in the paper but got the maximum marks. The professor explained and said that “Among all of you he is the one who has maximum understanding. He understood the question correctly, knew he did not know the answer and left the sheet empty. While all of you did not understand the question and wrote all the possible wrong answers. That’s why he has the maximum marks.”
Back in IITD and on the other side of the table
Again, I am very fortunate to be back in IITD. I can say, as an IITD faculty member one can work as an independent researcher. You have all the freedom in the world to pursue excellence. There are resource crunches, but they are being acted upon and being removed.
Career dilemmas of every IITian
I know the best career opportunities from the student’s perspective means big bucks! Though it sounds lucrative, but it a short term benefit. In the long run, only the quality of technical expertise gets much larger return of money.
Today, going for PhD is not being considered a career option. There is a perception it will be another 4 years of studies, you need 9+ CGPA to get PhD and you will spend 5 years in underground research laboratory etc. I can tell you, PhD is nothing but solving one big problem. It can be exciting, in new place, with reasonable resources and time for yourself. I had the opportunity to do a PhD in Florence, Italy. I learned Italian, travelled across Europe and published some good papers as well. Many IITD colleagues/faculty have similar stories to share.
PhD in Italy
In my final year at IITD, after some struggle, I had offers from two places: Florence Italy and Melbourne Australia. I chose my group in Florence because they were top researchers in Muscle physiology and secondly, I knew nothing about it. It was an experimental group, even building many of instruments on their own. I realized that if you want to discover something new you cannot buy instruments, you have to build it. So curiosity killed this cat as well.