by Veronica Garabelli
Virginia Tech decided not to wait around when it came to laying the foundation for research projects in India.
The university wants to set up a graduate campus in Chennai in southeast India. When Tech encountered delays in getting regulatory approval, however, school officials decided to establish a research center instead.
“We are waiting for a foreign university bill to clear through the Indian parliament before we can start a campus,” says Roop Mahajan, director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech, which will oversee the 6,000-square-foot research center in India. “In the meantime, we are starting with a research center which does not require that bill.”
The facility will be Virginia Tech’s largest research center abroad. The school will pay $1.5 million over three years to cover the center’s operating costs, and a private-sector partner, MARG Swarnabhoomi, is spending $1.8 million for a laboratory build-out.
The research center’s first area of study will be alternative energy sources, which Virginia Tech hopes to use first in India and then worldwide. “There’s a need in a developing country like India to have a low-cost energy resource,” says Mahajan. “We are thinking of having a hybrid system of solar and wind energy so you can extract energy at low costs, which can then be available to rural communities, which will help them to become vibrant and healthy.”
Chennai, which has a population of more than 4 million people, is known for its involvement in science, technology and the automotive industry. Mahajan says the city is a practical place to develop alternative-energy technology. Situated on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, Chennai gets plenty of sunshine and wind, enabling the center to test wind turbines and solar panels.
According to Virginia Tech, the windmills currently cost less than $1,000 each to produce. They use a blade developed at the university that achieves greater than normal aerodynamic performance. The solar panels involve a paint process that Tech says might one day be easily mass-produced. Mahajan says Tech has plans to expand its research in India into other areas, including nanotechnology and cloud computing.
Currently Virginia Tech has smaller overseas research centers in China and Germany.
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