Learn more about the journal's Deputy Editor, Professor Vivek Ranade, and what inspires his research in this exclusive interview.
ACS Engineering Au launched in January 2021. This broad-scope open access journal provides chemical and allied engineers as well as applied chemists with a high-quality outlet for their research if they want to publish open access or if their funder requires them to do so.
So, Vivek – what drew you to chemical and process engineering?
It may be hard to believe, however, I had not met any chemical engineers before I took a chemical engineering course at UDCT (now called the Institute of Chemical Technology), Mumbai. Soon after entering UDCT, I felt really happy that I had chosen chemical engineering – credit goes to my teachers at UDCT, particularly to Professor MM Sharma. He and his love for the chemical engineering profession made profound impressions. My Ph.D. mentor, Professor JB Joshi introduced me to the rich world of multiphase flows and multiphase reactors. I really got interested in developing an ability to deliver materials and energy at the right place and at the right time in chemical reactors so as to maximize performance and productivity. The fondness towards the chemical engineering profession cultivated by the likes of Professors MM Sharma and JB Joshi, combined with an inherent interest in mathematical modeling, drew me to chemical engineering research. I started my independent research at National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, in 1990 and have enjoyed my work since then. At NCL, I got an opportunity to work closely with many industries. That revealed the power and potential of chemical engineering research to influence the well-being of people and the planet, which continues to keep me glued to it. I am sure that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
What were the biggest challenges for you in developing a research career?
As I mentioned earlier, I started my research at NCL in 1990. Soon after that, there was a financial crisis in India (post-1991) which severely affected research funding. That was a significant challenge for a young researcher like me who was looking to establish a new research group. NCL’s then Director, Dr. RA Mashelkar, made conscious efforts to seek research collaborations with global multinationals. That gave us a great fillip and forced us to step out of our comfort zones, leading to many collaborative projects with industry. On the shoulders of those projects, I was able to establish focused research on flow modeling and multiphase reactors. That research led to the foundation of the first start-up company from NCL – Tridiagonal Solutions in 2006. The other biggest challenge I faced was in 2010. I was leading Tridiagonal Solutions then while on leave from NCL. I decided to pass on the leadership of Tridiagonal Solutions and return to NCL. I wanted to make a fresh start and change my research focus from the previous two decades. It was really challenging to move away from the established area and venture into the new one. It took me some time to evaluate various options and eventually to redirect and refocus energy and efforts on the development of MAGIC (modular, agile, intensified, and continuous) processes. In hindsight, it turned out to be quite appropriate; it led to new fluidic devices, patents, and processes that were transferred to industry. However, it was quite a challenging time in 2010. Another challenge I may mention is at the time I moved to UK/ Ireland from NCL in 2016. At NCL, I was accustomed to writing short proposals to the industry. Unlike industry, research funding agencies in UK, Ireland, and Europe require elaborate proposals not only describing technical work but also its impact, training and dissemination, and many other aspects. It was quite a challenge to learn the tricks and techniques of writing proposals suitable for these new (to me) funding agencies at that stage of my research career!
Do you have any tips for aspiring researchers to help them develop their careers?
A research career is a lifelong process, and it doesn’t stop after office hours. So, choose your research interests not because they are hot topics of your times, but they fascinate you as a scientist. While I say this, it is essential to identify important problems in your research space and cultivate a genuine interest in addressing those important problems. Quite often, researchers develop specialized competencies, tools, and experiences; and search for relevant problems which may be solved with their specialized competencies. It is often more rewarding to identify important problems which need to be solved and approach them with whatever is needed to solve them, even if it is outside your comfort zone. That is an opportunity to learn new skills and to initiate new collaborations. Another tip I would like to give is to pay adequate attention to aspects of research other than the specific technical field – researchers involved in the research project, their well-being, training, and career path; dissemination and application of research carried out using public funds; potential impact on science, economy, and society; and outreach activities. These aspects and the ability to articulate your approach are not only important for writing proposals to funding agencies but also are foundational for developing a productive and fulfilling research career.
What does open science mean for you as a researcher?
Open science means different things to different people. It generally means sharing the research process and results as early as possible and without restriction on use. It, however, spans the broad range from open access to even eliminating the use of restrictive IP, such as patents. In academia, the current discussion on open science is centered on how and when publications and data should be made available to the public. Everyone generally agrees that it is better for everyone involved in the research if the results are made available as soon as possible. The real debate is on who pays for the real costs associated with publishing. I feel that the costs of publishing results are not significant compared with the cost of obtaining the research results and, therefore, should be borne by the agencies funding the research as a part of research costs. That will allow access to research results to everyone interested in it. I grew up in India and cannot emphasize enough the need and potential benefits of having open access to research findings. I believe that open access to research findings will foster genuine and global partnerships among universities, governments, industry, and the general public, which are needed to solve complex engineering problems related to the well-being and prosperity of people (healthcare, food and nutrition, water,) and planet (climate change, sustainable energy).
As the Deputy Editor of ACS Engineering Au, what are you looking for in a paper?
I am looking for manuscripts presenting exciting and significant advances in chemical engineering, applied chemistry, and energy that cover fundamentals, processes, and products. Experimental and computational research that pushes the boundaries of the current state of the art (in terms of understanding as well as technology) and generates new possibilities is most welcome. I generally look whether the manuscript (a) is of interest to a broad applied chemistry/chemical engineering audience; (b) summarizes the current state of the art in the field of study, identifies the novel contribution in the manuscript, and brings out the importance of the advance to the field of study; (c) the results are generalized and can be applied to other systems than that specifically reported in the manuscript. Besides manuscripts reporting original research, I am also looking forward to receiving perspectives and reviews that critically comment on the state of the art and outline the pathways for future research.
Finally, if we could grant you one superpower: what would it be, and why?
I would like to get an ability to fully concentrate on an object (may that be physical, biological, or just even a thought) and achieve the state of “Samadhi” as described in the science of yoga. This ability will allow complete understanding and comprehension of the true nature of that object and unite with it (as is the meaning of ‘yoga’). Heisenberg has said somewhere that “What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” The ability to achieve “Samadhi” is equivalent to gaining an infinitely powerful method of questioning. Such a method of questioning will transcend definitions such as reductionist – holistic, resolution – span, inward – outward, physical – psychological, and so on. Achieving complete understanding by acquiring such a method of questioning and harnessing that understanding for enhancing life and the universe around you is an ultimate superpower.