When ‘People’s Scientist’ Dr Somnath propelled aspiring engineers

When ‘People’s Scientist’ Dr Somnath propelled young engineers
Dr S Somnath, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.

Kothamangalam: Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) Director Dr S Somnath proved yet again why he is often been referred to as the ‘People’s Scientist’ among scientific and academic circles.

His talk at the just-concluded two-day National Conference on Innovative Practices in Civil Engineering, held at Mar Baselios Institute of Technology and Science (MBITS) here, was laced with wit and wisdom.

Over 500 budding engineers, majority from the civil stream, and subject experts from various other branches of engineering were part of the event, organised in association with NIT Warangal.

“I am a Mechanical engineer and now I don’t know which branch I belong to after working in Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for so many years and being involved with so many missions. Today, my strength is in structural engineering, but I am also an electrical engineer, an electronics engineer,” Dr Somnath began his inimitable speech, capturing the imagination of the audience.

Passion is the key

He said civil engineers played a big role they often took lessons from the nature.

“Civil engineering used to be the classical stream and other branches came later. Civil refers to people and it is meant for serving the mankind. Earlier days when you said you are an engineer, it certainly meant civil. I have been always fascinated by the way civil engineers looked at solving problems,” Dr Somnath, one of top aerospace scientists in India, said.

He said innovation is an incremental progress of work that has come to every streams of engineering.

“Innovation is not discovery. It is incremental improvement of what we are doing today; to bring about better quality, lower cost, faster processes, lesser labour to people and longevity of product,” Dr Somnath said.

When ‘People’s Scientist’ Dr Somnath propelled young engineers

He said as tomorrow's torchbearers, it is important that the youth of India possess abundance of passion in every step of their lives.

“As young engineers, your ability to explore, innovate and take challenges head-on will open up exciting vistas of learning. Every technology you develop must propel nation-development. You must not shy away from swiftly adapting to the needs of changing times. Engineers are the solution-providers to the needs of mankind,” Dr Somnath said.

IISc role pivotal

He said his stint at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), while doing his Masters, was much-rewarding as it opened up new windows to learning.

“Process of learning, collecting information and linking it with the Physics of problem is what we were taught at IISc, Bangalore. After my Masters at IISc, as an engineer I stared looking at problems differently. It changed my life. You need to have the courage to face a problem and then find a solution, whatever it takes,” he said.

He said engineers must listen to different areas and must keep their eyes and ears open.

“One life is not enough to read and understand everything. So, enjoy what you are doing with full passion. Never limit yourself to the syllabus. If you are a civil engineer, there’s nothing wrong in having an eye for little bit of electronics, mechanical and automobile branches. It will improve your civil engineering skills,” Dr Somnath said.

Broader Engineers

He wanted the engineers also to develop an aptitude to understand things in every domain of engineering. He wanted them to widen their expertise and become a ‘broader engineers’ than engineers with ‘narrow’ focus.

He shared the story of how he and his team gave birth to GSLV Mk-3, the heaviest ever-built by ISRO.

“When I was a Project Director with GSLV Mk-3 at VSSC, I was tasked to write the project report in 2002. We had the drawings and a project report on an A-4 size paper. And, after 12 years later, the rocket was at the launch-pad ready to fly. It is like a child taking birth,” Dr Somnath said, with the energised engineers cheering his speech all the way.

Interestingly, GSLV Mk-3’s first operational mission is scheduled in July this year, when is is expected to lift off with three Chandrayaan-2 modules (an orbitor, lander and rover).

When ‘People’s Scientist’ Dr Somnath propelled young engineers

“Your dreams will become a reality one day. The images in your mind can take a powerful shape one day. Remember the power of your dreams,” Dr Somnath said.

He said the engineering journey of ideas taking firm shape as an object from a mere sketch is fascinating.

“This period when your paper dreams take shape to real objects of nation-building is the most exciting time. The job of the engineer is to envision, plan and execute. This is your assignment and your destiny. Become a whole engineer and ring in new ideas for tomorrow,” Dr Somnath concluded.

Speaking to Onmanorama, Prof P Sojan Lal, Principal, MBITS, said that Dr Somnath’s speech inspired the youngsters.

“It was like listening to former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. The talk was so engrossing and it touched everyone. The science of engineering cannot be better explained and Dr Somnath did exactly the same, true to his growing image as a People’s Scientist,” Prof Sojan said.

During his interaction with the students of various engineering streams, Dr Somnath also examined various exhibits that were put on display including a converted electric car, a golf-cart fitted with solar panels, an electric bike and a robot meant for possible military application.

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