The following article, published in The Times of India covers the Harvard South Asia Institute Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning Program (B4), which aims to aims to build a scientific research corridor and will engage scientists from India and Harvard through exchange programs: 1) Science and Technology Fellowships at Harvard and other peer institutions in the Boston area. 2) A two-week Young Scientists Development Course in Bangalore. The program builds upon SAI’s Resonance Course on Neuroscience in 2013.
BANGALORE – Imagine a human brain controlling the movement of a prosthetic arm just like a real one or a robot with motor skills exactly similar to that of humans or a machine with 100% vision accuracy like that of humans. A bunch of 25 young students of technology is now learning the multidisciplinary dimensions of neuroscience at a two weeklong workshop in the city.
The Harvard South Asia Institute workshop seeks to introduce Indian undergraduates and postgraduates to the excitement of brain science. Interestingly, all participants are either from electrical, mechanical, chemical or software engineering backgrounds or are students of bioscience and are driven by an eagerness to know all about the brain.
Venki N Murthy, professor of molecular and cellular biology and director of undergraduate studies in neurobiology at Harvard University, and Laura Magnotti, advisor, neurobiology concentration at Harvard University, are conducting the workshop at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru.
Up to 5 Science and Technology Fellowships for 2016-17 will be offered in fields related to the biosciences at Harvard University and other institutions in the Boston area. During their time at Harvard and Boston area, Fellows will be connected with faculty across Harvard and other academic institutions in the Boston area as relevant to each Fellow’s area of research. SAI will organize seminars at Harvard for Fellows to discuss their research with the broader community at Harvard and beyond.
A Colloquium will be organized in India at the conclusion of the Fellowship where the Fellows will engage with Harvard faculty, Indian academics, and industry leaders and highlight what they have learned during their time in Boston/Cambridge.
Fellows are expected to reside in the Cambridge vicinity starting October 15th and to actively participate in the events and intellectual life of the Institute. In addition Fellows are expected to contribute to the greater Harvard community by teaching, mentoring, or advising students.
Stipend for one year: $36,000
Health insurance and round trip economy travel expenses to and from India and Boston will also be provided.
Deadline: August 15, 2016 for 2016 – 2017 (NEW deadline)
On Monday, August 17, the Harvard South Asia Institute launched the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition in Delhi, India. Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was on hand to launch the book with Harvard faculty, to a crowd of over 250 people at the Oberoi Hotel.
Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in any large-scale human gathering. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book consolidates research findings and serves as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.
Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, gave the introductory remarks, stating the book has produced a set of teaching tools, useful across the disciplines of public health, data science, architecture, urban planning, business, religion and culture. This was followed by a welcome address by Mr. Vikram Gandhi, a member of the SAI Advisory Council and the managing director and global head of the Financial Institutions Group at Credit Suisse.
“How can you possibly not be excited to study what the brain does?” This is what Professor Venkatesh Murthy, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard, asked viewers across South Asia at SAI’s second webinar of the semester on Friday, March 14.
Using video conference technology provided by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), 15 universities in South Asia participated in the interactive session about the importance of studying neuroscience. Because everything we do comes down to the brain, the field has implications not just for science, but for all disciplines, Professor Murthy explained.
Murthy explained that the brain is incredibly complex. With 100 billion neurons, there are many things scientists still have to learn about the brain. Looking at just one area of the brain is like saying, “I know what the entire city is doing on a whole by looking at just one person.” We should think of how the brain works as a world wide web network: many computers talking to each other in a complex language.
Murthy predicted that in the next 100 years, we will see many advances in neuroscience. He explained that the brain’s ability to make sense of chaos can help us learn how to create things like machines and other technologies. For example, creators of Facebook’s facial recognition software can take inspiration from how the brain processes visual images. The growing field of big data can also learn from how the brain processes large amounts of information.
What role does engineering education play in our modern society? According to Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, engineering is crucial to a well-rounded society.
On Thursday, February 27, SAI hosted its first webinar of the semester, titled ‘Societal Grand Challenges and the role of Engineering Education in the 21st Century’ with Professor Narayanamurti, who described engineering as “the ultimate liberal art” because of its role as a linking discipline.
Using videoconference software provided by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), 15 sites in South Asia were able to participate live and interact with Narayanamurti. Viewers were also able to watch the webinar live on SAI’s website, and submit questions via Facebook and Twitter.
Narayanamurti started by describing the importance of engineering at leading universities like Harvard, saying that “we want renaissance engineers who not only know how things work, but how the world works.” He explained that all of the major accomplishments throughout history have happened because of engineering, and the economic impact of engineering is huge. “Engineering underpins the economy,” he said.
By Jaganath Sankaran, Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School and Bharath Gopalaswamy, Deputy Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.
Sankaran and Gopalswamy spoke at the SAI and Asia Center Seminar ‘China-India Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality?’ on Wednesday, February 26, 2014.
The space exploration agenda of China and India have progressed rapidly in the last decade spanning from human spaceflight to missions to the Moon and Mars. Their growing economies have made it possible to fund these programs at the level not conceivable before thereby stimulating the scientific community in both states to be more ambitious. The Indian Mars orbiter mission, for example, is the first by an Asian nation to successfully launch an orbiter on a path to the red planet—a feat accomplished only by the United States, Russia, and Europe. Similarly, China has been developing advanced capabilities of human space flight with the potential construction of a future manned space station —a feat accomplished only by the most advanced nations.
Noticeably, these advances have been accompanied by a desire to engage in space diplomacy—a “soft power” approach to obtain political concessions from other countries by limited sharing of space technology and launch services. China, in particular, has more aggressively used its civilian space capabilities to garner favorable political outcomes. It has, for example, formed and led the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) consisting of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand and Turkey. China later donated a small satellite, the HJ-A/ Small Multi Mission Satellite (SMMS), to APSCO for its member nations to engage in space-based environmental monitoring.
With support from several SAI grants, Ishani Premaratne, Harvard College ‘15, along with her twin sister, Inesha Premaratne, Harvard College ‘15, and their Harvard classmate Casimira Karunaratne, Harvard College ’15, formed GrowLanka to address this gap and empower women through employment.
In order to reduce high unemployment rates, GrowLanka developed a mobile job alert system that gives employers a direct line of access to job seekers, primarily women.
SAI talked to Ishani, who was in Sri Lanka during the winter academic session, about the organization and its future:
SAI: What problem were you trying to address with GrowLanka?
Ishani: GrowLanka started when my twin sister, Inesha and I were taking a social entrepreneurship class our freshmen year, which is also the year that the Harvard i-Lab was opening. We both came in knowing that we were interested in Sri Lanka, knowing that the civil war had recently ended in 2009. We knew we wanted to do something to help but didn’t necessarily know how or how to approach that.
So, we started looking specifically to the population of war widows in Sri Lanka, which is particularly high in the region. It was post-civil war, and a lot of these women had to support their children. They also had to work, which not a lot of them had been doing. So we identified that as our main problem area: How do we connect these women to a source of employment?
Ultimately, we developed GrowLanka, which is an SMS system that connects employers with these war widows directly, and basically gives them an alert when there’s a new job opportunity available.
With the help of SAI, The Medical Innovation for Low-Resource Global Markets program has become a successful program for both Harvard students and the South Asia region. Conor Walsh, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, helped start the project-oriented, multidisciplinary initiative in 2012. The program provides students with the opportunity to spend a summer in India, and collaborate with local students and healthcare workers to address clinical needs by creating low-cost medical technology. The core philosophy of the program is that if students, from both science and social sciences, want to understand how to innovate in a low-resource setting, they must spend time on the ground in the region, interacting with people involved. This allows them to understand the social, economic, and technological context in which innovation can take place.
The program began in summer of 2012 with an Omidyar Grant from SAI. The team traveled to Bangalore, where they worked in clinics and hospitals to understand the problems being faced in the region. The team identified a problem related to cataract surgery: the tools that were being used were very rudimentary and difficult to use. The Harvard team identified the need for a low-cost tool that can cut capsules during surgery, and a SEAS student was able to develop a tool further to assist with this problem
Based on the success of the first program, 5 more Harvard students from different disciplines went to Banagalore in 2013. This program was also made possible through the support of the President’s Innovation Fund for International Experiences. The students were based at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) with Professor B. Gurumoorthy. They also collaborated with other engineering students from Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing. The students spent four weeks visiting hospitals and health centers throughout the Karnataka region to observe procedures and interview clinicians, eventually focusing on problems faced by staff at rural clinics. They spent six weeks designing a prototype low-cost manual suction device to be used in the clinics and developed further by the IISc.
On most weekends the students were able to travel outside of Bangalore to sites of cultural and historical significance. These trips included visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the monuments at Hampi and the Taj Mahal, cities including Mumbai and New Delhi, and the Kerala region. The students participated in an immersion program organized by SAI. This presented the opportunity to meet other Harvard students working in India, and learn about other initiatives to tackle social, economic and health issues in the region.
Overall, the success of the last two summer programs has begun the process of bringing together students, faculty, innovators, and clinicians in the US and India. Because of Harvard’s global ties and diverse schools, and focus on innovation, the program is able to benefit not only Harvard students and faculty but patients in the region as well.
By Amy Kalia
The students had set the tone in the first two days. Contrary to my expectations, we were not dealing with a timid group who would soak in our words without question. We were not going to get away so easily. The students have used every opportunity to ask questions, make speculations, and offer critiques of what we present to them, often starting with the phrase, “Sir, I have a doubt…” The conversations are not limited to the classroom, but rather continue during tea breaks, walks back to the guesthouse, and over meals. These enthusiastic minds never hesitate to squeeze in one more query… “How is binocular vision processed in the brain?” “Why do people who have epileptic seizures not remember what happened during the seizure?” “I think this method of measuring acuity does not account for the distortions that arise when you measure acuity the other way.” I think I speak for the rest of the teaching staff when I say that we are thrilled by this unmeasured curiosity! This is how learning is supposed to happen!