Welcome to Future Tech Interview Series.
It is a series of delightful & interactive sessions with eminent scientists, scholars and leaders, who all make a difference in the area of their work.
Below is the presentation of a part of an interesting interaction of Alpana Saha with Dr Rashmi Sharma, Scientist-E, Department of Science and Technology (DST).
Dr Rashmi Sharma is steering Scheme for Young Scientists and Technologists (SYST), for nurturing and mentoring young researchers willing to provide Science and Technology (S&T) driven solutions to challenges pertaining to society, apart from managing various other initiatives of DST. SYST was revived, reenergized and rejuvenated in 2015 through her vision and concerted efforts to harness critical and innovative thinking of young researchers for the benefit of the society.
What kind of encouragement do you provide to young scientists through your scheme?
Dr Sharma. Under SYST, young scientists and technologists are encouraged to submit Research and Development (R&D) proposals for action oriented adaptive research in the area of Health, Nutrition, Agriculture, Water, Energy and Engineering primarily to enhance quality-of-life particularly of underprivileged section of the society. Although formulating proposals with societal orientation is a challenging task, the Expert Committee of SYST comprising eminent scientists and technologists assume the role of mentors and provide the requisite driving force to those who have presented brilliant ideas and support them to steer it in right direction.
Who all can apply for under SYST?
Dr Sharma. The applicant should possess at least Masters Degree but preferably a PhD in any S&T stream. We are open to innovative and novel ideas. As the scheme is to encourage young researchers, the age limit for applicant is 35 years. However, Women, Divyangjan and those belonging to SC/ST/OBC category are given relaxation of 5 years. The applicants not in regular position needs to align themselves with an Academic Institution, University, S & T based reputed Voluntary Organization with minimum 5 years in existence for implementation of S&T projects. These organizations must extend all necessary facilities for smooth execution of the project.
What is the application process of this scheme?
Dr Sharma. Applications are invited through Open Call generally given in the month of February or March every year at DST website www.dst.gov.in. Applicants are required to create a login ID and password at http://onlinedst.gov.in. Once login ID and password is created, applicant can submit the soft copy of the proposal after the link becomes active.
How technology based solutions could be used to solve societal challenges?
Dr Sharma. With India’s changing socio-economic conditions and rising aspiration of young and old alike, the role of emerging technologies is extremely important for social empowerment. It is envisaged that the ecosystem of need-based technology identification and development needs to be strengthened further with the involvement of youth. Future technologies could play an important role to solve the challenges/issues pertaining to society. For example, these technologies could be used to bring down the cost of medical treatment, timely detection of diseases, serve vehicle for education purpose, enhance crop production through various automated agriculture related processes, etc. These technologies will bring more prospects to those who are willing to learn and exploit it to the maximum.
How many proposals you have funded recently under SYST and how many of these are related to future technologies?
Dr Sharma. Earlier, DST used to receive 10-12 project ideas under SYST in one year. However, after its revival in 2015, now 700-800 proposals are received under ‘Call for Proposals’ every year. A substantial shift has been observed in nature of proposals submitted as well. In last four years, DST had funded 164 projects to cater to various needs of the society. Almost 30% of the proposals funded in the current year are in the area of upcoming technologies.
What is your suggestion to the youth of the nation?
Dr Sharma. All of us are aware that young researchers are the backbone of the scientific ecosystem globally and therefore, their knowledge capital and energy reservoir should be tapped and utilized towards nation building. My suggestion to these youngsters will be to think out-of-the box and try infusion of technologies to address challenges pertaining to society. In the process of serving the society through science, you might have to break the barriers and interact with experts in different areas. Also, do not hesitate to take opinion and suggestions of the stakeholders. Serving society and bringing smile on the face of people at ground level definitely makes your day and gives you immense satisfaction. The canvas of the society is limitless and you have to let your imagination fly.
How India can harness the benefit of these future technologies for its development?
Dr Sharma. Future technologies have no limitations and could be applied to almost every situations of life. India should aim towards enhancing the skill-sets of youth and faculty in the upcoming area of future technologies such as Geospatial Technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI), AR/VR, Stem cell therapy, etc for its holistic development and to be technological leader in the world. Cross border collaborations in these new age technologies such as AI and Machine Learning with world leaders to exchange knowledge, best practices and develop solutions for social and economic challenges can support and accelerate development of India.
What DST is doing through various schemes/programmes to promote Artificial Intelligence research in the country?
Dr Sharma. India being a data rich country, DST is promoting R&D in the area of Big Data eventually leading to Artificial Intelligence. DST had organized various Faculty Development Programs on High Performance Computing (HPC), Hackathon on Application of Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) to create ecosystem for data analytics and computing. India has agreed to collaborate with UK and Korea for ‘Cyber Physical System ‑ Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things focused on agriculture, energy, water, transportation, etc. DST is supporting R&D projects to individual researchers, multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary consortium based/cluster mode networks in following areas:
- Interdisciplinary Cyber Physical Systems Research (ICPSR)
- Data Science Research (DSR), Internet of Things Research (IoTR)
- Cyber Security Research (CSR)
- Indian Heritage in Digital Space (IHDS)
- Epidemiology Data & Analytics (EDA)
Where do you see India in 2025 in relation to all future technologies?
Dr Sharma. India was the most sought after country globally in the area of Information Technology (IT). Similarly, it is envisaged that if we augment our skill sets and enhance the participation of youth in future technologies with adequate infrastructure in education and R&D, India could be a future leader. Currently, India is at third position in the area of Artificial Intelligence in terms of quantity of publication. However, with knowledge based public-private partnership we should strive to achieve first ranking in terms of quantity as well as quality.