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Prof. Giridhar Madras: studying chemical reactions

Prof. Giridhar Madras, a Professor  in the Chemical Engineering Department of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), is an expert in the field of reaction kinetics.

His group in IISc works on reaction kinetics, the study of rates of chemical reactions in various systems and processes.  Reactions between chemical compounds are dependent on a variety of environmental factors as well as active participants of the reactions. This area of study involves varying some of these parameters while keeping others constant in order to gauge their influence on the speed of reactions. This is especially useful in trying to find the rates at which plastics degrade and how they can be made to degrade faster to save the environment.  “I primarily study reactions at normal pressures, at high pressures (supercritical fluids), at high temperatures (catalytic reactions for energy and environmental applications) and between large molecules (polymers),” he explains.

After graduating from Annamalai University with a Bachelor’s degree, he worked his way to a Masters from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He then completed his PhD from Texas A & M University in the USA. He continued his post-doctoral research in the University of California, Davis.

His motivation to succeed stemmed from his childhood and rural background. “We were from a very poor family and we had to struggle a lot. Education was not an option for me, it was  a necessity,” narrates Prof. Giridhar. “ I wasn’t sure if I would eat tomorrow. Education was my only hope.”

Prof. Giridhar has worked on 24 projects during his tenure at the Indian Institute of Science.  One of his projects is on reactions between macromolecules. Reactions concerning macromolecules (long chain polymers/plastics) are extremely important to understand for application towards environmental safety. His group studies the degradation of plastics for reuse and recycling. “We have developed continuous distribution kinetic models to determine the rate parameters and the activation energies for polymer degradation from the time evolution of the molecular weight distributions,” he adds. “The future of the plastic industry depends on its ability to synthesize biodegradable polymers of the required strength and durability. We have developed new methods to synthesize these biodegradable polymers.”

Another of his projects includes catalytic reactions. Catalysts speed up reaction rates and also make some otherwise difficult reactions possible. “In this regard, we have synthesized new materials that work as catalysts for the degradation of a wide variety of dyes and organics that are common pollutants in waste water. We have also developed new catalysts that will significantly reduce air pollution,” says Prof. Madras.

To study reaction kinetics, his group uses analytical equipment such as spectrometers, gas chromatographs, scanning electron microscopes, and other  high-end, state-of-the-art physical and thermal characterization equipment . Understanding the properties of the reaction products also provides an insight into the chemical processes that take place.

Prof. Giridhar Madras remarks that he hasn’t taken a break for vacation for the past fifteen years. “I found my inspiration in my field and in research after I came back to India and started to work in IISc. I was introduced to people like Dr. C.N.R. Rao and my other colleagues here who have a tireless enthusiasm for their research. Their work attitude and ethic was infectious and inspiring. I am happy to have come back to India because India educated me. I was supported by government scholarships throughout and it is my duty to give back to my country now. I feel India is one of the best places in the world and I am very proud to be an Indian.” says Prof. Giridhar Madras.

Prof. Giridhar has several awards to his name. He is the recipient of the J.C. Bose award, the S.S. Bhatnagar Award as well as the Swarnajayanthi Fellowship Award, which are the country’s highest awards for science and engineering. Internationally, he has also been ranked as among the top 1% of all scientists in the world. “You don’t work for these awards. If you don’t get it, it does not make  much difference. The enjoyment is in the journey and not the destination. If you don’t enjoy the path you walk on, then you only think of the goal and maybe lose out on that as well,” adds Dr. Giridhar, “I deeply care for my students and junior colleagues, and if they do well, some of that happiness comes to me. That is my greatest award.”

Prof. Giridhar has a reputation as a great teacher. “Research is exciting for me because of my students. If I am able inspire my students, then it its exciting,especially when my students have discovered something new. I believe that in science, we will always find something new. The results of most of our experiments are almost always surprising. Students motivate me to do well and if they benefit from my teaching, it is the best inspiration” he adds.

In addition to scientific research, he also reads and translates Sanskrit literature, writes a popular blog, maintain a website that answers questions for prospective faculty who want to return to India. He believes that if you listen to your inner calling and have passion for what you do, you will always find time to do that and be successful in that.

Contact information:

Prof. Giridhar Madras

Phone : +91-80-2293 2321

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