Prof Amit Agrawal, Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay), has been awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This award recognises his outstanding contributions to the area of Fluid Mechanics including experimental, theoretical and numerical work in Microfluidic Devices.
The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize (SSB) is the most coveted award in Science and Technology in the country. It is named after the founder Director of CSIR, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar and consists of Rs 5,00,000 prize money and a citation plaque. “Winning the award gave me one of the most satisfying feelings ever as it helps validate our approach and efforts”, says an elated Prof. Agrawal. “This would not have happened without the unstinting support of my family and the hard work of the students in my research group. I would, therefore, like to dedicate the award to them”, he adds.
Prof. Agrawal’s work encompasses the areas of microfluidics and turbulent flows, in the broader realm of fluid dynamics. Microfluidics is the study of the flow of fluids through small channels less than a millimetre in size, and turbulent flows deals with the time-varying pattern of fluid motion characterised by chaotic changes in pressure and velocity.
Along with his students, Prof. Agrawal is using his theoretical and experimental knowledge of fluid dynamics to solve some intriguing problems.
“Flow problems are everywhere—the flow of blood inside us, the flow of air around us, weather modelling and other industrial applications. In our work, we are trying to go beyond the classical mathematical equations that describe the motion of viscous fluids (the Navier-Stokes equations) and derive equations that apply to high-altitude flying aircraft, gas flow in microchannels, and other high Knudsen number flow situations”, explains Prof. Agrawal. “Theoretical fluid dynamics is the backbone of fluid dynamics as it gives the equations required for the solution of fluid flow problems”, he adds.
The research group of Prof. Agrawal have developed several microdevices for biological applications. For example, they have built a simple, coin-sized device to separate plasma from blood without the need of an entire laboratory. This approach is more accurate, easier to use and faster compared to techniques that use a centrifuge. The microdevice, licensed to Embryyo Biomicrodevices Pvt Ltd, a Pune based startup, won the Longitude Prize Discovery Award from Nesta, UK, and it is now being commercialised through this startup. They have also developed other state-of-the-art innovative microdevices to maintain constant temperature needed for working with biological samples, and another microdevice for three-dimensional focusing of cells in order to study the properties of these cells.
Prof. Agrawal and his team have also worked on synthetic jet and microchannels for cooling of electronic devices. A synthetic jet is a turbulent stream of air that is alternately sucked into and ejected from a small hole by moving a diaphragm. This pulsating nature of the jet of air needs very little input power but helps in achieving a good amount of local cooling. Microchannel-based cooling devices, on the other hand, involve flow of water (or another refrigerant) in micron-sized passages, and removes heat from a hot surface due to its increased surface area to volume ratio.
Other simulation-based studies from Prof. Agrawal’s team include studying how objects immersed in a fluid affect each other—a situation relevant to a group of flying birds or aircrafts. So far, his research work has translated into more than 150 articles published in peer-reviewed international journals and about a dozen patents. Apart from supervising more than 20 PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and project staff, Prof. Agrawal also serves on the Editorial Board of three prestigious journals. He is also the elected Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE) and the National Academy of Sciences India (NASI).