We are back from our detour where we got to spend some time with Dr Kalbag’s vision for Indian school dropouts.
I am not surprised if you are still stunned, I too felt a strong urge to leave my secure home at Atlanta and move to spend sometime with this man, even if it was a short one.
The good news is I got to do that. I spent September 2002-Mar 2003 at his Vigyan Ashram, first learning the 3D Printing tools myself and then training the students there. Dr Kalbag asked me to teach them how to make money from using the 2D Plotter/Cutter. We together made number plates for automobile and 2-wheeler license plates. The amazing Dr Kalbag encouraged me and challenged me with a number of tasks:
- Can you get Wifi running on the entire campus? Answer: Yes
- Can you etch circuits on the Copper plates? Ans: Yes
- Can you replicate an Oscillator circuit and assemble the PCB? We use it for our ground-water level measuring instrument. Ans: I tried, but didn’t succeed due to some CnC accuracy limitations. I succeeded making an amplifier as well as a circuit to power a sunlight-powered switch to manage the office lighting with help from Viren – a whizkid on campus.
- Can you make a device fitted on water wells to provide real-time level readings? Ans: I didn’t have the skills to build this circuit but I asked around at IIT and MIT for help.
- Can you carve on surfaces outside copper and styrofoam? Ans: No, I tried wood, glass, marble, steel etc. The 1st generation Roland CnC machine did not give good results with these materials.
- Can you use the Intel digital microscope to detect blood groups (A+, AB+ etc.) from blood stains on slides? Ans: We tried but didn’t succeed as I couldn’t increase its magnification with what I had. Wish I had the skills to hack that microscope with more powerful lenses like those at MIT.
- Can you use your programming skills to learn StarLogo? Ans: Yes I can quickly do that. Good, can you animate stories that can teach moral to village kids. Ans: That is ideally done with animation tools. Starlogo is too basic and is meant to teach programming to young kids.
- A Belken UPS is not working, can you fix it? Ans: I could only check for continuity and not for components. I made friends with Arun, an IIT Madras alumnus staying in nearby Pune (2 hours away). He too did not succeed and we blew it up with fire inside the cabinet! Lesson: The live wire from a battery should never be left open, immediately shield it with insulation tape. If the wire touches anything else that is touching the ground (basically anything else) the battery would discharge instantly and short-circuit.
- We made a short film combining various photos with a background score from AR Rahman’s movie Earth(1947). This stirred a chord with both Kalbags (Srinath and Mira) and they included this in the presentations they showed visitors.
- Dr Kalbag would be interviewed by a host of interesting people, from journalists in the BBC to school teachers arriving in buses with groups of kids. The kids would see the weather-station, solar cookers, jeep-turned-tractor, food lab, health lab, Energy lab, Workshop, Animal enclosures, poultry enclosures and have a good time. For the children it was a picnic and a “Day of Science”.
Issac Chuang or Ike, was faculty at MIT arrived with his student Amy. Amy was equipped with EVERYTHING. She was prepared to live in a remote island! She had mosquito nets and repellents, gadgets to purify water, all kinds of tools, lighting equipment, tenting gear etc. She was a hand-on engineer and quick to identify and solve problems.
3D printed Copper Strip
Ike got us to document and complete the diesel tuning device Project. He would not waste any time at all. As the experiment was running, he already had typed in the first draft of his publication. The first screenshots were pasted directly into the publication. In my later 10 years at IIT Bombay, I did not notice any professor who was so quick to write their first draft. Was this how profs at MIT got their edge in publishing?
Dr Issac Chuang currently heads the Center for Ultra Cold Atoms at MIT. He has published the standard textbook for students in Quantum Computing.
When I met smart people like Dr Pradhan, Dr Kalbag, Dr Gershenfeld and Dr Chuang, I realized how insignificant my achievements had been. The sheer diversity of the projects they accomplish is breathtakingly inspiring. Quantum Computers are now turning commercial and are considered a futuristic business opportunity.