Straight from the Researcher

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Prof. Dhiraj Bora

Prof. Dhiraj Bora is the Director of the Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gandhinagar. Prior to this appointment, Dr. Bora was a Deputy Director General and Director at ITER International Organization, Cadarache, France. After completing his Masters degree in Experimental Physics from Moscow, USSR in 1975, he joined the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) from where he completed his Ph. D. in 1979. Since then, for more than three decades now, he has been active in research in the field of Plasma Physics and fusion science and technology, first at PRL and then at IPR, Gandhinagar. Dr. Bora has been a member of several Indian delegations to IAEA Fusion Research Meetings. He is a member of the International Advisory Committee of the IAEA – Technical Meeting and a member of the SSOG group. He had been a member of the C16 Commission on Plasma Physics of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). Presently he is a member of the Indian delegation to the ITER Governing Council.

DDU Connect team had an opportunity to interview Prof. Dhiraj Bora and here are some excerpts from the interview:

1) How will you differentiate research in India and abroad in terms of methodologies and technological?

“Our understanding usually is that advanced nations have high technical background therefore they do things in a more precise way. I was in ITER as Deputy Director General for almost six years and I was taking care of three fairly sensitive areas- Control System, Heating and Diagnostics of ITER Plasma. During those years I saw that,it is always not very easy to think about solutions to problems in a simple way but we Indians always try to first think in a very simple way. I think there is definitely a gain by interacting with the west not only for us, but even for them. I think there are differences between us and the west; the advanced and the developing countries.”

2) What can we as students do to come at par with the western countries of the world in terms of technology?

“I would say that the students in India are equally bright as the students of the west if not more. I think the knowledge that is available from the Internet is very much beneficial. We can probably be at par with the western students in many of the areas where gaining knowledge through information and the applicability is more in terms of software. But there is one difference between the students here and abroad. In abroad, many students take a lay off from studies before they come in to a graduation or post-graduation programme; they go and work in industries or elsewhere which gives them experience and confidence which we lack to some extent. Otherwise our students, I would say are at par.”

3) You have worked as a professor and a project leader here at IPR. What all changes have you observed during that period?

“I have seen a lot of changes. In our time we did not have many of the high tech facilities. Therefore we had to learn in a real difficult way. But nowadays students takemany of these tasksfor granted. I think that is the biggest difference I find between the younger and the older people. But of course, they have other plus points like they can do things faster using other expertise which we did not have.”

4) What inspired you to pursue your career in the field of Plasma Research?

“ My family wanted me to go for the civil services. I went to study in a public school and then to Delhi University to do Physics Honours and after a couple of years I realized that I would like to continue research in physics as my future career. I went to Moscow and finished my post-graduation there. I was searching for a topic on which I could do my Ph.D. Those days, fusion energy research had made spectacular advances in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Since I was there at that time, I decided to join research in the field of plasma science.Then I came to PRL and I built a magnetic mirror device during my Ph. D thesis. But those days we didn’t have too many technical help in many of the areas. In fact, I more or less built many of the large subsystems independently and did some good experiments.”

5) Can you tell us more about the technical programmes offered by IPR to the undergraduate students?

“We have about 75 students doing different projects of different durations. B.Tech and M.Tech students come and do projects, even, one year projects. Apparently the IPR name helps them later and do some original work. We also have the National Fusion Programme, where we have some fellowships. Students come here and work for more than a year and then they couple the same project with their M.Tech, B.Tech or even M.S. And of course, we have our most popular programme, the summer school for 35-50 students of the final year of their degree. Even after 12th standard, we have students who come here in summer and do some work. In about 5 years we did around 100 projects under the National Fusion Programme.” Some of the colleges send their interested bright one to interact with our faculties during the whole year and some of them do good experiments and learn a lot.

We take regular Ph. D. students in plasma science and technology related areas. We have a Technical Training Programme for science and engineering graduates. After successful completion of the course, we induct them into our programmes. 

6) Recently gravitational waves are in great discussion and IPR is one the 3 leading institutes in the LIGO India project. What role is IPR going to play in this project?

“Till now we were not very active in this area. We have come into picture when it came to building the detector because we have the expertise of building seemingly high volume ultra-high vacuum systems. We have the capability of building very large structures also. It is IUCAA’s responsibility to finalize the land, give it to us and we will build the infrastructure for the detector. It will be again a very special lab which should have a very clean atmosphere and should be isolated seismically. Finally supervisory control is required as this detector is almost vibration free with real feedback control loops and very sophisticated infrastructure. In the detector sometimes you’ll have extremely small signals where you’ll certainly have to use the pre-amplifiers to detect and analyze it. Up to this point the process will be carried out by the LASER experts. So they will do the maintenance and operation of the LASER and transfer the data to the control system. And then we have to take the signal from there which will be gigabytes of data; collect it and send it to the central computer facility at IUCAA, Pune. Our main effort will be to build the infrastructure. Then we’ll have to build all the ultrahigh vacuum systems; we have started some prototyping and R&D for the same”

7) Sir what impact will gravitational waves have on gravitational physics?

“The whole new area of astronomy has come in. As far as physics is concerned, the gravitational wave is another stamp on the Theory of General Relativity. But this space-time curvature will now bring in a lot, actually the moment you see or hear things from this field of astronomy you’ll have to interpret it. I think it has given a big boost for the next decades. People will switch over to gravitational waves and astronomy which will definitely give us more of insight into the origin of the universe as well.”

8) Can you tell our student readers about some of the current projects going on in IPR?

“In India, IPR is the only institute where we are dealing with research in the field of magnetically confined fusion. IPR has a large experimental plasma research programme with two working ‘ Tokamaks’, ADITYA and SST-1. We have a strong research programme in theory and simulations. Basic plasma experimental programme is a training ground for our research scholars. We also have technology oriented R&D of many crucial areas in which materials is one of our main focus. We are trying to coat different materials with tungsten as it is the final material which will face the plasma in a fusion machines presently. 

But I think we should be relevant to the society keeping in mind the present needs.So we have developed many technologies which could be transferred to the industry for societal benefits. For this we have created a special division called the Facilitation Centre for Industrial Plasma Technology (FCIPT) in Gandhinagar.

IPR is the Indian nodal agency for ITER project. It is an international project where seven parties have joined together to build a fusion test reactor in the south of France. India is one of the parties others being EU, China, Russian Federation, South Korea, Japan and USA. The ITER machine is very unique in a way that seven parties are contributing, but we are mainly paying in kind. We have divided the machine into various systems and have agreed making particular systems. We have a common quality assurance and quality control plan which we follow. 

Apart from that we have international collaborations with the U.S. where we send people to work and gain experience on their machines. Similarly in Europe, besides ITER we have collaborations with different labs as well.”

9) What would be that one project that you enjoyed working on?

“Well the first thing I enjoyed was when we built the first Indian tokomak- ADITYA. At that time we were only five experimental physicists, we had electrical engineers but no mechanical engineers. But we did the mechanical job pretty well. Those days we could not build the toroidal ultra-high vacuum vessel to contain the plasma with a circular cross- section with special stainless steel. So we decided to make it in a square cross section.” 

10) What does your average work day consist of?

“My day starts with a brisk walk at 5 am. I play with my daughter and try to teach her sketching. As I fortunate to visit many countries, I also speak quite a few languages, so, at times, I also translate technical books, manuscripts. I used to play cricket, football and tennis.”

11) How can we create awareness about plasma research among undergraduate students?

“Outreach programmes should be encouraged. We have published a book- “Living with Plasmas” which acts as a source material for teachers. We interact with them regarding plasma so that they can become our medium of outreach. In this way we are trying to come closer to students at all levels, public and these teachers are helping us in our cause.” 

12) Sir, what are the possible interactions with technical institutions like DDU?

“It’s always nice to interact. Yours’ is a University, we could definitely have some collaboration for the Ph.D or M.Tech programme. We would like to interact as much as possible with the educational institutes around, for the same we have now made a team of senior scientists who go and carry such interactions.”

13) On a more personal note, any success mantra that you follow?

“Failure is the stepping stone to success. Only if you fail, you’ll succeed, so we need not be afraid of failure. For that you must work hard. If you like to do something, you must do it.”

15) What would be your message to the young undergraduates at DDU?

“I think they should be well focused on their goal and work hard.”

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