News & Events

2016

Interview with Dr. V. Ramgopal Rao (Indian Institute of Technology Bombay)

Mar 30, 2016


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Dr. V. Ramgopal Rao

Ph.D., FNAE, FNASc, FNA, FASc,

P. K. Kelkar Chair Professor

Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

Electrical Engineering Department


Profile

1986 B.Tech. in Electronics and Instrumentation from Kakatiya University

1991 M.Tech. in Microelectronics from IIT-Bombay

1997 Dr. Ingenieur from Universitaet der Bundeswehr Munich, Germany

1997-1998 Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of California, U.S.

1998~ P. K. Kelkar Chair Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering

Chief Investigator for the Centre of Excellence in Nanoelectronics project at IIT Bombay

Co-Founder of NanoSniff Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

 

This Samco-Interview features Professor V. Ramgopal Rao of the Electrical Engineering Department at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, who was a keynote speaker at the Samco MEMS Workshop in February.  We asked him to talk to us about his MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) research.

 

1.   What motivated you to start your most recent MEMS-focused R&D activities?


Our activity right now is not just limited to devices, but more toward application-oriented research and solving Indian problems.  For example, healthcare is a big problem in India.  If you go to smaller places outside of the cities, the healthcare infrastructure is almost nonexistent. Many times the people from smaller villages or towns need to come to bigger cities like Bombay or Delhi for healthcare-related expenditures.  There are a lot of poor people, so it is a big challenge for them to come to big cities and stay there.  Since the government of India already created nanofabrication facilities at IIT Bombay, they asked us to use these facilities to create diagnostic devices.


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So at IIT Bombay, we started to work on a cardiac diagnostic device, which is based on the MEMS platform, which is based on the cantilever platform.  The goal is to diagnose people who are having a heart problem, detect certain cardiac proteins in the blood, and then use these proteins in the blood to diagnose the heart condition.  We wanted to make these devices very low-cost and use batch processing to reduce the cost of technologies.


We started developing a MEMS-based cardiac diagnostic technology, and we started building a complete system for cardiac diagnosis.  Then we started finding new applications.

 

2.   Could you tell us about NanoSniff?        


Whatever technologies we've developed so far, we tried to commercialize them through NanoSniff, a company on MEMS we incubated at IIT Bombay.


We developed this very sensitive piezoresistive cantilever platform and MEMS device for detecting the cardiac markers, and we transferred the technology to NanoSniff.  We have started using the same cantilever platform, for building a prototype handheld device for detecting explosives in the airports and other places for security purposes, which is very low cost.  For example, the current explosive detectors are based on mass spectrometry technologies.  They all become $50,000 kinds of systems, whereas what NanoSniff is going to commercialize is a $5,000 device.


Right now NanoSniff sells micro-heaters and piezoresistive cantilevers, which are complete platforms, and they export them to many countries.  When the explosive detector comes into the market, then NanoSniff will become a big company.

 

3.   What challenges has NanoSniff faced while working to commercialize its explosive detector? 


We started doing this research for products and requirements, and we made some prototypes.  Once we incubated the company, then security agencies needed these devices to be made in larger numbers.  Making one, two, or ten devices was not sufficient for them.  They wanted thousands of devices, all very similar, like industry-made kind of devices.  We were not able to meet their requirements in the existing nanofabrication facility because the facility's used by 300 students/staff for so many different things, and there is contamination.


We realized this problem about five years ago, and we decided to create a dedicated facility not just to make one or two devices, but in large numbers.  We went to the Department of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India and asked them to fund such a facility, which is dedicated, focused, and in an academic place.  The facility is operated by trained technicians with regular standardization of processes, and not by students. It is therefore expected to meet the expectations of small and medium scale enterprises.  

 

4.   Could you tell us about the new prototype manufacturing facility?  


It is a national facility, and any company can use it.  They might say, "This is our process, and we will work with the operators, but for one week we don't want anyone inside the facility except the operators."  Any industry can pay money and run their process if the process is what we've already established. The costs will be low enough that a start-up company can afford that.  This is because the manpower costs are still not very high in India.  


Our prototype facility is meant for small-scale industries. Right now what happens with these MEMS start-up companies is that their requirements are not millions of devices.  Their requirements are thousands of devices.  Once they cross the ten-thousand barrier, it means they are making enough money.  We are trying to bridge a gap from the proof of concept to small-scale industry.

 

5.   What are your expectations for Samco?


I think Samco has a major role to play.  In fact, the biggest tool in the prototype manufacturing facility is from Samco, and this facility is indeed the first in the country.  Saying that you sold an RIE-400iPB system to our group at IIT Bombay will be a positive thing for you anywhere in the country. 


Because this facility will be used by industries, maintenance is very critical for us, and we cannot wait for three months or six months if a tool goes down.  In a R&D facility, students can wait, but industries have their own strict timelines.  We'll need cooperation from Samco to keep things up and working.

 

Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with us!


This interview took place the day before the Samco MEMS Workshop, and was part of a discussion between Professor Osamu Tabata of Kyoto University, Professor Rao, and Samco CEO, President and Chairman Osamu Tsuji over a wide range of MEMS-related topics.


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