IIST- A nurturing hub of Indian Space Science

In the state of Kerala, India, far from the crowd and noise of the city of Thiruvananthapuram, located in the Valiamala village on Ponmudi hills, is an Institute preparing future space scientists under the supervision of Indian Space research Organisation (ISRO). The case in point is Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), which is held to be Asia’s first Space Institute located beside ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre.

IIST, which is incubated by ISRO, began its functioning in September 2007, is ready with 150 students out of which, 60 are for Aero Space, 60 for Avionics and 30 for Physical Sciences from its first batch for joining different centres of ISRO. The institution is unique in the sense that it bears the entire fee of the qualifying students throughout the four year course as they become the responsibility of the institution.

Spread across 100 acres, the campus of the institution is one of the best campuses in the country which houses the academic blocks, research laboratories, library, information centre, computer centre, administrative area, convocation hall, residential complex for faculty and support staff, students activity centre, health care centre, health club and sports complex. In addition to hostels for students, there will also be studio type apartments in the campus for research students.

According to KS Dasgupta, Director, IIST, the institute understands the need of ISRO. “We understand that what type of human resources they need and to fulfil that need, what type or curriculum and courses we should make so that they are ready to join ISRO,” Dasgupta added.

IIST is an institute which is different from other technical institutions in the country like IITs, as it has been established to meet the special need of ISRO in particular and need of all the national laboratories in general. The institute has three branches which include Avionics, Aero Space and Physical Sciences. According to Dr. Dasgupta, the curriculum of these courses is not like the conventional Aero Space Engineering or Electronics and Communications or Physics of other Institutes. It provides lot of specialisation, for example, in Avionics, the institute has tried to include subjects like digital signal processing, courses related to control system and conventional electronic engineering control, while electronics and communication control is not in the curriculum but it is taught to give students exposure of it.

“If you look carefully on our Physical Sciences paper, you will get to know that we teach a lot of Astronomy, Remote Sensing, Atmospheric Physics and Atmospheric Science and other things. That way students are given quiet in-depth study as compared to other institutes,” detailed Dasgupta.

The institute is not only an undergraduate institute as according to its mission needs to be an undergraduate education blended with lot of research and hence, right now it has 32 research scholars in Physics, Chemistry, Avionics, Aero space and Physical Sciences Department.

The institute also provides two types of scholarship which includes Rs 18,000 like any other institutes and another is Rs 35,000 monthly and people who get Rs 35,000 have a bond with the institution that they have to work with ISRO after finishing their Ph.D for another three years. At present, the institute has recruited 10 such people and has plans to take another five this year starting from July session for this scholarship scheme.

Talking about the quality of faculty at the institution, Dr. Dasgupta said, “We do not compromise on the quality of the faculties, rather, we take those who have done Ph.D from very recognised and reliable institution, with good experience along with good application in mind. We recruit faculties at Assistant Professor level to Associate Professor to Professor, Senior Professor to Outstanding Professor. Right now we have 79 faculties and we want to reach a target of 4:1 so, we will have a 200 faculty positions available.” 

IIST also has a very programme called ‘IIST at School’ under which, every year, students of 11th standard from different parts of Kerala are invited to the campus to create awareness about science. They stay in the campus for two to three days and participate in quiz competitions and exhibitions organised by ISRO.  The institution considers this to be its social responsibility. The students of the institution also go to schools in different remote villages of Kerala and teach other school students. “Our objective is not only to grow students in their subjects but they should be socially conscious and aware because ultimately they are going to join ISRO and they should know what is the ground reality of this country what are its requirements so that can make satellite based system for that,” said Dr. Dasgupta.

The institution is also very strict on the performance of students and there are firm requirements of marks to join ISRO.  According to Dr. Dasgupta, only those students can join ISRO, who will be getting Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 6.5 or above and who finishes the course in four years as ISRO’s quality requirement is very high.

Though the institution is quiet young but it has signed MoUs with various high class research institutions across the globe as it is running collaborative programme with USRA (Universities Space Research Association) where five students from different departments have gone for their project work. The students will get scholarships from USRA while their other expenses are taken care by the IIST. The institute is also soon going to have MoU with Caltech (California Institute of Technology), it does not have association with any other Indian institution and under this MoU the students and faculties will be able to go there for their post graduate course.

The institute is also planning to have a collaborative programme with École Polytechnique in France. Dr. Dasgupta elaborated on the benefits of associations with different institutions saying, “We also have plan for joint programme with ISI Kolkata and IIT Kharagpur. The reason behind this is to have an independent institution is one thing and an institution having lot of network and collaboration gives you better visibility, better direction and better maturity.”

The institution which had a modest beginning in 2007 was taking students through IIT JEE but since 2010 has started conducting its own examination as its popularity is growing very fast, in 2011 its entrance examinations was conducted through its 22 examination centres including one in Lakshadweep and 93000 students applied for the 150 seats for different streams thus making the selection criterion even tougher.

Dr. Dasgupta said that the institute believes that after taking students they are our responsibility so we try to take the best student, groom them, nurture them, and try to teach them in different fields of space science such that they become useful to the nation. The first and second batch will be induced only in ISRO while later we will be sending our students to other R&D labs in country. 

Discussing about the future plans of the institution, Dr. Dasgupta said, “It is one of the best campuses in this country. Right now we don’t have any plan to increase the number of students but we will increase it as per the requirement of other R&D labs in the country and the reason is we don’t want to defocus our attention because increasing the volume requires improvement in lab facility as well as teaching quality.”

“We also do not have any plan to increase the number of branches but we will provide a lot of varieties inside the course that is important and these varieties means students will be able to peruse course depending upon their interest they and this will be more interdisciplinary in approach depending upon the liking,” Dr. Dasgupta added further.

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