Monday, 4 January 2016

Why Delhi is the world's most polluted city




In a bid to tackle its record air pollution, Delhi has banned cars from travelling on alternate days over the first two weeks of this year. It’s better than nothing, but it won’t be enough.

The Indian capital has the dubious accolade of being regularly-cited as the most polluted city in the world, with air pollution causing thousands of excess deaths each year. While it might be easy to blame this on increased vehicle use, dirty industries or a growing population, the truth is that Delhi is a toxic pollutant punchbowl with lots of different ingredients.

Delhi’s landscape, weather, energy consumption culture, and growing urban population combines to elevate concentrations of air pollutants, including the especially harmful ultrafine particles. I recently published a study with colleagues from the UK and India looking at the factors behind Delhi’s air pollution issues. We were interested in why the city’s air is so much worse than in coastal megacities in India and elsewhere.

Breathability
Coastal cities such as Mumbai have at least a chance to “replace” smog with relatively unpolluted sea breezes, whereas there are limited avenues for flushing away polluted air in landlocked Delhi. In fact, the regions surrounding the capital are sometimes even more polluted than the city itself. Most of Delhi’s brick kilns, for example, are actually found in upwind areas surrounding the city.



           
India’s poorly-regulated brick industry is a major polluter.  Danish Siddiqui / Reuters            
Pollution from outside the city itself is down to the use of raw wood, agricultural or plastic waste as industrial fuel, the use of cow dung for cooking stoves and the widespread use of diesel generators due to unreliable infrastructure.

The city’s “breathability” is further inhibited by dense built-up areas. This is exacerbated by emissions from late evening and overnight traffic which tends to linger at ground level due to the much cooler air above it.

Pollution intensifies during winter when farmers burn off husks from paddy fields upwind of Delhi. The very light wind speed and colder winter season leads to stable atmospheric conditions that let pollution hang around at “breathing” height.



           
Harvest time in Punjab means pollution downwind in Delhi. Reuters            

What can Delhi do about it?
The city’s alternate-day car ban, where vehicles with odd-numbered plates are only allowed to drive on odd dates and vice versa, is intended to keep 20% of cars off the road. After exemptions for women drivers, VIPs, emergency vehicles, disabled drivers and so on, this is equivalent to about 6% of Delhi’s total vehicles.

Reports are thus far divided on its effectiveness. Some point to increased pollution levels on January 1 compared with December 31 while others show a marginal decrease. We’ll have to wait and see.

But expectations may be too high. Even in the best case scenario the concentration of polluting particles in the city’s air would only be halved. “Only”? Well Delhi needs a staggering 30-fold reduction to meet the WHO’s safety limits.

Some of the confusion over whether “pollution” levels increased, decreased or remained unchanged is because reports aren’t clear about whether they refer to large or small particulate matter.

This car ban may help cut emissions of the smallest particles because combustion of fuel in vehicles produces these directly. However, it’s highly unlikely that it will help with the larger particles (“PM10”), which come more from tyre wear and road dust flung back into the atmosphere, and less from tailpipe emissions. The 6000 extra compressed natural gas buses introduced during this period to compensate for the banned cars easily will offset the road dust and tyre wear gains. 

Simple remedies
Delhi’s pollution problem won’t be seriously addressed until ultra-clean electric public transport becomes the norm and, more importantly, the city’s metro system is substantially expanded.

For now, however, people must be protected in whatever ways they can be. Simple remedies such as “greening” unpaved roadside areas through a natural or artificial grass canopy could possibly help in limiting coarse dust particles during dry and windy seasons. Natural measures, such as the development of wetlands and trees are also effective.


           
Delhi does have some green spaces – but it needs more. ptwo, CC BY

There is also a cultural context here. Even the best science and technology won’t reduce emissions and improve air quality by themselves. India must figure out how new developments fit into the country’s economic development, while raising awareness of public health risks and changing attitudes towards and regulation of poor quality fuels. It is a complicated, pick-and-mix set of problems that will prove difficult to combat without innovative, encompassing and quick action.

By Dr Prashant Kumar, Reader in Wind Engineering, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Optimal spraying of water could help in improving air quality in the city environments

This guest article is contributed by: Sunil Kumar Mittal
Sunil is an innovator and an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, from where he received his MTech degree. Prior to his current work, he served MCD for over 20 years in the capacity of a junior, assistant, executive and superintending engineer. His recent innovation has already fetched a patent from USPTO (United State Patent and Trade Mark Office) and another patent application is under examination of European Patent Office. He could be reached at mittal3015@gmail.com

In a particular city area, health of residents, more or less, depends over prevailing AQI (Air Quality Index), which is a measurable parameter of air pollution. The AQI is influenced greatly by suspended particulate matter (including PM2.5 and PM10) in the air. Presence of such particulate matter in the air may attribute to nearly half of the weighting to AQI.  
The Issues 
These particulate matter enter into the city air from numerous exhaust (e.g. road vehicles) and industrial sources such as chimneys. Because of their very small size, these particles remains in air for a sufficiently longer time prior to finally settling down over body parts of human beings, leaves of plants, shrubs, in open areas (including road surface), or in closed areas (e.g. building) under the influence of gravitational settling.

A part of such settled particulate matter re-enters into the city air mainly due to agitation in leaves of plants (due to air flow, which may be, under influence of air pressure difference due to movement of vehicles); and/or due to movement of vehicles on roads (frictional force between tyres and road surface); and/or due to manual cleaning/sweeping of roads by our Safai Karamcharies.
From closed areas, such settled particulate matters, re-enters into the city air due to dusting and/or sweeping etc. of such areas. In this short article, I am concentrating over the particulate matters re-entering into the environment due to the reasons discussed above.
Health Risk and its effect over our economy  
Particulate matter get stick over skin of urban dwellers during the movement of a person in local city environment. This activity may be attributing closure of skin pores and also may be attributing skin related diseases.  Further, during respiration process such particulate matters enters into their lungs, which in due course may stick to inner wall of lung(s) and also may cause various lungs related (pulmonary) diseases. Such health disorders directly affect to the working capacity/capability of that affected person, his/her earning capabilities and thus in large to economy of that nation.
Practices followed in the past 
To have an effective check over this vulnerable issue, people in the past, used to spray water over road surface, open areas prior to their cleaning/sweeping. Also, they used to spray water over leaves of road side plant, shrubs to clear them from all deposited bacteria/fungus/particulate matter; to reduce in bacterial/fungus attack over leaves or other parts of plants; to increase in rate of photosynthesis process; to increase in their growth rate; and also to increase in rate of production of oxygen from them.

From experience, it has been observed that at major road crossing, where a sufficiently large number of vehicles stays (on red light) for changing in their movement direction and/or for better vehicular movement management; presence of suspended particulate matters in the air, is sufficiently higher than other parts of the same road. A recent study conducted in United Kingdom has revealed that air pollution at crossing and traffic lights can be up to 29-times more than other parts of the same road during free flow traffic conditions.

In order to find an effective solution to AQI problem, it is therefore suggested that we should adopt long back practiced processes of water spray over road surface and also over the leaves of road side plant and shrubs etc. For the purpose of spraying, water that is being produced in sewerage treatment plant (treated effluent), if permitted under the laws, could be used. We can spray water over road surface one-two times at or near road junctions, and once over other parts of same road in a day. Also, water can be sprayed over leaves of road side plants and shrubs once in a day, depending upon their water requirements.  
Present Scenario 
From experience it has been learned that presently, no water is being sprayed at road junctions or over the leaves of road side plants. If it is being sprayed, occasionally, it is being sprayed with the help of hands or with the help of a narrow-mouth pipes (hand tighten or fitted with a nozzle) connected with a continuous source of water.

From such a pipe, water exits with a sufficiently high pressure and flow rate. Due to that, parts of a plant (leaves, branches, stem or flower/fruit) may get damaged and/or soil at their beneath may get eroded to make the plants unstable.

From experience, it is been observed such practices not only results in non-uniform spray of water, but also results in wastage of precious water due to run-off, evaporation and infiltration etc., besides creating slippery road surface and mud formations. This may cause unstable skidding and/or muddy situation for vehicles and get stuck their tires. Consequently, this mud may travel a long distances with the vehicles, increasing susceptibility of re-entering of particulate matters into the ambient air.
Inventor’s solution 
To solve such problems and also to preserve precious water, I had developed a water spray gun based on a newly invented technology. This gun is connected with a continuous source of water (having water pressure of about 3 kg/cm2) through a pipe. Though, at upstream of this spray gun, inlet water pressure will be of about 3 kg/cm2 but at its downstream water pressure either will be negligible or zero. This would help in ensuring no mud formation, no erosion of soil beneath a plant and/or damage to any of its part.

This gun can easily be operated by keeping the same in the hands of an operator. Operator can have full control over the quantity of water to be sprayed at a desired location and thus would be saving huge quantity of water from wastage. Moreover, this spraying arrangement will help in easy removal of dust particles from road surface as well as the leaves of a plant and consequently improving AQI in the city environments.
Structural details of this technology 
A device suitable for managing pressure and flow rate of a fluid comprising of: (i) a first orifice plate having one first orifice, said one first orifice having a first diameter and the said first orifice positioned near an edge of the first orifice plate, (ii) a second orifice plate having one second orifice, said one second orifice having a second diameter, and the said second orifice positioned near an edge of the second orifice plate, (iii) a tubular structure having an effective diameter, comprising the first orifice plate and the second orifice plate placed at perpendicular direction to the fluid flow within the tubular structure, separated by a distance, and (iv) wherein the pressure and/or the flow rate downstream of the device are lower than the pressure and/or flow rate upstream of the device. 

The device is therefore robust since it does not have any moving part and therefore has a long useful life (that too without losing on its work efficiency with passage of time), besides negligible or almost no maintenance cost. Other unique value additions to this technology are that it can easily be installed in an indoor or outdoor applications and can be manufactured in any shape and size to provide a tailor made solution to a specific consumer. Any material that is impermeable to the flowing fluid and also is capable to withstand with the stress developed during its use can be chosen. The device can be fitted or retrofitted into any new or existing network, and hence there is no need to install a pressure reducing valve, a shut-off valve, or a filter at the upstream or downstream of the device.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Stopping at red lights could be slowly killing you



The average UK commuter spends about 1.5 hours a day at the wheel. While not great for stress levels in general, there are other ways that the daily churn through traffic can negatively affect health. Research by my team at the University of Surrey has shown how drivers and pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at traffic lights.


The World Health Organisation links air pollution to seven million premature deaths every year. It’s well known that road vehicles in particular emit polluting nanoparticles which contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. Despite efforts to encourage a reduction, car usage has remained fairly constant in recent decades.


Our team monitored drivers’ exposure to air pollutants at various points of a journey and found traffic intersections were high pollution hot-spots due to the frequent changes in driving conditions.





Pollution hotspots are all near traffic lights.
Goel and Kumar (2015).


With drivers decelerating and stopping at lights, then revving up to move quickly when lights go green, peak particle concentration was found to be 29 times higher than that during free-flowing traffic conditions. Also of course, while travelling by road we are generally pretty close to the air pollution source, which is the tailpipe of preceding road vehicle.


Though drivers spend just 2% of their journey time passing through intersections managed by traffic lights, this short duration contributes to about 25% of total exposure to these harmful particles.


It’s not always possible to change your route to avoid these intersections, but drivers should be aware of the increased risks at busy lights and at least try to avoid regularly taking routes that force them to sit in traffic inhaling potentially harmful fumes.


Where this is unavoidable the best way to limit exposure is to keep vehicle windows shut, fans off and try to increase the distance between the cars in front where possible. Pedestrians regularly crossing such routes should consider whether there might be other paths less dependent on traffic light crossings.


But there is more to it than asking drivers to take circuitous routes. Local transport agencies could also help by synchronising traffic signals to reduce waiting time and consider alternative traffic management systems such as flyovers. They could also consider the appropriate placement of traffic lights. The use of these systems in built up residential areas, near schools or hospitals may serve to manage traffic flow but at the cost of trapping higher concentrations of harmful pollutants in exactly the areas where residents, and vulnerable members of society will most regularly commute or walk.





Polly wants cleaner air.
Ingrid Taylar, CC BY


I have written before about the use of low-cost sensing to capture air pollution hotspots in urban areas. The kind of data such projects could deliver feed directly into research such as this. The more we understand about where pollution hot spots are, the more direct action we can take in our own lives and the more we can push for greener, cleaner planning.


The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee recently described air pollution as a “public health crisis”. These considerations are not just a “nice to have”, they have a direct effect on our health and wellbeing.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

How smartphones can lead the fight against air pollution


It’s no surprise that dirty air kills. In fact, air pollution was recently placed in the top ten health risks faced by human beings globally. In the UK high concentrations of polluting particles cost health services around around £20 billion per year. The country’s Environmental Audit Committee recently described air pollution as a “public health crisis”.

Despite this very real, very widespread risk, the quality of air we breathe doesn’t seem to attract the same level of concern that health crises such as obesity or smoking do. But this is a universal risk that impacts us in every breath we take.

When such a fundamental human resource is at risk, we cannot afford to be ambivalent. We should invest in information technology.........Read the original article.

This article written by Dr Prashant Kumar was originally published on The Conversation.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Construction nanoparticles




Construction of buildings is a part of both developing and developed society. Some aspects, such as particle emissions, are yet not understood but are important to reduce exposure to operatives working on sites or living nearby. We started researching this topic about 3 years ago and we recently got yet another paper published on this topic titled as "The exposure to coarse, fine and ultrafine particle emissions from concrete mixing, drilling and cutting activities". The article was published in Journal of Hazardous Materials. Full details about this research work can be accessed by clicking here. These work is a step towards establishing number and mass emission inventories for particle exposure during construction activities.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

City parks good for people, but not so good for buildings


While city planners have been encouraged to plant trees and gardens to green the city for the health of its inhabitants, recent research has found that the same trees can damage certain buildings.


Our research revealed that chemicals produced by certain species of plants and trees react with common air pollutants to create damaging chemicals that corrode building materials such as stone, concrete, and steel. Especially at risk are heritage buildings which are built of limestone or sandstone...........


This text is an excerpt of an article which was originally published on The Conversation. Read the full original article.

The Conversation


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Green corridors protect cyclists and pedestrians from pollution


City-dwellers consider cycling or walking to work to be part of a healthy routine. But latest studies on air pollution show that nanoparticles – unseen pollutants – are a major concern.


In the UK, the number of cyclists is increasing. It has been dubbed the “Wiggo effect”, following the success of British cyclist Bradley Wiggins at the 2012 Olympics. But to make sure the Wiggo effect provides the health benefits cycling promises, better urban planning is needed to protect cyclists from polluted air..........

The Conversation

This text is an excerpt of an article which was originally published on The Conversation. Read the full original article.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Guest Edited Special Issue on "Nanomaterials and the Environment"

Developments in nanoscience have brought industrial benefits as well as environmental concerns. Nanomaterials have been considered a potential environmental emerging contaminant, and their origin can be natural, incidental, or from manufacturing processes. I as a "Lead Guest Editor", along with my collaborators acting as Guest Co-Editors from the UK, Australia and India, have recently completed an special issue titled as "Nanomaterials and the Environment" for the "Journal of Nanomaterials".

We invited researchers to contribute original research articles as well as review articles related to characterisation, emissions, transformation, dispersion, fate, and effects of nanomaterials in different environmental compartments (air, water, and soil). Also were invited articles dealing with the environmental and health impacts, of nanomaterials and particulate matter in general, and the implications for policy and regulations for both the indoor and outdoor environments.

The issue is now available online and the articles published as a part of this special issue can be freely accessed by clicking here.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Vegetation, nanoparticles and related exposure

Trees play both negative and positive role in terms of pollution exposure to city dwellers. When these are planted along the roadsides where there are densely packed buildings around them, they trap the pollution by restricting the clearing of wind flow and pollution from vehicles. However, when these are put along the roadsides in non-built environment such as open busy roadsides they can do a great job to restrict the pollution to reach to footpath dwellers. One of our recent research articles, published recently in Atmospheric Environment, experimentally demonstrate their effectiveness and suggest a way forward for urban planners to limit pollution exposure of people living in urban areas. The full article titled as "The influence of roadside vegetation barriers on airborne nanoparticles and pedestrians exposure under varying wind conditions" can be accessed through the following link (online version) or its pre-print freely available version by clicking here.

Ultrafine Particles in Cities


Ultrafine particles (UFPs; diameter less than 100 nm) are ubiquitous in urban air, and an acknowledged risk to human health. Globally, the major source for urban outdoor UFP concentrations is motor traffic. On-going trends towards urbanisation and expansion of road traffic are anticipated to further increase population exposure to UFPs. Numerous experimental studies have characterised UFPs in individual cities,....read full article by clicking here or full text here.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Nanoparticles in Indian Environment




Nanoparticles have at least one dimension in the 1−100 nm range and may originate by natural, incidental, or manufactured processes. Incidental nanoparticles are produced as a side product of anthropogenic processes, where as manufactured nanoparticles are......Read the full article here.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Energy-Pollution Nexus for Urban Buildings




Since the first oil crisis in 1974, economic reasons placed energy saving among the top priorities in most industrialized countries. In the decades that followed, another, equally strong driver for energy saving emerged: climate change caused by anthropogenic emissions, a large fraction of which result from energy generation. Read the full article here.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Nanoparticles in air pollution




Hearing the words “airborne nanoparticles” for the first time, one would probably ask: just how tiny are they, where do they come from, and do we need to worry about them? Read the full article here.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

10 things a research presentation must have?




When given an opportunity to make a presentation of your work, it is imperative that you make the best use of given few 10's of minutes by not only covering the key contents of your work but also considering the interest of audience. After all, this is not only you who is spending time, there is also the audience who has come to listen you and deserve to take away few good points from your presentation. Tuning the presentation according to the audience is often necessary. This can also drive you to reconsider the ways of expressing the technical contents (in-depth or surfacial) but this should not influence the delivery of key findings or ideas behind the work.

For a research (or a technical) presentation, I feel that the following key elements must be included in an orderly manner:

1. 'Descriptive' title


Generally, the title should be self-explanatory and should provide a clear idea of: (i) what has been done, and (ii) why (or for what reason) this has been done. A simple example of this could be 'dispersion modelling of air pollution for determining their health and environmental impacts'. There could be instances when the title above is just one part of your whole activity and you want to serve the big picture of your work to the audience. In this case, more broad and open title can be formed in the similar manner. However, it is then worth mentioning during your introduction that the title represents your whole work but this talk will focus on one (or more) part of this problem. After the title, this first slide should also include the name of the authors involved in this work and their affliations, with a clear indication by underlining or putting an artistic sign on the name of presenting author.

2. 'Clear' outline

Second slide after the title should provide a clear outline of your presentation. The contents could well be bullet points similar to the headings 3 to 7 covered below. This is an important slide to give a quick tour of your slides to the audience and make them prepare in advance to the contents you are going to serve them.

3. 'Impressive' introduction
The introduction should be prepared in such a way that this clearly shows the research gaps, needs, importance, novelty and application of your work. In a nutshell, you should make best efforts to include (and address) the following questions: (i) what is the motivation for this research, (ii) what has been done till date, (iii) what are research gaps, and (iv) what are objectives, and novelty, of your research. Including such information in few sentences is a challenging task and require preparation. The last question in particular is often difficult to form but stating this clearly will help both you and the audience to clearly understand (and link) your research questions with the contents of the presentation.

4. 'Detailed' methodology

Under this part of the presentation, try to summarise the methodology adopted to acheive the research objectives. This is sometimes difficult to avoid complex equations, if the work is mathematical, but whatever you include deserves to be explained. Putting a number of equations and do not talk about them due to time constraints or for other reason is not advisable and does not impress the audience much. Sometimes, you can prepare extra slides and put them in the end as back up slides and can recall them if someone asks you the details in question-answer sessions.

5. 'Concrete' results

This is one of the main sections of a presentation. The key results should be presented with the help of graphs, tables and text. Including small video clips, if available, can sometime helps the audiance to digest complex contents in a easy manner. If you have too many results to present but think that the allocated time is not sufficient enough to explain them, you can include the most important results here and few extra slides as a back up, as explained in above section.

6. 'Concise' summary and conclusion

One or two slides should be included for this section. Firstly, all the work presented should be summarised very briefly and then the key conclusions should be included as few bullet points.

7. 'Visionary' future work

No matter how much work you have done, or time spend, on a particular topic, there will still be questions left to address. Identifying those questions requires thinking, updated knowledge of the literature on that topic, and a clear research vision. If you are in the middle of your research and making a presentation, you can state these as your next research step. One the other hand, if you have concluded your research, these questions can be left for others to address. Including such questions in your presentation in a separate slide is essential for convincing the audiance that you are up to date with the current literature on the topic, understand the ups and downs of the work and have a clear future insight.

8. 'Generous' acknowledgements

This slide should include the name of all those people, organisation or a funding body who have helped your research. These could also include the name of your colleagues, fellow researchers or the lab staff. Including such information does not hurt you but will be appreciated by others and you will have edge to go back to them and ask for the help again!

9. 'Creadatble' references
If you have referred someones work, the authors of those articles/reports deserve credit and these should be included, and cited within the presentation wherever applicable, in your reference list. One slide for this purpose could be included. You can also include few key references to suggest the audiance for further reading on your work.

10. 'Strict' time management
Time management is a key and is equally important as are the contents. If the presentation is too long and you had to rush in the end, you will loose the edge you earned during your presentation. One of the best ways to complete the presentation within the allocated time is to practice this many times and selecting the most important bits from each slide to describe.

Concluding remarks

A general thumb rule for preparing the number of slides to fit in allocated time is about one slide per minute. This is good to be relaxed and bring humour during your talk but not at the expense of making fun (or talking loose) about your own methodology adopted or instrumentation applied.

Happy reading!
Prashant
(PS: Please feel free to add whatever you think is left out by clickling on the 'comments' icon given below. Please record your reactions also just by clicking on one of the three buttons below.)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Evolving 'Scientists' into 'Science-twists'?

First of all, it is worth defining the First of all, it is worth defining the terms 'scientist' and science-twist' in the context of this article. The dictionary definition of the scientist is 'the person with an advance knowledge of one or more sciences'. Here, the term 'science-twist' is defined as 'the person with an advance knowledge of various science disciplines without (or with) an intention of compromising the quality of the results for achieving desired outcomes'.

The objectives of this article is to look at the current research practices in the light of both the above defined terms, and to discuss the topic 'whether today's scientists are turning into science-twists?'.

As discussed in the article below, pecuiliar combination of output oriented workload on the academics and contention for publishing large number of articles to prove their scientific productivty is a normal part of today's academic life. This also lead sometimes in research frauds by twisting the research data. This may not be completely true in cases when scientists working in research Institutes are only assigned research work though they may have their own concerns in terms of attracting funding for carrying out their research. However, this is nearly true in today's very competitive academic environment where a huge work load, in terms of administrative, management and teaching activities, are implicitly part of the job and large expectations for bringing in research projects and publishing in top ranked journals are generally kept from the academics. A recent article by Fanelli (2010) looked into this matter and concluded based on the the USA data that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists' productivity but also their bias; the same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.

A study by Bjork et al. (2006) reported that there were about 27,750 peer-reviewed scientific journals worldwide in 2006 that published over 1,35,000 articles. This figure has grown substantially over the last recent years. This is just an indication about the extent to which research is being published. The good aspect of this is an excellent dissimination of the research to the scientific community worldwide which is far bettter than the old days. However, the negative aspect is many of these articles may not even meet required basic standards and just be giving surfacial scientific information. Moreover, the new trend has emerged in publishing research articles, which is publishing research results into small pieces to increase the quantity of the articles published by an individual. However, one of the reasons for this is also the word limits imposed by the journal. Unlike most of today's research articles, old articles may be a bit longer with a detailed methodology which allows the users to reproduce the results or the data presented in them.

Another trend which have emerged in recent years is a unsatisfying hunger of research grants in academics. A general perception is that more the research fundings one have (no matter in what research area!), better he/she is having a chance for academic growth. A number of academics spend nearly most of their available time in writing grants and managing the already going on research projects. In another words, many of us are turning into 'research managers' rather than the 'research scientists' because of rarely doing research ourselves; this has given birth to a inverse-learning trend i.e. 'learing through sub-ordinate research staff rather than the other way around'. In fact, self-research is also not practically possible given the commitments to various activities (other than core research) that can probably end up in compromising the quality of research output.

There is a constant pressure on today's scientists to get positive publishable results and win research fundings. The current situation is not like it used to be years ago when scientists had ample of time and flexibility for publishing selective high quality research on their own will. To survive in highly competitive academic environment and to achieve given (or self set out) research targets, there is a less margin of error in today's academic environment for an individual to get negative unpublishible results which may also increase the chances of derialing from the original path and in turn affecting the quality of the research output.

There is no mantra to avoid this situtation. However, self periodic re-evaluation for maintaining a good balance between the quality and the quanitity of research, and choosing the best of the available options could help up to avoid the situations described above up to some extent.

Regards,
Prashant

Note: The thoughts presented in this article are solely of the author and do not represent any organisation, group or any other individual.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Measuring your scientific productivity and impact on science?

Academics, researchers or the scientists work hard for boosting their research and disseminate it through various channels such as conference presentations and articles, technical reports or journal publications. A question can always be raised that 'how to evaluate the individual's productivity and the impact on science or scientific community'. Whether this should relate with the number of articles he published or the quality of these articles? The one widely accepted measure, though opposed by many, is the hirch factor (h-factor). It is not perfect index but takes into account both the quality and the quantity of individual's publications.

What is h-factor?
The h-factor was first described by a physics Professor, J.E. Hirsch, in a PNAS article in 2005. He defined this as 'a scientist has index h if h of his or her Np papers have at least h citations each and the other (Np-h) papers have <=h citations each'. The aim of this article is not to describe the h-factor in detail but to present views on its application in real life. Detailed explanation of h-factor can be seen in the source article. The h-factor can be computed by using SCOPUS, ISI Web of Knowledge or any other tools such as scHolar index.

How does this relate your scientific productivity and impact?
The citation to your articles is the key for a better h-factor. For example, if you publish 250 articles and one of your article gets cited 250 times or more but among the remaining ones, for instance, only 10 other articles get cited 10 or less times; the h-factor in this case will be only 10. This example explains that if one has to increase his/her h-factor its crucial that the articles published by the individual gets continuous citation.

The citation can be directly related with the quality of the research presented in an article. However, there are contrasting thoughts about this. For example, in some cases you may find that despite having excellent science in an article it does not get citations. There could be several reasons for this, such as the novelty of research and its real-world application, dissemination media (i.e. the quality, popularity and the way of an journal to promote research), the name (and fame) of an individual scientists in a particular research area, selection of an appropriate journal for publication and the way of presenting the research in the article in a fresh, interesting and attracting manner, etc.

Is this fair to compare the scientists working in different disciplines using h-factor?
My answer to this question is 'no'. The reason is that articles in some areas are not very well cited as opposed to others; see a lost of journal impact factors here. For example, the most cited journal in Environmental Sciences and Engineering is having an impact factor of about 5. This is much lower if we consider a example of structural engineering in contrast to substantially higher impact factor journals in neuroscience (about 178). It also means that if one is working in an area of high impact factored journals and manage to publish frequently can have a high h-factor.

What 'numbers' are impressive in Engineering?
My personal view is that if you have a h-index less than 15, your impact could be considered 'average'. This could be 'good' when h-index is between 15 and 25, 'very good' between 25 and 35, excellent between 35 and 50, and outstanding over 50. However, I do not have any strong support to defend this classification except saying that I know few people in the area of Engineering that have h-factor just over 50; they are key people in their fields with outstanding individual contributions.

Concluding remarks
It is probably not the best way to measure individuals productivity and impact but we currently do not seem to have a better index. This number could be good to mention in short biographies or applications that are made for jobs or research grants. The h-factor can not grow over night, it requires time to get your articles cited and consistet efforts from your part to include better science in your articles. However, the important thing which I feel is doing the good science in your articles rather than aiming first for h-factor and then writing the articles.

I hope you will find this article interesting and useful. Please feel free to comment on it, if you have any!

Regards,
Prashant

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Tips for writing technical reports (BEng/MEng/MSc/EngD/D.Phil/PhD)

It is crucial to present your work in a concise, effective and impressive way. Failing to do so also means that you are not doing justice to the work you actually did over a span of several months. This article gives an outline of the report structure and an idea about the possible contents within several subsections of a BEng, MEng, MSc or PhD reports.

A good report generally follows the following order:

Title page
It should include tile of the report, name of the department and University with logo, few words explaining its submission (i.e. this dissertation is submitted for (or the part of) the degree of B.Eng., MEng or PhD, etc.), followed by your name and supervisors name (in some case people do not write it here, so its better to check in earlier reports).

Dedication (optional)
It’s an optional page, but you want to dedicate your report to someone by writing his/her name (i.e. dedicate to….)

Declaration
It is an important page, and should include a couple of lines stating that the work presented in the report is your own work and contents taken form other places are duly acknowledged. Also, a line including the information on number of words, tables and figures can be included.

Acknowledgements
Acknowledging someone does not affect you, but leave a good impression on the person who helped you. Firstly, one should clearly acknowledge his/her supervisor and co–supervisor (if any) with their names. Then, it is worth acknowledging others (including funding body, colleagues, family and friends) if you feel that they have contributed directly or indirectly to your work.

Publications
Include a page on list of publications (if you published any) that came out as a part of work included in your report. It is a direct measure of the quality of your work, giving a clear idea to the examiner about the originality of your work , providing you a strong chance to defend your work. For PhDs, it is quite important to list journal and conference publications. It will look impressive and extraordinary if one can tick this box while doing other degrees.

Abstract
Abstract is the ‘face’ of your report. It should be as concise and short as possible. A standard is generally of 350 words or one page length. If one is not being able to fit this within this criteria, it reflects his confusion and inability to summarise the key results in a consolidated manner.

An abstract should address the following questions in a orderly manner. Couple of lines can be dedicated to each of the following:
  • Motivation: why have you done this study or what are research gaps,
  • Objective: what are aims of your work,
  • Methodology adopted to address the define objectives,
  • Key results and findings,
  • Application of your findings to real–world problems or how this will fill the research gap.
Although, it is up to an individual that how much word he dedicate to each of the above questions.

Note that the pages before this (including abstract) are NOT numbered.

Table of Contents
This should include a detailed list of all the contents starting from this section to Appendices. Numbering should start from this page in roman letters (i.e. i, ii. iii, … etc.) and should end at List of nomenclature. From Chapter 1 (Introduction) real numbering of the report should start (i.e. 1, 2, 3….).

List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Nomenclature

Chapter 1: Introduction
It should contain the following: (i) motivation, (ii) research objective, (iii) research approach, and (iv) report outline. It is always good to keep this chapter short (i.e. 3-5 pages), but length can vary depending on the type of report.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

It should contain the literature review of studies/materials which you are going to use in your upcoming chapters. For a BEng, MSc or MEng report, it can be between 10 and 20 pages but these numbers can be higher for PhD reports.

Chapter 3: Materials and Methods

This chapter should contain the description of methods which you are using for your main research work. In case of computational or theoritical study, it can contain the methods developed or applied. Number of pages may vary depending on the type of report and work.

Chapter 4: Results and Discussions
These can have more than one chapter depending on the nature of the report. These are the main and most important chapters on which you will be evaluated; these chapters reflect your original contribution to the selected topic. Thesrefore, it is important that these chapters are written concisely in a simple and clear language.


There are few points which can be considered while writing these chpaters: (i) one should not live in their own world while presenting the work but is always recommended to compare their results with already published someone else's work, (ii) these chapters should not just report the results but should include discussions on the results presented - sometime it is better to raise questions yourself to raise curocity in readers mind and then address them, (iiii) in some cases students have too much figures or material to include but it is dangerous to include all of them without their proper discussion - therefore the best way is to filter out the results (or try to merge figures together, if possible) and include the
best figures/tables that fits well to the theme of the work, and (iv) it ihas often been observed that students get very impressed with someone else's work and bury their original contribution while discussing other's work - it is very important that you distinguish the difference between yours and others' work and present your work as main contents and use others' work to compliment or justify your results.

Number of pages (or word count) may differ depending on the type of the report. However, it is generally expected that this part contain bulk (~60% or more) of the total word count.

Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusions and Future Work
This chapter should summarise your whole work in 1-2 pages and make your conclusions using bullet points in further one page. One should not forget to include one or more paragraphs on future scope of work.

References

Besides related books that you can search from internet or library, you should look for research articles. Few of the search engines may be Science-direct or ISI Web of Knowledge or Scopus.

It is an important part of any report. You should provide a reference to any work which you refer (i.e. done by others). Moreover, the references in your report should be consistent in writing style. You can use EndNote or similar softwares for making the job easier.

Appendices

Include all of them in order at the end of the report (i.e. after references) but include only those contents that has been referred in the main body of the text.

One more point to remember:

Editing

Editing is crucial for a report. Without a proper editing a report is 'like a very expensive cloth stiched in a poorly manner'. Such reports do not leave good mark on the readers/ or examinors. This is not difficult to do proper editing. If you are using Latex, its automatically take care most of the things but you can also do good editing in word by defining style, headings, etc. One should always try to maintain consistency in writing, font type and size, spacings between (or after) paragraphs, figures and tables, and referencing styles, etc.

Happy reading!
Prashant

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Summer Internships - once in a lifetime opportunity

Guest Article by: Saurabh Jain
I thank Saurabh for writing this article. Saurabh completed his Bachelor of Technology in Civil Engineering from IIT Delhi in 2007, and is into Management Consulting since then, advising global firms on growth strategy, mergers and acquisitions, revenue enhancement, global expansion, etc. He has worked for Strategy & Operations division at Deloitte Consulting, and is currently working with consulting division at MN Dastur & Co. Pvt Ltd, Kolkata. He is also involved into a number of activities like writing, entrepreneurship and social works. He is an enthusiastic blogger and is involved with many social works like working against Dowry & Domestic Violence and is always ready to help anyone who needs advice on career and education related matters. He could be reached at saurabh.iit2003[at]gmail.com.

Doing a summer internship was a dream of mine. Many of my seniors had been to Internship during the summers after their 2nd or 3rd year, and almost all of my classmates had started talking about doing it – for many reasons – to see a totally new world, new people, new technologies, new environment, new kind of professors/professionals, new ways of doing things. In short, as they call it, an international exposure, that would help them in broadening the scope of their thinking, and in materialistic terms to get some quality stuff for their resume – after all, having an international experience does count on your resume (which I realised 2 years after graduating from IIT Delhi, that some companies clearly specify in their job listings – “candidates with international experience and atleast one foreign language preferred”). But for me, Europe was the only fascination – and I wanted to do it.

Application
I would not go into the details of how I went about applying. My initial method of applying was as haphazard as it is for any other starter. The best way to look for potential internship university or a company is to approach the people of your own discipline who have already been interns to the countries you want to go to – do a bit of networking and ask for their help if they can refer you to their previous university/professor/company. If you are unable to find any such seniors, the next best way is to open up your Orkut account, look for the Summer Internship communities, join them and go into the discussions. You’d find lots of people asking others about which university and which field of study are they going to do their internship in. Check out the websites of those universities, and start looking for professors’ profiles and if they belong to your field of interest and fire your email.

Approaching your own department professors won’t be a bad idea. Some professors have contacts with foreign universities, and they can contact them and help you get an internship.

Securing an internship needs luck and patience. Sometimes people make hundreds of applications before getting selected, and sometimes they get selected on the very first application. You’ve got to be at the right person at the right place at the right time.

Resume
Resume does matter – and always keep in mind that resume is not a one day job. A good resume takes editing a number of times. So the better way to go about making your resume is to first see atleast 10 resumes – take them from your seniors or download them from the internet. Do not copy paste anything from theirs. Just see their formats, and start building your own resume. And find out a senior who can be your mentor in resume preparation. Keep showing him the resume, and he’d give you the tips about what changes are required. Believe me, it takes atleast 20 iterations before you have a still imperfect resume in your hand. A resume is never perfect – it can always be better. Try and make a one-page resume (if achievements are too much and do not fit in one page even after shortening as much as possible, try and make a two page resume – but a strict ‘no’ to 1.5 page or 1.75 page resume). Once you feel the resume is at a decent level, start applying as mentioned in the previous section.

Funding
None of us wants to go for an internship by paying from our own pocket. And the good news is that scholarships are available for summer internships – but not always, and sometimes you’ve to be aware about the sources of scholarships. So, as soon as you get an internship offer from your professor, and you are told that you won’t be offered any funding for your stay and travel, visit that country’s embassy’s website. These websites list all the scholarships available for foreign students to study for short-term projects or bachelors or master’s degree in that country. Go to these links and find out the details about the application procedure, deadline for applications and apply immediately. Some organizations provide scholarships throughout the year while others provide them once annually or twice annually.

Secured more than one internship?
Some people get positive responses from more than one university/company. In this case, students have an option of selecting the best option in terms of country, subject, university or finances. The left out options could best be utilized by handing them over to your classmates who are also looking for internships. Talk to the professor or the company you’ve got an internship with, and tell them that since you cannot make it to the internships due to some personal reasons, you are recommending your friend for the position and they can consider him/her if they don’t mind. This helps everyone – your friends, the professor, and your own university gets a chance to represent itself at one more location on this earth.

While you are doing your internship
Once you have landed your dream destination, the responsibility lies on your shoulders on how you manage to make the most out of your internship. You’ve limited time of some 10 weeks and you must remember a few things that you must do.

i. Work should be your priority
Deliver your best. This will have many fold benefits. Firstly, you get a good recommendation from the place you are working in. This will help you get good grades for your summer internship projects when you are back home to your own university. A good work can also get you a recommendation if you are aiming at GRE/GMAT. Secondly, don’t forget that you are representing your university and your country. I’ve seen cases where university/country names are blacklisted for ever because of one intern’s behaviour. Thirdly, a good impression during your intern can help your juniors in getting the internships in future

ii. Networking
Grab as many opportunities of meeting and influencing people who will be helpful to you in your future.

iii. Tourism
This seems to be an obvious one in the “things to do” list, but some people just get involved with the above mentioned two things that they later regret not having realized the opportunity to see the beautiful world around. It’s your first tryst with your dreams – and first such experience as a student is always a memorable one.

I hope my experiences would be helpful in your internship pursuits. You can always contact me in for any other queries.

-Saurabh Jain
Summer Internship (ENPC-Paris, 2006)


Sunday, 20 September 2009

What after a PhD?

What after a PhD - industry, academics, management or banking? This question generally confuse many of us because of several factors e.g. money, job satisfaction, work-life balance, job security and future growth, etc. Few of us have straight job priorities that is excellent. However, irrespective of any choice, it is important to start job hunting at the right time. Writing PhD can easily take up to six months. It is ideal time to start applying for jobs once first draft of your thesis is complete. Although, it is much better to start job hunting along with writing thesis considering the current market situation. Information below could be useful for job hunting:

1. Academics
There are three main stream in this category: post-doc or lecturer positions or fellowships.

1.1. Post-doc or lecturer positions

The first step could be to check web pages of various groups where you feel that your research interests could fit well. If you find something very relevant, but with no vacancies in that group, even then there is no harm in sending your CV to them. They may consider it in future if they found your profile promising and fitting into their requirements. This could be particularly useful for lecturer positions but make sure that your CV is going to the relevant person.

Other ways could be to sign up for job adverts. One excellent place for academic jobs is jobs.ac.uk while others could be academic jobs, European jobs, University jobs and Jobs for PhD, New Scientist Jobs etc. There could be several other such sites which could help you to keep updated with the current available positions.

If one is interested in academic position in Indian premier institutes such as Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Science (IIScs) or Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), the straight approach is to visit their web pages where you will normally find advert for vacancies. Fill their forms or send your CV to them. If they are interested, they will contact you for arranging further steps.

1.2 Research fellowships
Another
difficult but most impressive way is to secure post-doctoral fellowships for your further research. One route to secure them is to respond to fellowship adverts published through various job sites (described above in 1.1). The other route is to browse the websites of the UK research funding organisations such as The Royal Society, EPSRC, NERC, The Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research, The British Council, British Academy, Research Councils UK, Thee Nuffield Trust, etc., and write research proposals according to their guidelines and submit to them. Note that in most cases, there is an deadline for submitting such proposals so one should begin to look a year or so in advance as fellowships are very competitive. Even if your application is not successful, the advantage would be to gain experience to write research grants/proposals that you need to do anyway after few years if you want to stay in academia.

2. Industry, Management or Banking
Probably, I am not the right person to advice on the above. However, registering with various web sites such as jobsearch, prospects, career seeker, jobs1, jobsite, industrial jobs, etc., could be helpful. Apart from them, it is very useful to go to web pages on various companies and look for the jobs of your interest. If you are still in the University, another effective way could be to keep an eye on your 'University's career service' dairy.

2.1 Article invited on 'finding industrial jobs'
I feel that one way of returning help that we received from others is to help others! An article on 'tips for securing industrial jobs after a PhD' is warmly welcomed from any of my friends working in industries. I do not want to name them but am looking forward for their initiative to share their experiences that could benefit others.

3. Final words
This stage of life is a mix of pressure and joy: pressure to complete PhD, finding a job of ones interest and several uncertainties because of transition, and joy to start a new innings of lthe life. Everyone has to pass through this phase, so remain patient, calm, focused and plan the job thing carefully. I am sure things will fall at right place for you!

Good luck!
Prashant