Mahatma Gandhi University has been selected for the Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative by the University Grants Commission.

The varsity has been selected for collaborative research and related academic activities in the field of Energy with Brown University, Duke University and Plymouth State University. The joint venture, titled ‘An Interdisciplinary and Community Oriented Innovative Approach Towards Sustainable Development’, will witness collaboration in various spheres of activity between the School of Environmental Sciences and the Advanced Inter University Centre of Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development (of Mahatma Gandhi University) and the Department of Civil Engineering (of Brown University), the Centre for Environmental Implication of Nanotechnology (of Duke University) and the Department of Social Sciences (of Plymouth State University). The proposed project, which will commence on August 2012, is a combination of upgradation of curriculum, cutting-edge research in environmental science and extension programme aiming at sustainable development, according to a release.

The major objectives of the project are strengthening of existing curriculum, participatory community involvement, collaborative research in clean energy and water management and dissemination of the knowledge generated to the sustainable development of the region and the communities. Mahatma Gandhi University has planned for three major programmes to achieve these objectives. The first programme involves ensuring clean water and better sanitation through community rainwater harvesting and biogas systems for improving the lifestyle of an impoverished community for which the School of Environmental Sciences will collaborate with Brown University.

The programme mainly involves development of rainwater harvesting system as a sustainable drinking water source for the marginalised sections of Kuttanad and designing and development of a biogas plant model suitable to the local conditions. Major thrust will be given to community participation from this area.

The second programme involves the generation of clean energy as an alternate to fuel cell through Chitosan-based Nano-membranes for which the Advanced Inter University Centre for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development will collaborate with Duke University. The programme aims to take up membrane-based research for improving the efficiency of fuel cells.

Fuel cells are emerging as the future energy machine and it is proposed to develop eco-friendly nano-membranes for the harvest of solar energy in such cells.

The third programme is livelihood adaptations and sustainable development of indigenous communities located in the regions of Western Ghats that are parts of the State. The Advanced Inter University Centre for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development will collaborate with the Plymouth State University for the programme. The study is expected to generate knowledge about the ongoing livelihood changes and subsequent adaptations among the indigenous communities living along the Southern Western Ghats Ranges in Kerala. It may also facilitate ground-level interactions with different age groups among the communities which will contribute to the learning and documentation of processes that will be valuable in formulating updated curricula in human ecological topics. This kind of study would bring valuable information on the tribal livelihood changes, institutional mechanisms which drive the changes and gender equations among the communities in the Western Ghats region, University authorities point out.

The joint initiative has been launched during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the United States in November 2009. Both the Indian and US Governments have pledged US $ 5 million each for the endeavour which will fund joint programmes between selected Universities as well as faculty development. Other institutions that have been selected for the initiative from the country are IIT Kanpur, IIT Delhi and Banaras Hindu University.