Priscilla Jebaraj

The national centre announced with fanfare a year ago

The programme started with Rs. 5-crore seed grant from State Government

“From July to mid-September, we didn’t have any class at all”

CHENNAI: Over a year ago, at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the University of Madras, the National Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology was announced with much fanfare as a cutting edge research institution which would “draw internationally renowned scientists and Nobel laureates.”

For the first 11 students at the centre, however, the reality falls far short of the dream.

“From July to mid-September, we didn’t have any class at all…We were sitting under the trees, we didn’t even have a classroom,” said one student of the first batch of the dual degree, M.Sc in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, being run by the centre. “We just sat in the library or did some practicals. It was very uncoordinated… Everything boils down to the fact that they have not hired any staff,” said another student.

The first class entered the programme in the 2006-07 academic year, and spent the first two semesters in the biotechnology, chemistry and physics departments. They were supposed to start core nanotechnology courses at the new centre from their third semester, which started in July 2007. However, they returned after the summer break to discover that the university, which advertised in May 2006 for a professor who would head the department, a reader and two lecturers , had still failed to hire anyone.

None hired

Staff members co-ordinating the programme said sufficient number of applications had been received; but, none was hired owing to “delays by the university’s administrative authorities.”

Students say it was only after they demanded a meeting with the Registrar that a second advertisement was issued in mid-September. The applications received this time are being scrutinised and the co-ordinating staff say the appointments are expected to be settled by the last week of December or in early January, subject to the university’s approval. A classroom was also finally assigned at the end of September.

In the meanwhile, a few staff members have been drafted from other departments, including nuclear physics, zoology, botany and biotechnology. However, students say not all of them are familiar with nanotechnology. “He is trying to teach us from Internet downloads,” said one student.

“Not one professor is an expert in the nanotech field,” said another.

Even with this last-minute arrangement, teaching has not started in at least one core subject, and very few classes have been taken in another, so third semester examinations have also been delayed. According to university regulations, the results should be sent in by December 19, but the nanoscience students will only complete their papers by the end of January and will receive their results at the end of the fourth semester.

Staff members say the second class of 12 students will not face any problems, but admitted that “the first batch is suffering because it is in the embryonic stage.”

The programme was started with the help of a Rs. 5-crore seed grant from the Government of Tamil Nadu last year and has now received Rs. 10 crore as the first instalment of the Rs. 100-crore grant sanctioned by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations.

The coordinating staff say Rs. 65 crore will be spent on world-class equipment and Rs. 15 crore on constructing a building for the centre on a 3.5 acre site on the university’s Guindy campus.

The plan envisages 25 faculty members for the autonomous centre, including four professors, five readers and 11 lecturers, helping to develop a teaching and research programme with a thrust on biomedical nanotechnology and inter-disciplinary collaborations with other science departments.

Not impressed

Today’s students are not impressed with the ambitious plans. “Outside there are lots of hype, but inside, we know there is nothing. It’s very frustrating,” said a student.