WARFT: advancing research frontiers
Undergraduate research is a rather new concept in India. WARFT is focusing in this segment and inspiring youth to undertake research by providing the necessary infrastructure.
Although India produces a large proportion of engineering graduates in the world, undergraduate research is often limited to the last year project. To enthuse students to undertake research, the WAran Research FoundaTion (WARFT) in Chennai provides facilities for research in supercomputing.
Started by N. Venkateswaran, the foundation aims to bring cutting-edge ideas in supercomputing to CS, IT, ECE and EEE students.
The Research Awareness Programme and Training (RAPT), a part-time programme for students who have completed two semesters, teaches them the fundamentals of computing and also encourages them to conduct independent research.
Operating out of his house in Mambalam since 1987-88, the retired professor, nicknamed Waran by his students, has built simulations of a powerful supercomputer using his 8-node computer cluster. “The success of our part-time programme lies in the fact that there are enough students with the enthusiasm for research and they have done all the work here,” he says.
The work, which originally started as an attempt to look at problems in parallel computing, now looks at practical applications including brain modelling. This research has resulted in the publication of papers in respected journals.
“These are very useful results in computational neuroscience and in parallel computing. The work has also resulted in our alumni going on to do their PhD from reputed universities worldwide,” he says.
V. Kamakoti, an Associate Professor at the IIT-Madras, remembers the early days of WARFT. “We were the first batch of students passing out of a city-based engineering college and had no idea what research meant. Waran stepped in and helped us realise what we could do with our theoretical knowledge,” he says.
He says that it was mostly the students’ enthusiasm that helped run the programme informally in the first days.
But now, RAPT has a formal curriculum with students progressing from signal processing and computer architecture in the first two years to actual work on a thesis in the third year of the programme.
Although Waran is 62 now, his organisation continues to be active in encouraging research and continues to inspire gratitude in his students. And, more importantly, he continues to inspire students take up research as a career. An alumnus of the programme, Srinivas Sridharan, who is pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the University of Notre Dame, sums it up saying: “If it were not for Waran and the opportunity he gave me, I would not have decided to go for research and a PhD.”
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