"Researchers need to focus on solutions that have direct impacts on society."
Chintan Bhatt, an Indian Leaders in Innovation Fellowships (LIF) and Industry Academia Partnerships (IAPP) entrepreneur, is one of the founders of NanoGuru, a hybrid tool for studying and characterising the properties of materials at nanoscale. We asked him about his innovation, inspiration and insights for his fellow researchers:
Can you briefly describe your innovation?
NanoGuru is a tool for characterising the physical properties of materials at nanoscale. The properties of a material determine its suitability for use in any application; we need to understand the properties of a material before trying to use it, because if it isn’t fit for the need of that application, the final product won’t work.
A material’s properties are defined by its atomic structure (which is at nanoscale), so the ability to study at nanoscale is key.
What inspired you to create NanoGuru?
Commercially available instruments using nanoindentation, a popular technique for mechanical characterisation, are expensive and complicated to use. My team, led by Dr Syed Asif and Thomas Wyrobe, were inspired to try to bring this technology to the classroom, so we created NanoGuru.
NanoGuru uses a hybrid technique of depth-sensing nanoindentation and in-situ scanning probe microscopy imaging. It can be used to study many properties simultaneously, while conventional techniques are limited to studying one or two properties at a time.
We can also use it to teach the core concepts of the mechanics of materials and structure-property correlation at nanoscale and give students hands-on experience - just like a computer can be a tool and a learning platform for the concepts of software development.
What were the main lessons you learned through the LIF training?
LIF helped us to define the business model and strategy for our product, which is the core of any successful business. I learned how to develop a product-specific business model, and how that model changes with the target market. Being a researcher, I had never thought of these aspects of business.
I also learned strategies to promote scientific products, such as NanoGuru. Finally, I learned how to build a network for my business.
You are also the industry partner for IAPP India, another RAEng programme. What does this involve?
Through IAPP, we have gained increased visibility and exposure among academia and industry.
Firstly, we are collaborating with Indian and UK academic institutions to develop a curriculum using NanoGuru that suits the needs of industry. New technology uptake by industry is always a challenge, however, we believe that through education, NanoGuru can help to bridge the gap between academic and industrial use.
Secondly, we aim to showcase NanoGuru as a scanning probe educator platform, which academics can use to train the growing student population in India and elsewhere on the essentials of nanoscale science and technology.
The platform includes a suggested curriculum, samples for testing, software and hardware illustrating the connection between nanoscale structure and macroscale material performance. We aim to help build a skilled workforce in the field of nanomaterial processing, synthesis and characterisation.
What stage are you at now?
We have started commercialising NanoGuru. We are collaborating with academic institutions to fine-tune the curriculum we have developed, and enter the educational market, which is new to us.
We are also in the process of becoming associated with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s National Knowledge Functional Hub, which focuses on the future needs of education in India and helps government to define policies for universities.
What tips for success would you give to your peers?
Researchers need to focus on solutions that have direct impacts on society. First identify the need, and then find the best solution or product to serve that need. It is equally important to define the correct business model and strategy, and update it as your product and market changes.
Anything else you would like to share with our community?
Recently, we had the chance to host the British High commissioner to India, Sir Dominic Asquith, and Deputy High Commissioner Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford at our office.
We discussed and shared our India-UK research collaboration with two more of our IAPP partners, Dr Joy Mitra of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram and Professor Ravi Silva FREng from the University of Surrey. We also demonstrated the capabilities of NanoGuru as a material characterisation tool.
Sir Asquith agreed that this kind of tool can help industry grow faster and better. He also suggested that we should get involved with the Advance Manufacturing Technology Centre facility, a major India-UK technology initiative based on the UK’s Catapult Centres.
His kind words of motivation and encouragement boosted our confidence.
For more information, please visit nanoguru.com.