Intro: Dr. D.Vishwanathan (Vice Chancellor, Anna University, Chennai)
H Rama Krishnan interacted with him for Chennaionline
Rama: Good morning, Professor.
D Vishwanathan: Good morning
Rama: Can you tell us something about your early life?
D V: I was born in Gonur, a small village near Mettur Dam in Salem District. My parents were agriculturists. I had my schooling at Mettur Dam, about eight kilometers from home. I had to walk the distance every day as there was no bus facility. Electricity came to my village only after I completed my ME in the Engineering College, Guindy.
Rama: Your father Mr C Doraisamy and your mother Mrs Bakkiyam Doraisamy were both agriculturists. How did you manage to join the BE Course in Annamalai university?
D V: After my schooling, my father managed to get me admission for PUC in the Sacred Hearts College in Tirupathur in the North Arcot District. That was the turning point in my career and in my life. The teachers in that College gave me further career guidance. As per their guidance, I applied for B E in various institutions. At that point of time, there were only two options â€“ either the Government Colleges or the Annamalai University. I got admission in the latter.
Rama: How did you choose Mechanical Engineering?
D V: It was my basic interest.
Rama: And then you joined ME in this very Engineering College.
D V: After I passed the BE (Mechanical Engineering), I received job offers from about fifteen industries. However, I wanted to study further.
Rama: And why?
D V: Because I wanted to go into the subject as much as I can. Though I was basically from a village, I had a passion for education. Thus, though my parents wanted me to take up a job, I decided to do higher education. I did my ME in Production Engineering in the College of Engineering, Guindy. At that time it was with the Madras University. After completing the fourth semester of ME, I joined as a lecturer in this College itself. After three years, I got selected for my PhD in Metallurgy in IIT here in Chennai. At that time, the Quality Improvement Programme for teachers was on and there was a stipend given by the Government of India. During my PhD, our University gave me full salary.
Fortunately, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was the Director of the DRDO, in charge of the Trishul Missile Project. That project was sponsored by DRDO in the Metallurgy Department of IIT. The project was completed under the leadership of Professor K A Padmanabhan. My field of specialization was the Superplastic Forming, which was a relatively new technology. In India. That was the first time this was developed indigenously and this was implemented for the production of missile, rocket and aircraft components.
Rama: What is Superplastic Forming?
D V: If you want to, say convert a titanium plate into semi spherical shape, it is not possible in the conventional methods. So, we heat the metal to such a level where plasticity of forming is very high and very low gas pressure is applied. This is done till it starts bending. The same stretching that takes place when you blow a balloon takes place in the titanium metal without any fracture or crack. It was a highly successful mission.
Rama: If I am not mistaken, you got three patents for developing missile and rocket components at that time. How did you accomplish this?
D V: I owe it to hard work under the able guidance of my Guide, Professor K A Padmanabhan. We knew that such a technology was not available in India. It was being used abroad. And they would not transfer the technology to us. We needed the material development for rockets. We developed them for the first time in India.
Rama: What influence did Dr Kalam create in you?
D V: He is a great personality. We have seen him working hard at DRDO. He was totally dedicated to Technology development. He was sincere, willing to guide others. After Dr.Kalam successfully demonstrated the rocket technology in 1978, the Government decided that his expertise could be used in missile technology. In four years, he completed the project. He knew how to bring technologies together. Besides, he had distributed the assignment of technology development among various laboratories in the country. He integrated them at the DRDO. He inspired me a lot.
Rama: How did you come to teaching?
D V: It has been my passion and it is considered a noble profession in our country. The Vedas speak of Matha-Pitha-Guru-Daivam. It has placed the Guru just after oneâ€™s parents. It is a profession in which we help others gain knowledge. I wanted to be a part of transforming knowledge. When I had completed my project, I attended an international conference organized by the Washington State University. I presented a paper and told the delegates that India is in the seventh place in the Superplastic forming technology. At that time I was offered a job in California as a Process Engineer in an Ancillary Missile manufacturing Unit. I, however declined the offer, since I wanted to work in India.
Rama: And, your interest in research?
D V: One can enjoy research, because you always try to invent something new. Everyday, you face problems, which you solve. At the end of the day, you feel satisfied. Whether or not you succeed, you see the result. I had an urge for invention. In my chosen field, I wanted to learn more, to identify new concepts and to reduce cost in the manufacturing systems.
Rama: You started from a very modest career as a lecturer in this College and you have risen to the highest present position as Vice-Chancellor. What do you owe this to?
D V: Even while I was a lecturer, I had the ambition of one day becoming the Vice Chancellor. And I was determined to work hard to reach that level.
Rama: You have been the Director of the Audio Visual Research Centre in this University. How was that experience?
D V: It was a satisfying experience. Initially, when I got that appointment, I was wondering as to what contribution I could make there, since my field of specialization was Mechanical Engineering. The then Vice Chancellor told me I had the capability to man, manage and run the Centre. From the day I took charge as Director of the Centre, I started to learn the media and visual communication concepts. I received very good response from the UGC, which granted 65 lakh Rupees for construction of the buildings and fifty lakhs for equipment. The UGC also allowed me to start media courses, the type of which was not available anywhere else at that time. I enjoyed my stay there thoroughly. I was the first to start the Electronic Media courses in the country. My idea was to develop media technology. The result was encouraging and the student response was excellent. Those who have completed the course are employed internationally.
Rama: You started the Centre for Educational Media Technology. How did this idea occur to you?
D V: This was from a concept I got from the AVRC, which produce documentary programs in subjects common to all the students in the country. This was telecast by the UGC. I thought every University should have the Centre for Educational Media Technology. This media Centre should cater to every department of the University. Every department should come forward to develop the audio visual programme to explain the subject to the students. If this method is followed, every student would understand the subject.
Rama: You have also guided PhD students. How was the experience?
D V: In fact, I could learn a lot while guiding the PhD scholars, both in Mechanical Engineering and the Electronic Media.
Rama: What are the UG programmes you have started as the Vice Chancellor?
D V: I was instrumental in starting the B E degree courses in Material Science and Engineering; Agriculture and Irrigation Engineering: ME in Manufacturing Systems Management; Apparel Technology; M Tech in Nano Technology and ME in Coastal management and Bio Medical Engineering.
Rama: You have received the most prestigious International Socrates Award.
D V: I was delighted and thrilled at receiving a mail in July, from the European Business assembly, Oxford conveying the news that I am the recipient of the award for my contribution to the inleectual development in the 21st Century. I was very proud and happy. I do not know how they selected me for this award.
Rama: Are you happy with the present education system in our country?
D V: It needs to be improved, needs to be transformed. But, it cannot be done all of a sudden. The learning methodologies, the evaluation systems, the teaching methodologies...all these need to be changed, in a phased manner.
Rama: You are just 53 now and you are holding a very high position in the world of education. What do youy want to do henceforth?
D V: My only objective in my life is education. A teacher is always a teacher. He has no retirement. Similarly, there is no end to learning. Educating the rural youth has been my ambition. The greatest challenge is the shortage of quality teachers. And the quality of teachers is another problem. I am confident, this issue can be sorted out. Similarly, in addition to books, video lessons can be made available in the libraries.
Rama: Thank you very much Professor
D V: Thank you.