Electrical Engineering Society


IIT Delhi

Dr. Manan Suri

-By Inderjot Singh.

As a part of our ‘Know your prof’ initiative, we bring to you the interview of Prof. Manan Suri. He is an assistant professor in Electrical Engineering department and did his PhD in Nano electronics and Nano Technology from CEA-LETI, France before serving as a Senior Scientist in NXP Semiconductors, Belgium. In this interview he shares his opinions about various relevant topics including his area of research, reasons for the stagnancy in the research output from the premier institutes in the country among many others.
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1.What are your research areas/interests?

Semiconductor, Memory Technology, Unconventional Computing (Neuromorphic/Machine Learning), Nano­electronics and Devices

2.What are the current/future opportunities in that area both in research as well as corporate sectors?

Let’s try to answer this question area wise Global Semiconductor Memory Technology market is greater than ~ USD 70 billion and is bound to grow with a steady CAGR in the coming years. This creates a tremendous amount of interest in the industry on the topic. Industrial interests and aggressive product road­mapping leads to trickling of more funds for R&D in the field. In technical terms the memory community is currently trying to find the next successor of its long successful stalwart FLASH memory. Thus both technical and commercial factors make it one of the most exciting times to work in the field of Memory Technology. The field of Unconventional Computing, as I like to call it, (i.e. Machine Learning/Neuromorphic) also presents a lot of academic and industrial opportunities, which will grow in the time to come. With the ever­decreasing cost and constant miniaturization of electronics, sensors, smart mobile platforms data generation and collection has become easier than ever before. With gigantic amounts of data collected in this era of Big­Data, unconventional computing (Non Von­Neumann) techniques become more important by every passing day. We are sitting on the cusp of a new era in applications like self­driving cars, highly autonomous robotics and data driven decision- making. All this leads to unconventional computing in some form or the other.

3. What inspired you to pursue research?

There are multiple reasons that constantly inspire me to pursue research. Compared to any other job, research offers a very strong possibility of having a non­monotonous job. Good scientists are like artists with a lot of creativity who can connect dots in interdisciplinary fields. Research is the only field where even failure is a result. When something doesn’t work in research, that’s also a valuable result for the community, as you pave the way for others showing them how not to do something. There’s no other field I know of, where when something doesn’t work it’s considered just as valuable a result. Technology has always fascinated me. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of some of the finest global technical, educational, and innovation driven­institutes, organizations and corporations. Learning from great teachers, scientists, researchers, and receiving valuable feedback has constantly inspired and driven me in my research journey. Further, driven and motivated students inspire me; I see it as a responsibility to disseminate the specialized knowledge and skills that I have acquired over the years. We can only move ahead as a society if technical know­how and skills trickle down.

4. What is your opinion about the current attitude of students towards engineering/research (core areas)?

The current attitude of Indian students towards engineering and research is disappointing to say the least (Sorry for generalizing here, please don’t take it personally. I know a lot of you are driven and motivated for tech but read till the end to get a sense of what I mean to say). Majority of students pursue an engineering degree, because it acts like a gate pass to well­paying jobs and attractive recruitment opportunities. Since the end motivation is only a well­paying job, and not the actual content of the job, technology, real learning and research immediately take a back seat in the minds of the students after entering a technical institute. As a society we need to ask ourselves­ how many engineering/technical graduates we have every year, and what fraction of those graduates are directly working on a technology oriented product or technology development even 2­3 years after graduation? The fraction is so low, that it suggests a major problem in the way; we as a society evaluate careers, professions and success. (Please note I don’t define an app or website as true technology. Jet engines, sonars, Nano circuits etc. are real technology). In all honesty it’s not the students, who are to be blamed for this situation. We live in a dominant societal mindset where due to several reasons children are brought up believing success is equated with money. We live in a society where bankers are respected more than teachers. There’s no harm in earning more money or having a glamorous profession. What’s ironic is that most young people in the quest of glamour and money conveniently overlook the fact that some of the most successful, financially stable and profitable corporations globally are technology companies. Why knowingly overlook the glamour in tech industry? Other reason is we as a society tend to follow technology that’s first benchmarked or approved in the west. As a nation we need to be confident enough to appreciate a new technology first in our own country, even without the appraisal of the west. We need to create an ecosystem where new innovations arrive first in India, locally. There is no real technical or commercial reason why an upgraded version of iPhone first needs to arrive in the US and then in India. The Indian consumer needs to develop the risk­appetite and courage to play with untested technologies. Why cannot we lead with the appreciation of trendsetting innovative products, services and technology? It’s a trickledown effect, if the consumer is interested in technology driven solutions, more money flows in professions enabling such solutions and glorifying the careers associated with them.

5. Your opinion on MS/PHD in US verses elsewhere?

Globally speaking for several reasons US tops the list for engineering related Masters Programs. In terms of innovation, Western Europe is to follow and then Asian nations such as Korea, Japan and more recently even China is up there. In my personal opinion a PhD degree is more dominantly a function of who your PhD supervisor is, what is the research trajectory of the research group that you are joining and how collaborative are the group members in your team. For engineering oriented research it’s always the team that matters, the vision of the team, and then the name of the university.

6.What do IITs lack when compared with top engineering institutes/universities abroad?

IITs are the premier technical institutes of the nation. They offer some of the best possible facilities, instruction and resources for technical education in India. Brand IIT is valued globally. However, I believe that one major reason for IITs to become such a big brand is the fact that over the years they have acted as a great “filter”. Filtering out the best quantitative brains of the nation, under one roof, through its world famous competitive entrance exams. Once you already have segregated the best quantitative brains of the nation, when they go out on their own after 4 years, a lot of them are bound to bring back laurels and be high achievers by the virtue of their own merit. A real Institute should be able to pick up any brain (and not just the best ones) and nurture it to be better than what it was before. In global context there are several areas where the IITs can up their game. The curriculum must encourage more teamwork and more open­ended research/design problems. Feats in real­world engineering come only from dedicated collaborative technical teams. Revolutionary technical products and developments don’t come from the mindset of individual competition and individual judging but rather healthy collaborative and complementary teamwork. IITs should become more sensitive to IP & IPR generation, active R&D, product creation right from the undergraduate level. Every undergraduate student must be encouraged to write at least 1 patent ­ 1 invention (in any technical domain) before graduation. One way can be setting up of separate teaching and research tracks in the IITs. In this digital age when high­quality course materials are so easily available online with the likes of Coursera and YouTube, it would be unfair to believe that the responsibility of a premier national institute ends at teaching alone. Technical institutes must set aggressive targets for real technical product or IP creation that is relevant both locally & globally.

7.Your views on the current startup culture?

Startup culture in the Indian context is an overhyped phenomenon. It will, and to some extent already has begun to face the burst. It’s something similar to the dot­com bubble of late 90s. Reasons are plenty, simple question to be asked before going for a startup should be, forget funding, can you bootstrap? If yes, go ahead! Motivation behind a lot of local startups are skewed – at times the motivation is just fundraising, at times it’s just to make a statement among you peers. Young entrepreneurs must realize that cut­copy- paste of successful business models that worked abroad might not and will not necessarily work in India. It’s a different market. It’s worthy to go in the direction of startups, if one can design and make their own IP and IPR, create their own products. The government is doing a great job with initiatives such as Startup­India, Digital India & Make­in­India. However more value will come not in the form of tax breaks, but much stronger assistance for IP & IPR generation. Apart from more incubation centers the country needs more prototyping/design centers, more maker spaces, DIY hubs, lab facilities and more patent offices /patent lawyers.

8.Any particular incident/experience that motivated or inspired you. Or who are the people you look up to for inspiration/motivation?

Inspiration is a cumulative effect in one’s journey. Single incidents can act as triggers, but I believe one gathers inspiration all along the way, even subconsciously, even while asleep. I try to look for inspiration in small everyday actions of any individual that I come across. Even animals and non­human elements of nature inspire me in some sense or the other.

9.What are your non­academic interests?

Geo­politics, Strategy, and Music.