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Institute Lecture: In Conversation With Professor KPJ Reddy

January 20, 2020

Prof. KPJ Reddy is Professor Emeritus in the department of aerospace engineering at IISc Bangalore, where he has served as a faculty for 28 years. Prof. Reddy did BSc and MSc (physics) from Mysore University and PhD from Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi. His research interests are in the areas of aerodynamics, hypersonics, shock waves, high temperature chemical kinetics and materials, gasdynamic lasers, and quantum electronics. He is a founding member and former president of the International Shock Wave Institute (Japan) and Society for Shock Wave Research (India). Prof. Reddy has developed and patented numerous technologies using shock waves and based on these innovations he has established a group of companies under the faculty entrepreneurship program at IISc. He is a recipient of several honours such as IISc Alumni Award, Prof. Satish Dhawan Chair Professorship, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Chair Professor. He is editor in chief of the International Journal of Hypersonics and editorial board member of Shock Waves, Journal of Engineering Physics and Thermophysics. Prof. KPJ Reddy delivered an institute lecture on hypersonics and shockwaves on 15th January, Watch Out! Decided to interview him to know more about his passion for research and undying love for life.

WO: How was your school life? Did you enjoy your childhood?

Prof K.P.J. Reddy: Oh yes! We spent our time were jumping around, jumping into rivers and playing. I really enjoyed my childhood and I try to have the same approach towards research as well. I have never worked for more than 2 hours a day. This character of mine is very helpful. I give the remaining time to do other things I like.

WO: What do you do in your past time ?

Prof K.P.J. Reddy: I interact with people and mentor children. I’ve been doing this for about 10 years. I mentor about 30,000 children per year, I go to schools in villages. A lot of those children have become big scientists. I talk to people in villages, farmers, and apply science into what they’re doing, into their lives. I adopted the town where I did my high school from and I’m building a huge science center. The state government has provided about 206 acres, in which, I have built around 16 acres, children can come and indulge in Mathematics and Astronomy. My dream is that in about 20-30 years, a farmer’s child should be able to become a nobel laureate. My research is equally intense, the lab that I work in is the biggest in the world in the field of hypersonics. Hypersonics is the one that takes you to the moon.I have closely worked with Kalam. I enjoy the place of guru, they jokingly call me the Gandhian of hypersonics. It shouldn’t be like “O, Lage Raho Munna Bhai” type.

WO: Tell us more about the science city you are building.

Prof K.P.J. Reddy: The Science Center that we are building, in the name of H Narasimhaiah, the ex-Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University. IISc has 350 acres of land and in 2009 we had the centenary celebrations and we decided not to build any more inside the campus, so we needed a 2nd campus. I was asked to help, this is when I realized that India lacks a science city. Japan, has Tsukuba Science City. It is a really big science city and everything science is done there and I’ve wanted to one such thing for a long time, so I bought 11000 acres of land from the government and invited organizations related to Atomic Energy, I gave them 3000 acres, I gave 2500 acres to IISc, then 4500 acres to DRDO and 500 acres to ISRO, that is where they had the Chandrayan trials. Fortunately I was the advisor to the previous government, HD Kumaraswamy and I talked to him about declaring that a science city of the country. I dream big, I don’t believe in small things, at the same time I sit and work with people and sell my dreams to them. I also build my industries, and I have about 30 patents.

WO: How did this transition from academia to industry take place? Tell us about the work done by some of the industries you started.

Prof K.P.J. Reddy: It was always in me, in fact around 2003, when Kasturi Rangan was the chairman of ISRO, he had made an announcement that he wants to privatize satellite making. So, I went to different industries and we collected around 750 crore rupees, and we bid for it. So. I built a company for making satellites. Two years later, ISRO withdrew from the program. They didn’t want to privatize so soon. So, I always had this dream that we should make something in India and sell it to the world. That’s why I invented the hand driven shock tube and I named it “Reddy Tube”. It’s prideful. It’s an Indian name, there are an infinite number of Reddy’s. It isn’t my ego that I’m satisfying. It is an Indian invention. And now it is appreciated everywhere. In Karnataka, You can’t become an engineer without studying about the Reddy Tube. In Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh, they’re adding it to the first year syllabus everywhere. So this is what drives me. Now I have 4 companies below me, one of them works with ONGC, Modi himself came to our office and signed an agreement with us. So, with that we made tools for fracking. Right now, we use hydro-fracking, and it’s harmful to the environment and groundwater. So, we came up with a new technology where we use air to frack, it was a 7.4 crore project and now it is worth a billion dollars. Similarly, I invented a device for veterinarians, India is the 2nd largest producer of milk in the world. If we are able to increase the production by 10%, then all the problems that farmer’s face would disappear. I was looking at the root cause of this and we found out that it lay in the artificial insemination gun, which is only 30% efficient. If we can increase it by 10%, we can make our farmers financially dependent. So, I worked on the gun and attached the Reddy Tube to it and now it is known as “Super Bull”, so now it’s being used and we have used it on 15,000 cows and the results are mind-boggling, it has increased efficiency by 20%. Once this gun is used across the country, per day, the income of the farmers across the country will go up by 500 crore rupees. Per year, farmers would get an extra 1 Lakh 80 Thousand crore rupees as income with no additional cost. They need not go to the government asking for subsidies and loan waivers. Then they can have their pride.

In drip irrigation, acid is used to clean the drip irrigation pipes, which is killing our lands, because the acid goes into our lands. The farmers’ lungs are affected by the acidic fumes too. I implemented the Reddy Tube and now we just need to connect the Reddy Tube to these pipes, send a shockwave into the drip irrigation tube and all the clogged holes would open up, and no acid would be used. I am also the first one to use drones for afforestation. We have barren hills which stretches for about 35-50 kilometers on either side of the road close to my town, and my town is bone dry. No rains. So, we made these drones that can lift about 10 kilograms of seeds and I discovered a method to make these seeds germinate. So we built these 2 drones, so during the rainy season, the drones will take off and spray these seeds on the hills.. This is the knowledge that you guys have and are familiar with, you just have to apply it. That’s what I would say. I’m into that. So, likewise, I work with silk farmers, mulberry silk. That’s our major commercial product. Now we’re working on aeroponics. Aeroponics is basically agriculture without soil. So we would suspend the plant in the air. It needs nutrients and moisture. So, now we have built these mist making machines. We just need to add a little water into it and it creates a cloud of nanoparticles. We add the nutrients into this water and spray the plant with the water that it needs. Now this plant will grow in the air. My intention here is for farmers to do their agriculture with just buckets of water. We need not depend on rains. It will take a while because no one invests money into this. I have to mobilize my resources, whatever I get from my industries, I put it here. We were just talking about how we are building an artificial liver. That’s another thing. Doctors work with us, we just finished the proof of concept.

WO: How did you manage to diversify your projects to this extent?

Prof K.P.J. Reddy: It is your mind which creates these boundaries. In 1999, I realized that India had to go to space, but there were no hypersonics in the country, and today, India is one of the richest in terms of manpower in hypersonics. I personally produced 30 PhD’s. We have the best manpower in the world today. So, we can support the moon mission, we can support making hypersonics missiles. Now the government has to invest money, but the world-class manpower is right here in India. Everything is possible if you believe in it. Everything that I have learnt, I learnt without teachers, in school there were no teachers, in college I had to learn without teachers, even for my Ph.D, I didn’t have a guide. So, the point I’m making here is that I’m not a genius. It’s a mindset. I am not even one-tenth of what you guys are capable of. You have come through the system. You are extraordinary, but you have to realize this. Don’t go on an ego trip that “I’m extraordinary”. Remove the borders. Can you imagine that I have spent hours and hours, days and days watching people on the fields catching rats. Nomads would come after the harvest and they would catch these rats.How these rats make their tunnels, how they build their chambers where they store food for years together. That was the technology that Vietnam used to beat the Americans. So, we have to learn from nature. When you go back to your hometown, don’t waste your time sitting and watching TV. Go to the primary school near your house and spend time with those children. And then your personality opens up and you’ll be in such a position, that you’ll glow with confidence. This was the privilege that I had. I sit back and think “Why was I like this?”. Now I see that this is the reason. Honestly speaking you put the boundaries, and these boundaries make you what you are. You tell yourself that you will do Physics, Math and so on. But who stopped you from taking Economics as well? And your brain has infinite strength. You can be a dramatist, you can do whatever you want to. One day I thought I should learn music, because everyone was doing it. Now I can play fluently, you don’t need talent, all you need is that mindset that you can do it. And, honestly, you guys are blessed with it.

We are very miniscule compared to what we see around us, especially farmers. One day I went to Israel, where I was a visiting professor. A friend of mine was gardening and a Palestian passed by while my friend was watering his plants. The Palestinian asked him why he was being idiotic. My friend asked him what he meant by that. The Palestinian then told him, “Don’t you know that it’s going to rain tomorrow?”. And it promptly rained the next day. That’s why I say, “Learn, Look Around, Look Around and then you can be a leader”. You are insignificant, but at the same time you are infinite. Don’t ever tell yourself that you are great, but you are so great that you can change the universe.

WO: What was your calling that made you want to take research, with research being such a risky option, where most undergraduate students don’t take up research because of its uncertainty. What do you have to say about this and what advice would you give to students on this topic?

Prof K.P.J. Reddy: You see, I had no intelligence like this to make decisions on my own. I never had this dilemma. I’m just from a village and thought that if you passed 1st Standard, then you should go to 2nd standard and then 3rd. So, I never thought there were options anywhere. We never had a dilemma as to what to study and what not to. I asked myself “What is the best thing that I can become?”. The first time this had occurred to me was when I went to a hotel for the first time in my life. Over there, I bought a plate of Upma and Kesari Bath (South Indian dishes). I enjoyed it so much that I decided to become a waiter at the hotel, so that I could eat food like this everyday. That was my first goal. And then after 10th Standard, I had found out that a classmate had become a bus conductor. He lived a more luxurious life compared to us, so I told myself that I should become a conductor. To us ignorance was bliss. During my 11th and 12th grade, I worked very hard to fail because I wanted to get into politics. I wanted to solve the problems in my village, in order to do that, I thought that I should become a minister and help solve the problems of the village. During my 11th and 12th, my brother forced me to attend my exam. When the results came, I was tilling my land, when my father came to me and told me that i had passed. I was so annoyed with myself, I said “Damn It, I think destiny is trying to push me somewhere”. If I had gotten one mark less, I would have been somewhere else. My education was accidental. And then when I was studying during my B.Sc programme, I switched gears and I was the topper. One day when I was collecting my report card from the office, my Physics teacher saw me asked me about my marks, I had gotten a 100 in Physics. He then asked me if I applied for an M.Sc degree. I told him that I didn’t know what that was. So, he gave me a letter and I went to Mysore and that’s where I did my M.Sc. While I was doing my M.Sc, a colleague of mine told me that doing research is the best thing. I then got a fellowship at BIT Ranchi, where a professor from IISc had come and told us that the topper could come and join. It was destiny and a positive attitude. But the underlying difference between my friends and I is that whatever comes to me, I take it as a positive thing. Don’t ever cry. Don’t ever pity yourself. It is then that nobody can stop you from becoming successful. I sit back, I’m about 67, so I should start doing what old people do. And old people tell stories.