Featured Fellows

From a village in India to the cutting edge of nanotech

May 14 2019

Professor Chennupati Jagadish AC forged his career from a small Indian village, studying by the dim light of a kerosene lamp.

The global authority on nanotechnology said that without the enduring support from his parents and teachers, he would today be ploughing fields in India, rather than pioneering next-generation optical devices in Australia.

In his gratitude, and to “give something back to the next generation”, Professor Jagadish and his wife Vidya created the Endowment Fund, which facilitates four 10-week intensive internships at the Australian National University for students from the developing world.

Professor Jagadish is the Head of the Semiconductor Optoelectronics and Nanotechnology Group of the Australian National University and the Convenor of the Australian Nanotechnology Network. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 2002.

Here he discusses his upbringing in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, the future of nanotechnology and the Endowment Fund.

How do you see developments in optical devices being used in, let’s say, 20 years?

Nanoscience and nanotechnology is an exciting area to work in, both from a fundamental science point of view, as well as in applications. Opportunities and applications are limitless, allowing us to discover new phenomena. And we’re already seeing impact in electronics, computers, sensors and more.

At the nanoscale, the properties of materials change due to their large surface area to volume ratio, and quantum effects. This creates opportunities for developing new classes of devices like sensors, lasers, solar cells, photodetectors and new applications in neural engineering.

In the next 20 years we’ll see nanophotonic devices with applications in virtual reality, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, green internet, IoT, Li-Fi (technology that uses light to transmit data), quantum and secure communication systems.

If it weren’t for the support from my parents and two influential high school teachers, I would be ploughing the fields in India

How did your upbringing inspire you to create the Endowment Fund?

I come from a farming family in India and started my life in a small village, studying by the light of a kerosene lamp until I finished Year 7. In Year 8 I moved in with my high school Maths teacher until I started living on my own in Year 11.

If it weren’t for the support from my parents and two influential high school teachers, I would be ploughing the fields in India. I feel fortunate that I have had so many opportunities in my life, with so many people supporting me.

In my gratitude to all those who have helped, I thought it was time for me to giving something back to the next generation and to create opportunities for them.

Our endowment began by providing four internships to students from the developing world to spend three months at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

Based on the success of this program, ANU Colleges of Science and Research Schools have decided to offer additional 35 scholarships from India to carry out their internships at any Research School within the Colleges of Sciences.

My wife Vidya and I are delighted that the Endowment has opened the doors for so many young people.

Our intention was to open doors for students from the developing world (though to date only students from India have applied for the scholarships), while ANU Colleges of Science Future Research Talents Program specifically targets students from India.

Do you have a particular stand-out story about one of the recipients you can share?

The Endowment offered a fellowship to a young scientist from a small university in India and local media covered his visit to ANU.

His institution made his job permanent and increased his salary by 50 per cent. Based on his work at ANU, he has published a research paper.

It is satisfying to see that a three month visit to ANU supported by the Endowment enabled the career of a young scientist.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

My pride and joy are my students, post-docs and young academics who have worked in my group at ANU.

Seeing them achieve their dreams and goals is the most enjoyable part of my life.

I am humbled and grateful that I was honoured with the appointment as an AC, Companion of Australia, by the Governor General during 2016 Australia Day honours.

Winning the UNESCO medal is another international honour for which I am most grateful.

Chennupati Jagadish sitting on a chair

Both were completely unexpected, making them extra special.

I am grateful to India for providing me the education and nurturing me from childhood to adulthood, and I’m grateful to Australia for giving me the opportunities to flourish and prove myself as a scientist and an academic.