CeNSE at IISc, Bengaluru will soon launch a national portal that has details of all government-funded research equipment and facilities available at academic institutions and organisations in India. Researchers from even colleges can now book, pay and use any equipment available in any research lab or organisation. The initiative will at least minimise duplication of expensive equipment and lead to better utilisation of instruments. The government has green-signalled the project.
Soon researchers in any college or institution and research organisations can check, reserve and have easy access to even expensive research equipment and facilities anywhere in India thanks to the efforts of the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE) at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. The Centre is in the process of collating information about scientific and research equipment and facilities available at academic institutions and research organisations across the country. The portal — Indian Science, Technology and Engineering Facilities Map (I-STEM) — will soon become operational. The government green-signalled the project last month.
The institutions and organisations that have the equipment and facilities will provide access to researchers for both academic and non-academic work through an online reservation system.
“This initiative will have many benefits. It will provide access to researchers to any equipment or facility that has been procured using public funds, the equipment will be better utilised and it avoid duplication of expensive equipment as much as possible,” says Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Shrivastava of CeNSE and one the two researchers who came up with this idea. “Sharing expensive equipment can bring down the cost of doing research in India.”
Putting to rest the fear that this initiative may come in the way of premier institutions which are just coming up from procuring essential equipment, Prof. Navakanta Bhat, Chairman of CeNSE and the Principal Investigator of the I-STEM project says: “Each institute will need certain equipment that is absolutely necessary and essential for regular use. It is not at all the intent of this initiative to stop such institutes from procuring equipment but to ensure that each instrument is better used.”
“We are trying to replicate the Indian Nanoelectronic Users Programme (INUP) model at CeNSE and IIT Bombay that has been in operation since 2008 to provide access to sophisticated device fabrication and analytical equipment to any academic researcher in the country. I-STEM is inspired by our positive experience with INUP,” says Dr. S.A. Shivashankar, visiting professor at CeNSE and the other person who is the brain behind this initiative. The idea of starting a national network was shared with Dr. R. Chidambaram, former Principal Scientific Advisor. The proposal was formally sent to the government in November last year.
“UGC, DST, DBT, CSIR, ICAR and other government bodies have already instructed their respective institutions to provide all information about equipment and facilities that they have to the database. Even the facilities that are currently open to others, such as the INUP at IISc and IIT Bombay and 15-20 Sophisticated Analytical Instrument Facilities (SAIF) at different locations in the country, will be added to the I-STEM database,” adds Prof. Shivashankar.
Individual institutions will prescribe the charges for using the instruments and the portal will have no role in this. The database will allow potential users to search for the desired facility and reserve and confirm time slots for using the facility.
“We are asking the government to make it a part of I-STEM that sharing of instruments shall be on a no-conflict-of-interest basis. Those making the instrument available for routine use should not demand authorship in a paper. But if they provide substantial technical assistance to the user it would be appropriate to acknowledge or include them as authors,” says Prof. Shivashankar.