Dr G Ramakrishnan, Director, SIES Institute of Chromatography and Spectroscopy, discusses the features of training offered at his institute, with Sachin Jagdale
Describe the circumstances that led to the formation of SIES Institute of Chromatography and Spectroscopy?
While chromatographic and spectroscopic techniques hold a very important place in both research and industry, only a limited part of theoretical knowledge of these techniques is imparted to students during their graduate and postgraduate studies. The students neither see these instruments in real nor get the practical exposure to these instrumental techniques, as such facilities are not found in most of the colleges. It was also noted that quite a few teachers teaching these techniques needed in depth practical training in order to teach these techniques effectively to students. This visible gap in our educational system led us to the idea of creating an institute for training of students and teachers. Initially, we set up a small chromatography laboratory in the SIES college premises in Sion. Once we found that this is helping the graduate students and teachers, we decided to make an expanded facility in Nerul, Navi Mumbai, where our SIES Institute of Chromatography and Spectroscopy is situated.
Setting up a chromatography and spectroscopy lab is a very expensive process. How did you manage this? What was the role of Chromatographic Society of India to facilitate the same?
Yes, setting up a modern lab with good instruments is a very expensive proposition. But South Indian Education Society (SIES) being a primary education institution believed that it is important that it takes a lead in setting up such an institute for providing such skill development among students and teachers. The instrument company Perkin Elmer need to be complimented in sharing our thought and agreeing to be our partner in this effort and to provide us with their instruments at an affordable price that SIES was ready to invest .Chromatographic Society of India, which does not have its own lab, agreed to support this idea by bringing the necessary people resources to conduct various courses, seminars and conferences. CSI is also associating with this institute in bringing in some of the instruments from its corporate members as donations.
What is your staff strength?
The institute has at present only four members including the Director, laboratory Manger and two students, who want to pursue their Ph.D.
How many students and teachers have been trained by the institute till now?
Our trainees consist of mainly students, teachers and industry chemists. We believe that we have trained almost 50 college teachers in the last 18 months and nearly 250 students. Besides we have had almost 100 chemists from the industries who have come to our institute for focused seminars combined with instrumental training in the last 18 months.
What role can the pharma industry play to ensure that a maximum number of students and industry people get practical training in chromatography and spectroscopy?
The participation of pharma industry is very important for our success. For example, Cipla has helped us by donating to us some of their older instruments and software, especially in the initial stages. They also have sent their junior chemists for our training courses. Our courses will help the fresh and junior chemists in a pharmaceutical company to understand the theory behind chromatographic and spectroscopic techniques and instrumentation besides getting practical hands on experience on some of the techniques. In addition, if a chemist already working in a pharma industry knows the operation of GC, the use of Head Space accessory along with GC or Mass Spectrometer combined with GC can be learnt in our institute. Our institute can provide the initial theoretical and practical training on the chromatographic and spectroscopic instruments to the newly hired chemists of the pharma industry at a minimal cost so that they do not have to invest their time and money to do the training internally in their facilities. As we have two fully loaded HPLC instruments with Quaternary Pump, DAD, etc we should be in a position to offer special training modules for method development, impurity profiling, etc. the pharma industry will be interested in. Pharma companies or their associations can also collaborate with our institute in conducting various training programs that will be useful to the students , who want to make a career in the pharma industry and also provide this opportunity to the chemists from various other industries, who want to shift their career path in to the pharma industry.
Do you provide placement assistance to the students as well?
Once we plan to do the 6 months/ one year courses to students, we will be in a position to monitor the performance of the trainees and provide placements to them accordingly to various industries. However, we have not yet reached that stage as of now.
Besides training students and industry people, does this lab also take up commercial assignments?
We are not taking up any commercial testing on a large scale as we do not have an infrastructure to do that. However, if some customers need our services especially with technical interpretation of the results, we are positioned very well for that. We do have a few regular customers who come to us for analysis of essential oils and APIs. Our emphasis is to keep the confidentiality of the customers and samples and provide them with excellent technical support.
What are your expansion plans? Have you identified locations to open more such institutes?
Presently we have most of the required instruments for research and training. The one major instrument that we need is LC/MS/MS and we are hopeful that some reputed manufacturer would come forward to collaborate with us in the near future. Running such an institute at an optimum level in itself is a big feat; therefore, at present there is no plan to open more such institutes by SIES.
Can you share case studies to show how students trained at SIES Institute of Chromatography and Spectroscopy have been benefited?
We do have a few cases in our short time of existence. A senior pharma chemist, who was working abroad came back to India and was assisting us with our courses and research for a short period of time. During this period, he came across with one of the companies who have been collaborating and he was absorbed by that company in a senior position. One of the B.Tech. biotechnolgy students from one of the Navi Mumbai colleges carries out her instrumental experiments of her project work and after completion of her degree is pursuing her M.Tech.; she is very thankful to our institute for providing all the help for her project. One of the colleges in Navi Mumbai brought their 30 B.Sc. students to our lab for an educational visit and we were pleasantly surprised to hear from the Professor -in-charge that 10 out of 30 students joined for M.Sc. course and she credits our institute for this experience, which has happened for the first time in their college history. There may be a few more cases such as these, we shall make some conscious effort to keep a record of such instances.