Exploring the Nano World

Sabu Thomas, a participant in the 2017 Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar, works on using nanotechnology to develop useful products in diverse sectors.

By Natasa Milas

January 2020

Exploring the Nano World
Sabu Thomas (center) with other participants of the Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar, near the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Photograph courtesy Sabu Thomas


Sabu Thomas is the vice chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU), in Kottayam, Kerala. A professor of polymer science and engineering at the School of Chemical Sciences at MGU, he is also a founding director of the university’s International and Inter University Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

Thomas participated in the Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar in 2017. He has also developed collaborations with companies like Apollo Tyres in India and General Cable in the United States, which use his research and technology in their production.

Excerpts from an interview.

As a professor of polymer science and engineering at Mahatma Gandhi University, what kind of research do you conduct?

I have been teaching in the School of Chemical Sciences at Mahatma Gandhi University for the past 32 years. I also teach polymer nanoscience and nanotechnology to master’s students and research scholars at the university.

My research group basically works on the following areas.

• Conversion of natural resources into

products such as wound-healing scaffolds, water purification membranes, green EMI [electromagnetic interference] shielding materials, all derived from nanocellulose, a green polysaccharide derived from plant fibers.

• Development of toughened high-performance epoxy materials for aerospace applications.

• Development of high-barrier tire inner liners for next generation tires.

• Fabrication of high-performance materials for battery applications.

Could you tell us about your work in the fields of nanotechnology and nanoscience?

We primarily focus on the key aspects of using nanotechnology to develop products that can be used in diverse sectors, such as health care, automobile, aerospace and defense.

We have extensive collaborations with Apollo Tyres, a major tire company in India, and have patented a technology for developing high-performance tire inner liners. We have also developed a formulation for high voltage cables with General Cable in the United States.

How was your experience of participating in the Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar in the United States and how did this program help enhance your work in India?

I got the opportunity, as a senior Fulbright Scholar, to have academic and administrative meetings with 15 U.S. universities, institutes and colleges. I visited many U.S. institutions to have high-level academic meetings with their presidents, vice presidents, deans, provosts, senior academicians and administrators. I was also able to acquire a lot of information about the educational systems in various institutes in the United States.

This trip was very useful in my effort to take MGU to a higher academic level. I did an orientation lecture soon after I returned from the program and have encouraged the young scholars to apply and use this golden opportunity.

What are some of the major ways in which you plan to make Mahatma Gandhi University more international, whether through your role as a vice chancellor or your academic work?

My vision is to upgrade Mahatma Gandhi University to a world-class university. All activities will be guided by the principles of equity, social justice, inclusiveness and diversity.

I wish to build a world-class center of excellence in teaching, learning and evaluation process, producing high-quality, socially committed and highly skilled manpower for nation building, with the support of all the members of my university.

I want to transform Mahatma Gandhi University into a truly international research-oriented institution, with excellent faculty members and infrastructure.

What are you currently working on?

My research group works extensively on interdisciplinary areas. We work with industries in India and abroad for translating our research findings into products that can be of use to everyone.

I firmly believe that nanotechnology has the potential to place our country in the forefront of technological advancement in the future. And, many cutting-edge products can be formulated with the help of nanotechnology.

Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.


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