Creating a ‘space’ for themselves
Akhil Nahar and Siddharth Srivastava, two students from MIT Kothrud, secured the first position in IIT Kharagpur’s National Students’ Space Challenge (NSSC) after doing intensive research and brainstorming and presenting their paper on the topic Neutrino Detectors. While Nahar, 20, is currently pursuing Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Telecommunications, Srivastava, 19, is studying B Tech in Computer Science and Engineering.
Space Technology Students’ Society, IIT Kharagpur, took the initiative of starting NSSC, which is a unique blend of space science and technology. Every year, many budding space enthusiasts showcase their talent in this fest which also happens to be India’s first and largest space technology fest.
Explaining what Neutrino Detectors are all about, Srivastava, who aims at pursuing a career in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Physics, says, “A neutrino is a subatomic particle that is very similar to an electron, but has no electrical charge and has a very small mass, which might even be zero. Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, however, since they have very little interaction with matter, they are incredibly difficult to detect. In our paper, we tried to make minor modifications to the already existing principles to detect neutrinos and came up with some techniques and solutions to detect them.” It is not only difficult to detect neutrinos, but it is also an expensive process.
According to Srivastava, it may cost about 10 million dollars to detect a few lakhs of them, hence their paper presentation also included some of the cost-effective and economical ways to do it. When asked how helpful these particles are to the world, he says, “Neutrino can be a major tool to push us closer to understanding and exploring our cosmology further. Apart from that, we may be able to use neutrinos instead of electro-magnetic waves in communications and computing and day-to-day applications.”
Talking about the research and the preparation for the paper, Nahar says that they followed the guidelines which were given in the form of a questionnaire to cover various aspects of the topic which was listed on the website (www.nssc.in/event/pp.pdf). “The research for this included a literature survey of at least 15 published papers from reputed journals dealing with techniques and methodologies for the detection of neutrinos, which are particles, a million times lighter than electrons. We also referred to some books on the basics of neutrinos and dark matter,” adds Nahar who plans to continue his higher education in the Aerospace Engineering domain and research. Srivastava mentions that they didn’t require to seek help from their professors for this.
Nahar was working on this alongside his college routine and exams, so no one really knew he was studying for something that was not a part of his college syllabus. “Just a few close friends and family knew about it,” he says
During the presentation, they were not allowed to interact with participants from other colleges. “We were not supposed to communicate with them but we could ask them questions on the topic, after they were done with the presentation,” says Srivastava.
Ask the youngsters if they were confident about securing the first place at the competition and Nahar says, “We had to leave IIT Kharagpur campus early to catch our flight back to Pune. At that point, we didn’t really expect anything from the competition. This being our first attempt at a competition of this magnitude, what mattered most to us was the experience. It was not until about half an hour before boarding our flight that we found out we got the first place. Our presentation was good and it was really satisfying that the trip was a success.”
What made their paper stand out from the rest? Nahar says that they gave the audience a little something extra that they found interesting about the detectors, which wasn’t exactly asked for, but it was too good to pass on. He also adds that he ensured that there were no grammatical errors.
The procedure to apply for the competition is simple. There isn’t a confined eligibility — so students from every walk of life and discipline can apply online on their website (www.nssc.in).
“At such competitions, make your case simple, wholesome and thorough. Being to the point is appreciated everywhere,” is Nahar’s advice to other students.