Virginia Tech and one of India’s leading private universities in Punjab, India, have agreed to a $2 million investment to build a collaborative research center: the Thapar-Virginia Tech Center of Excellence in Frontier Materials.

President Tim Sands signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with Gautam Thapar, president of the Patiala-based Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology.

Thapar and senior officials visited Blacksburg earlier this week to formalize the agreement covering a project that both parties said had been in discussion for years. Through Outreach and International Affairs, the institute will commit $1 million to fund a Thapar Professorship at Virginia Tech. Thapar will dedicate an additional $1 million to build and equip the center on its campus in India, cover the travel and housing expenses of the Thapar Professorship, and fund doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows.

“The pioneering creation of the Thapar-Virginia Tech Center of Excellence in Frontier Materials has emerged in the context of Virginia Tech’s VT, India initiative,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs. “This vital research initiative represents the extension of Virginia Tech’s global presence to the northern part of the subcontinent. It complements the Mahindra-supported research taking place in Blacksburg and Tamil Nadu and follows on the heels of the planned association with the Kalinga Institutes in Bhubaneswar, anticipated to provide myriad experiences for Virginia Tech students.”

Rajeev Ranjan Vederah (from left), chairman of the Thapar Institute’s Board of Governors; with Roop Mahajan, named the inaugural Thapar Professor; and Ian Leuschner, director of International Support Services, part of Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech

Group photo with one Thapar Institute official and two Virginia Tech faculty
Rajeev Ranjan Vederah (from left), chairman of the Thapar Institute’s Board of Governors, with Roop Mahajan, named the inaugural Thapar Professor, and Ian Leuschner, director of International Support Services, part of Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech

Roop Mahajan, former director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech, will serve as the inaugural Thapar Professor, a position designed for a full-time faculty member at Virginia Tech who will also spend more than three months annually in India.

The Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech works on using cutting-edge materials in new ways. Mahajan was also involved in the launch of the Blacksburg-based research involving tractor-manufacturer Mahindra in which a multidisciplinary Virginia Tech research team drew expertise from the fields of materials science, mechanical engineering, and chemistry as well as experts in modeling related to nanotechnology.

The center’s work is designed to generate “engineering solutions for real-world contemporary research problems,” reflective of the commitment in Virginia Tech’s strategic plan to tackle “large and complex problems” in ways that “span a wide range of disciplines to engage research scholars and students.”

“We are building a longstanding relationship with Thapar, and in many ways we’re evolving on parallel tracks,” Sands said. “Co-investment in areas of shared interest and leadership from individuals who reside in both locations are the building blocks of a great partnership. I’m excited about the alignment of our aspirations for the future.”

Thapar said the team plans to have the center up and running within three months. “This is a big attraction for both undergraduate and postgraduate students in India because there are very few engineering and science institutions that actually are doing this kind of work.”

Virginia Tech will advise the center on equipment and the laboratory requirements. “The idea is that we don’t replicate everything. If you’re going to do joint research, this part can be done here and that part can be done in India. Today, in a virtual world, we can put everything together,” Thapar said.

Future collaborations may include a data analytics specialization for students at the center, student exchange programs, and an immersive study abroad program in India for Virginia Tech students.

“Following President Sands’ imperative to extend Virginia Tech’s global impact, the investment by Thapar is indicative of Virginia Tech’s stellar research reputation and programs that are globally competitive,” Ghosh said. “Thapar’s embrace of Virginia Tech is a shining example of our institution’s ability to attract ever greater resources based on our faculty expertise and their extensive track record in cutting-edge research.”

Written by Diane Deffenbaugh