Chennai, December 1 2014: Doyen of computer educationists Prof H N Mahabala is being honored at the institution he served -- Indian Institute of Technology Madras-- with the institution of a Chair in his name.
The “Prof. Mahabala Distinguished Chair in Computational Brain Research” has been made possible by a generous donation of Rs 100 million by IIT Madras alumnus and co-Founder of Infosys Kris Gopalakrishnan. The first occupant of the chair is Dr. Partha Mitra, Principal Investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York. The Chairs will complement a “Brain Research Center” that will come up in Bengaluru, as well as Chairs created in IISc, Bangalore and postdoctoral fellows sponsored at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA.
Said Goplakrishnan:“I have benefitted a lot from my time at IIT, Madras. I got a fantastic education. I was introduced to computers while at IIT, and my life was changed by the stint here. I am grateful to my teachers, and creating this chair in the name of Prof. Mahabala is my way of saying 'thanks' to my teachers”.
“This is just the kind of support we need to enable IIT Madras to enter new and exciting areas that are at the cutting edge of global research”, added Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT Madras. “We are extremely grateful to Kris Gopalakrishnan, Distinguished Alumnus, Member of our Board of Governors, and long-term benefactor, for this thoughtful gesture. It is doubly satisfying that he has named the first Chair after one of his teachers from IIT Madras. The Chairs he is endowing will enable the world leaders in the area of computational brain research to collaborate with IIT Madras faculty and scholars and help us ramp us quickly in this emerging field. The first occupant of the Prof. Mahabala Chair, Dr. Partha Mitra, is a trail-blazer and we look forward to his engagement with IIT Madras.”
Prof. Mahabala added: “We suspect that the brain is organized similar to a computer with various functions such as neuron networks and software algorithms. Whereas computers tend to be fixed in their operation, they are not as yet self-organizing based on experience. The brain starts off with the small input of an idea, and soon enhances it based on thinking and experimentation. We have to conduct research into brain models and its self-organizing algorithms. We hope that the sophistication of current computer technology is adequate, but further collaboration between computer scientists and brain experts is needed to come up with a computer model of the brain”.
Dr. Partha Mitra is Principal Investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York. The Mitra Laboratory is a research center which combines theoretical, computational and experimental approaches to understand biological complexity. Three areas of research are expected to be pursued collaboratively at IIT Madras:
1. Closing the knowledge gap for brains (a “circuit diagram” for brains)
2. Closing the understanding gap for brains (understanding about how brains work), and
3. Closing the performance gap for brains (impacting society through diagnosing and helping treat neurological disorders, and through machine intelligence).
Dr. Mitra is expected to commence his appointment, affiliated with the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, from January 2015. He says:"I am excited by the possibilities opened up by this position and the opportunity to build bridges across disciplinary and geographical boundaries. It is a field of study that has roots in antiquity and has also captured the popular imagination worldwide - I think this effort is very timely and has the potential for significant discovery and impact. I am grateful for the opportunity to help grow neuroscience at IIT Madras and in India."