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Footprints 2016, MS University, Baroda, Gujarat, India

I spent two days as speaker and guest at the 'Footprints' conference at Maharaja Sayajirao ('MS') University in Baroda, Gujarat. This is three-day festival of technology and science that's entirely run by students in the engineering department. I gave a talk about New Horizons on Saturday afternoon, and spent a lot of the rest of the weekend talking informally with students. When the organizers asked me to give a seminar, I really had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be really well run (the students do everything, with minimal professorial input), large (allegedly 25,000 participants), and super interesting. Although it's an engineering school, many of the programs and installations had a strong artistic and creative bent, and the festival has a strong outreach program to rural villages as well.

I've put up a few photos of my trip below. Thank you to everyone I interacted with: the organizers, the other speakers, and the students!

NB: One difference between the US and India that I hadn't appreciated: it is much easier to change tracks in the US. Both here and at last week's Astronomy @ Taj conference, I talked with a number of students who wanted to do science research, but were in engineering. In India, it's very difficult to enter an MSc / PhD research program with an engineering background -- much less get employment. For both admissions and hiring, decisions here are made with the vast majority of the weight on the degree and marks alone.

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The conference has had some really interesting speakers over the years. Here's the lineup for this year's talks. Most of them are sold out well ahead of time... tickets to my talk were Rs 80, sold to capacity at the largest venue available, of around 1000 people.

I arrived in the morning, and spent the day at a few talks, before giving my own.

No photos of my talk... I'm sure someone has some, but I haven't seen them yet!

Backstage, I met up with magician Chris Korn. I'd missed him the night before, but we spent some time together after my talk.

Here, we try our best to make Mayank Solanki (the organizer who recruited us both) disappear.

I get some fried paneer gobi veg, served on a 400-degree cast iron slab that I was given to carry around. It was insulated by a 1" piece of wood, didn't last long until it too was too hot to touch. Chris Korn helps me out with the paneer.
Chris's main show was the night before, but he does a bit of street magic on the plaze in front of the engineering faculty. ('Faculty' in India means 'college' -- not the professors!)
Found that card!

Chris is one of the most fascinating people I've met... I really enjoyed talking with him.

Chris signs a few autographs afterwards. The light is from someone's phone -- the selfies fot the weekend were never-ending.
Some of the organizers for Footprints 2016.
Sunday morning: Robot Wars (aka Smack Botz).The deal here is that the students have built robots whose job is just to destroy each other. Of 30-some entrants, these two are the finalists. I show up just as they are starting to fight it out for the final title.
Another engineering event: the cross-bow competion.
And one more: build cars to navigate a path!
One tragedy: a car has been stepped on during the race due to an errant racer's foot. They're given five minutes to repair it.
Overall, I was told that the engineering faculty (i.e., students) is 40% women. Mechanical engineering is nearly all men; women dominate in CS and IT.
A few repairs for a loose wheel that caused this one to get stuck at the bottom of the hill. He was one of the few secondary -- i.e., high school -- competitors.
If I remember right, this was the overall champion.
Check it out: Mithilesh claims to have developed a bike -- and a rocket -- powered by hydrogen. Tune for more of him below.
I was taking a walk through the park across from my guest house, trying to avoid the crowds at the university. But I'm not there for more than a few minutes than I hear someone calling me. Turns out there's a treasure hunt, which runs through the city park.
A subset of organizers takes me to their DC = Day Centre, where all of the planning for the festival was done. This is last year's mascot.
Where all of the planning happens. Students have been working to organize the conference since last July.
I love this room!!
"Each of us has placed a statement about us on the columns of the building."
Getting a bit of chole kachori duirng a break.
Deep, Udita and I are out to visit the Laxmi Vilas Palace -- perhaps India's largest private residence. (It's amazing, in that ornate palace sort of way.)
As we head out, we run into Mithilesh again, who brings his hydrogen rocket!

"This is a prototype, because I must receive permission from the civil aviation authority before I conduct test flights. When it is ready, then this will happen. The solar cells produce electricity, which produces hydrogen through electrolysis. The hydrogen and oxygen are used as fuel for the rocket."

And that hydrogen motorbike too!
The philosophy here is that the cell seen on the right is where electrolysis of water happens. The hydrogen is injected into the fuel stream where it is burned along with regular petrol. Allegedly, the hydrogen+petrol mixture gives higher efficiency and lower emissions compared with petrol alone. (From a conservation-of-energy standpoint, clearly putting electrolysis in the system won't gain you anything. But the claim here is that the combustion process is more efficient in the presence of hydrogen.)
Getting ready for the closing ceremony.
Yatra and Deep -- two of the fantastic organizers of the event. Yatra is very much into studying astronomy and science in the future. Deep is in engineering and going for management after finishing at MSU. That's the moon behind him, and between them is the former palace -- now converted into perhaps the world's most beautiful engineering building.
The final event of the festival is a show by Bollywood singer Ash King.
I'd been there waiting for the better part of an hour and was wondering why the main field was empty. I guess the gates were closed... suddenly they were open and 3000 engineering students raced on.
I love that building! I think they do too.
Before Ash King came on, there was an hour of comedy. My Gujurati isn't very polished, so most of this went over my head.
With Sanah Moidutty.
Pano on the phone sometimes turns out pretty well.
ALOK Kuklarni on guitar...
Post-show, we tried for some chaat, but end up with falooda and mix kulfi.
Heading back to Mumbai Monday morning. At left is the existing airport, which is tiny and has nice Indian domes on it - very cool. But it looks like there's a massive new terminal waiting to be opened.

And by the way, Baroda (aka Varadoda) is a really pleasant city itself -- calm, peaceful, interesting, artsy -- definitely worth a visit.


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Henry Throop

Last modified Wed Feb 24 23:25:55 2016