Many of the international collaborative projects with leading international institutions focus on finding frugal solutions to social problems and nation-building. Supporting India’s bold and significant step of the biometrics based unique identification, called Aadhaar, DEI has partnered with this project, since nearly the inception. While biometrics is considered a stable technology now, the age at which biometric traits begin to persist was largely unknown. This is of vital importance because in the lack of this knowledge, biometric registration of children in Aadhaar was designed to start at five years of age. A recent report of the UNICEF states that ten million out of the twenty million annual childbirths in India are unregistered. Lack of proper documentation leads to several troubles including child trafficking, child labor, denial of formal job, bank account, driving license, passport, etc. On the contrary, use of technology for identification of infants and toddlers holds significant social benefits, such as tracking vaccinations and preventing pilferage of funds meant for the purpose. Automated identification can also be used to associate the child’s identity with their parents’. This helps streamline disbursal of benefits for young children, identification of missing children and to prevent swapping of babies in hospitals. DEI and its’ affiliated Saran Ashram Hospital have partnered with the Biometrics Research Group at Michigan State University and are developing algorithms and frugal sensors appropriate for infants, being tested through a longitudinal study starting with a few-hour-olds born in the maternity ward of the hospital, with a fairly high accuracy. This collaborative innovation is now helping drive the national policy regarding the age at which biometric enrolment of infants and toddlers may be initiated. Another project with Michigan State University focuses on the development of frugal diagnostic devices to help with early detection and prevention of diseases.
The benefits of international collaborations at DEI are not limited merely to University students on the main campus but also extend to school students in the DEI system and to students in the rural and tribal areas served by the Institute. Another social issue in developing economies is to advance a scientific temperament in societies that are marred with superstition. To many, science is in boring textbooks with some experiments in not so well – equipped school labs – that too generally restricted to the elite. This mindset coupled lack of funds for state-of-the-art laboratories that could have provided an immersive engagement in the scientific process keeps a significant talent away from the STEM fields. The Prakash Lab at Stanford University is a pioneering innovator in frugal science, bringing science to every child’s doorstep at an almost zero cost – through what is now commonly known as Jugaad innovation. Some of the innovations from the lab, the most widely known being a paper origami microscope (foldscope) are being used by DEI school students not only in Dayalbagh, Agra but also in the deep rural area of Murar in Bihar and the tribal hinterlands of Rajaborari in Madhya Pradesh, along with frequent interaction with Stanford University students and faculty. Children at these schools, being able to practice science with their own scientific instrumentation become more sensitive to issues such as hygiene and sanitation and the use of scientific method in agriculture and dairying. The young students also serve as ambassadors of science in their families and communities. This collaboration with Stanford University is now being extensively funded by the Department of Biotechnology.
Environmental consciousness and an extremely low carbon footprint are some of the key values in the core curriculum at DEI, which has partnered with Arizona State University through the Indo-US project under the 21st Century Knowledge Initiatives Scheme. The project aims at developing novel approaches for efficient splitting of water using solar energy for the production of hydrogen as a sustainable as well as a clean source of energy.
DEI has also been the co-organizer for a meaningful scientific dialogue on integrating eastern and western perspectives of consciousness through East-West Forums organized at the Science of Consciousness conferences organized globally from 2012 to 2019. The consciousness programme at DEI has since expanded and matured to merit a global conference of its own and the first version of this new conference series is scheduled to be organized collaboratively with the University of Waterloo at their campus in September 2019.
The strong technology infrastructure at DEI is also utilized for interactive teaching-learning through multi-way videoconferencing. Students at DEI and its international partners regularly participate in collaborative courses where they not only study together in an extended classroom setting but also work on joint projects. One such recent example is with Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, a multiple-campus public college located in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada and one of the largest vocational education providers in the province. An MoU between DEI and Seneca College was signed in February 2018 and during the session 2018-19 joint courses through videoconferencing and online collaborative learning tools were offered to students at Seneca College, DEI main campus and in the forest tribal area of Rajaborari. Students worked in inter-continental teams for their projects and a student from the Rajaborari tribal campus and the course mentor have been invited to visit Seneca College, Canada.
Students at DEI frequently participate in co-op training, research internships and reciprocity-based exchange programs with our global partners. Some recent two-way exchange programs have been with Kiel University, Germany, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong and the University of Sydney, Australia. The solid foundational bedrock with values and qualities woven in every fibre of the DEI fabric attracts international faculty members to undertake honorary joint appointments and to visit regularly to teach from short modules to semester-long courses.