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‘First step’ for Calcutta project
Rs 40 crore to kickstart science scheme

New Delhi, Feb. 28: A mega science project planned in a Calcutta laboratory will get a kickstart fund of Rs 40 crore this year, under proposals for new science and technology initiatives outlined by the Union budget for 2013-14.

The budget has earmarked Rs 40 crore for the first phase of a giant electron accelerating machine that Calcutta’s Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP) plans to build in Bengal over the next 10 years at an estimated cost of Rs 5,550 crore.

The machine, called the Indian Synchrotron for Materials and Energy Research (Ismer), is intended to serve as a reservoir of high-energy electrons for studies in advanced materials and biological sciences.

Researchers say only four other synchrotrons, in France, Germany, Japan and the US, are comparable to the one proposed to be built in Bengal.

“This (the proposed 2013-14 budget outlay) is the first major step that will allow us to initiate preparatory activities such as capacity building,” Milan Sanyal, director, SINP, told The Telegraph.

Sanyal said the Bengal government had offered the SINP four candidate sites, each about 100 acres, near Kalyani, Birbhum, Bankura and Purulia for a second SINP campus where the Ismer will be built. He said the state government had asked the SINP to depute four faculty members who would examine each of the four sites along with state government officials.

The SINP plans to support training of Indian scientists and engineers at similar synchrotron facilities in Europe and the US as part of its capacity-building activities. It will also design and fabricate small components of Ismer and test them in the foreign synchrotron laboratories, Sanyal said.

The Ismer, described as a “high energy, high brilliance third-generation electron synchrotron”, will have a beam circumference of about 1,490 metres and is intended to serve as a facility for national and international scientists.

Synchrotrons are used for research on advanced materials and have applications across myriad domains — from engineering to biomedical research.

The 2013-14 budget has also earmarked Rs 100 crore for activities towards developing and using petaflop supercomputers, number-crunching machines that can perform a thousand trillion operations per second. One trillion is equal to a thousand billion.

Dozens of academic research groups across the country are likely to be involved in this project that will seek to establish India’s capacity in applying petaflop machines in science and technology, science secretary T. Ramasami said.

India’s fastest supercomputer in a Bangalore laboratory now crunches data at about 300 teraflops — a trillion operations per second.

In his budget speech, finance minister P. Chidambaram also announced a Rs 200-crore outlay for the National Innovation Council to fund and scale up innovative ideas from science and technology for “the common man”.

“We have solutions for water-related problems, medical diagnosis and food processing,” Ramasami said. “This fund will be used to either refine ideas or to scale them up for applications wherever they’re needed across the country.”

The increase in the 2013-14 budget outlays from the previous year for scientific departments ranges from 49 per cent for the atomic energy department and 39 per cent for the space department to 14 per cent for biotechnology.

Science policymakers said they had to trim their budgets last year because of lack of resources and the increases this year would allow them to initiate projects they held back.