From a region specific laboratory to a vibrant national institution excelling both in fundamental research and technology development, NIIST’s journey has been a truly remarkable one
The National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST), Thiruvananthapuram (formerly known as the Regional Research Laboratory), has been recognized for its excellent contributions in areas such as spice & oilseeds processing, building materials, premium quality aluminium castings, processing and value addition of clays and minerals, organic photonic materials and environmental monitoring and remediation. The Institute has been consistently ranked as one of the top performing Institutes in terms of quality and quantity of its research publications.
The evolution of a small regional specific laboratory into a scientifically and technologically vibrant premier national institution with international visibility was achieved in phases by the untiring and dedicated efforts of its leadership and staff.
The institute’s genesis was at the request of Sri. C Achutha Menon, the then chief minister of Kerala and a visionary. Based on his request, a high level committee of CSIR visited Kerala and it was decided to set up laboratories in Trivandrum and Cochin. The Industrial Testing & Research Laboratory (ITRL) of the state industries department at Pappanamcode, Trivandrum was handed over to be developed as the CSIR-Trivandrum complex in October 1975.
NIIST was conceived as the CSIR-Trivandrum complex on 1 October 1975 under the leadership of Dr. B. L. Amala, the then Director of CFTRI. The intention was to establish a research laboratory for the utilization of regional resources and also to attend to the technical problems of the industries in the State.
Staff members from the CFTRI experimental station at Trichur, Spices Research Section of CFTRI, Mysore and a few scientists from other CSIR laboratories as well as nine members of ITRL were absorbed to form the nucleus of the laboratory’s scientific and technical manpower. The birth of an independent R&D laboratory with an approved mandate was declared on 6 October 1978 under the Founder Directorship of Prof. P. K. Rohatgi. It was christened as the Regional Research Laboratory, Trivandrum.
During its infancy, the Institute was nurtured well by the dynamic leadership of Prof. Rohatgi. He initiated R&D activities in cast metal matrix composites, plantation- based materials as well as research related to mineral resources of Kerala.
The first change of leadership occurred in May 1981 when Dr. A. G. Mathew took over as the Acting Director of the Institute. Dr. Mathew contributed towards augmenting the infrastructural facilities. His major research contributions include: (i) process for making better quality spice oleoresins using a two-stage process and (ii) making dehydrated green pepper.
A major expansion with the impact of R&D activities of the Institute becoming more visible took place under the untiring efforts of Dr. A. D. Damodaran, who took over as Director in May 1985. About 40 acres of land was acquired with the help of the Kerala government and R&D areas were enlarged with emphasis on value addition of natural resources, societal programmes, national missions and strategic sectors.
During this period a Photochemistry Research Unit was set up under the leadership of Professor M. V. George who joined the institute as an emeritus professor. This has now become one of the leading centers working on organic photofunctional materials in the country. Some of the other new initiatives undertaken by Dr. Damodaran included areas such as biotechnology, biochemical processing, waste water technology, electronic ceramics, organic chemistry, Inorganic & analytical chemistry, simulation and modeling and high temperature superconductors. These activities coupled with inter-laboratory along with the mission mode programmes, such as the Technology Mission on Oil Palms as well as the induction of several young scientists gave a firm footing to the all-around development of the laboratory increasing its national and international visibility.
During the ninth five year plan the Institute scaled to new heights under the leadership of Dr. G. Vijay Nair, who took over as Director in May 1997. During this period many of the plans initiated earlier started yielding results such as commercialization of several technologies, improvement in quality of publications and rise in number of patents filed. Human resource development saw a major boost during this period with a significant enhancement in the intake of research fellows working on Ph.D.’s programmes.
Globally Competitive S&T
Prof. Javed Iqbal who joined as Director in January 2002 was instrumental in the articulation of a new vision statement “RRL-Trivandrum will achieve excellence in the area of chemical-bioscience interface and advanced materials with the aim of generating national and international impact through high quality research, globally competitive technologies and value added R&D services”. The interaction of the Institute with other CSIR Institutes improved dramatically during this period as a result of its participation in several CSIR-Network programs. The laboratory celebrated its silver jubilee in 2003 under the acting Directorship of Dr. B. C. Pai who took over as acting director December 2002.
With the joining of Prof. T. K. Chandrashekar in 2003, the laboratory witnessed a major improvement in its funding and quality of basic research being undertaken. The activities of the Institute were restructured into five distinct Divisions, namely the Agroprocessing & Natural Products, Biotechnology, Chemical Sciences & Technology, Materials & Minerals and the Process Engineering & Environmental Technology Divisions. Major facilities such as the HR-TEM and 500 Mhz NMR were established during this period. Scientists of the institutes also received major recognitions such as the CSIR Technology Award (2004) as well as Bhatnagar Awards (2006 &2007). In March 2007 the Institute also changed its name from RRL-Trivandrum to the “National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology”.
During the period of 2009-2015, Dr. Suresh Das as the Director promoted interdisciplinary research. Structured R&D programmes involving cross domain activities between intra and inter institutional expertise were focussed.
The present Director Dr.Ajayaghosh took charge on June 8th 2015. His emphasis is on achieving a balance between high quality, globally competitive science and technology leading to processes and products. With this objective measures on improving the linkage between CSIR-NIIST and industries have been initiated which is expected to strengthen translational research in line with the vision of the Government of India