Virginia Tech is poised to open its largest research center outside the United States next year in Chennai, India.
The Virginia Tech ICTAS Innovation Center will be overseen by Tech's growing Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and a 6,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in spring 2013 in Chennai, said Guru Ghosh, associate vice president for outreach and international affairs.
The university will provide up to $1.5 million in startup funds for operations, and industry partner MARG Ltd. will outfit the high-tech labs and provide other equipment.
"For every one dollar Virginia Tech invests, our industry partners will invest five dollars," Ghosh said.
The MARG Group develops and engineers industrial and government infrastructure projects in India, Singapore and China, according to the company's website.
None of the startup money for the center will come from state funding, nor will it come from tuition or fees charged to students, Ghosh said.
The center will focus on three major areas of research that will serve the needs of developing nations, as well as rural areas in the U.S., said Roop Mahajan, director of ICTAS.
In the beginning, one researcher/professor will be assigned to the Chennai center to work with Indian doctoral students, with plans to eventually bring Tech students and other faculty there. Partnerships with major Indian universities and other private corporations are also planned.
The initial research focus will be developing and testing low-cost energy technologies, such as small-scale, flexible solar panels and wind turbines that operate at low wind speeds. These may bring sustainable energy to people living in isolated areas in the developing world, as well as in the U.S., Mahajan said.
Eventually, research will expand to advanced communications and "smart" radio systems that may have implications for cloud computing, geographical positioning systems, wireless networks and the like, Mahajan said.
Another area of research planned at the center is nanotechnology, a major focus of ICTAS research in Blacksburg. Already ICTAS researchers are working on nanofibers that can be used in high-tech water and air filters, as well as the targeted application of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides, Mahajan said.
Because Chennai is a major area for automobile engineering and manufacturing, nanosensors under development by ICTAS scientists are expected to become a major part of work at the India center, Mahajan said.
Tech chose Chennai, India's fifth-largest city, because of its high literacy and education rates, and because it is a national center of engineering, science and technology, Ghosh said.
Tech also has historical ties to India going back about 70 years to the first known Indian student to enroll at the Blacksburg campus. It's estimated that about 500 Tech alumni live in and around Chennai, which is situated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Tech's India center is expected to be financially self-sufficient by its fourth year of operations, and any intellectual property developed there will contribute to research revenues, Ghosh said.
As state subsidy of Virginia students has declined from 70 percent to 30 percent over two decades, Tech President Charles Steger has encouraged research and patenting of technologies as new sources of revenue.
The India center is a kind of consolation prize for the university, allowing Tech to gain a foothold in one of the world's largest emerging economies. India, with its 1.2 billion people, is second only to China, with 1.3 billion residents, as an expected area of economic and technological growth.
Tech had hoped to open a full-fledged graduate university in India, but that effort has been stymied by the Indian Parliament's reluctance to allow foreign universities to operate independently in the country. A reform bill that would have allowed Tech and other U.S. institutions to open campuses in India has stalled, with no timetable for a vote.
But U.S.-sponsored research centers are allowed under Indian law, so the ICTAS center can open now. Officials hope the center eventually will expand to up to 40,000 square feet.
Tech currently operates major educational and research centers in Chile, the Dominican Republic, Switzerland and Egypt. The university has grants, projects, study abroad programs and other initiatives in more than 50 countries around the world.