Six faculty members recently traveled across the world to visit the Indian Institute of Technology at Gandhinagar as part of collaborations between Duke and IITGN.

The collaborations are intended to promote increased innovation between the universities as well as foster opportunities to involve undergraduates from both universities in environmental science and engineering work. The United States Agency for International Development has funded the collaboration as part of an agreement reached last year between the United States and India to encourage research collaboration between the two countries. Duke faculty visited the IITGN campus last week in Palaj, Gandhinagar for discussions on how to move forward in planning and sharing of best practices.

“I think we’re all hoping to gain collaborations that will allow us to do very exciting scientific collaborations,” said Mike Bergin, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Pratt School of Engineering and one of six faculty members who made up the Duke delegation.

Larry Carin, Duke’s vice provost for research, led the delegation and noted that the inter-institutional research collaborations will include several opportunities to engage undergraduates.

Approximately five IITGN students will spend the summer at Duke working with the Data+Information Initiative, Carin noted. Other anticipated projects will look at air and water pollution in India and autism research, he said.

Carin said after last week’s meetings he was impressed by the caliber and enthusiasm of the IIT faculty, noting that the IIT schools are well known for engineering and attract “stellar” undergraduate students because of their competitiveness.

“There’s a really strong willingness among IIT faculty,” Carin said. “I’m optimistic this is going to work.”

Both Carin and Bergin explained that the collaboration is in Duke’s strategic interest, and since the University already has a presence in India, the program gives researchers the opportunity to build on the existing partnerships.

Bergin also expressed optimism about the ability of faculty to foster connections despite geographic distance because of experience with forging these relationships in the past.

“Doing collaborative work in far off places is always complicated, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything we can’t overcome,” Bergin said.

The collaboration was facilitated by RTI International, a research nonprofit that provides research and technical services to governments and universities.

Brian Stoner, distinguished fellow at RTI International, explained that after President Barack Obama’s declaration of intent, a screening was done earlier last year to identify the appropriate university partners. The meeting last week was the culmination and brought all the partners together to share best practices.

This effort is not the first by Duke to forge research collaboration in India, however. The IITGN partnership joins several other research initiatives in India which Duke has participated in, including the Reinvent the Toilet challenge, Stoner noted.

Carin also explained that Duke’s current ties to India go deeper than just research collaborations.

“India is a special place for Duke, as seen in the number of students and alumni we have from India, the research collaborations our faculty have there, and our institutional partnerships across India,” he said in a press release.

Stoner stressed that the goal of the partnership is to span beyond individual research projects, but rather create long term relationships between the universities that are mutually beneficial.

“We hope this initial seed will lead to much greater collaboration in India— that’s the long term benefit we hope for,” Stoner said.