New scheme will fund cutting-edge research

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on August 15, 2019 Published on August 15, 2019

Called Supra, the initiative is one of PM Modi’s 100-day transformative ideas

Indian scientists working at the cutting edge areas of science and technology will soon have a novel research funding scheme to look forward to.

As part of the Modi government’s 100-day transformative ideas, the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) plans to announce a new scheme with the sole objective of funding exploration of new scientific and engineering breakthroughs with global impact.

“The idea is to fund disruptive ideas that can lead to new areas of study, new scientific concepts, new products and technologies. The focus is not incremental or short-term advances in the understanding, but new science or truly disruptive technologies,” SERB Secretary Sandeep Verma told BusinessLine.

Called Scientific and Useful Profound Research Advancement, or Supra, the scheme is designed to attract high quality research proposals consisting of new hypotheses or challenge existing ones and provide ‘out-of-box’ solutions.

SERB’s role

Set up as a statutory body to promote and fund research in different scientific disciplines, SERB has been giving funds under different schemes and programmes.

Supra may potentially emerge as SERB’s most prestigious research scheme. “The proposals have to be extremely bold and the outcome should be really cutting edge. The principal investigators (PIs) should be able to convince the reviewers about its long-term impact on our fundamental scientific understanding or the disruptive nature of the technology that is being pursued, Verma said.

SERB hopes to support 15 to 30 such proposals in the first year, which will be further scaled up in subsequent years. A proposal once approved will get funding for three years, which can be extended for another two more years.

According to the SERB official, the decision on the Supra scheme is expected to be made in a couple of months as the format is getting prepared. The proposals will be initially screened by a panel of top scientists specially set up for the scheme based on PI’s previous work and publication record. Once this stage is crossed, it will be evaluated by an expert review committee, specially constituted for each subject.

“This committee will have complete freedom and if the committee thinks that expertise for evaluating a particular proposal does not exist in the country, it can even solicit the services of experts from overseas,” Verma said.

Interestingly, two years ago SERB unveiled a scheme very similar to Supra called Scheme for funding High Risk-High Reward (HRHR) Research, which was meant for conceptually new and risky projects that are expected to have paradigm shifting influence, if successful.

According to a SERB official, who didn’t want to be named, the HRHR scheme had been withdrawn recently.

“Probably we were not able to articulate what should these ‘high risk’ ideas be and that was a lacuna from our side. The new scheme however is expected to bring in much more clarity,” the official said.

Published on August 15, 2019
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