Co-founder of Indian IT giant Infosys donates $4m to NTU for Smart City research

Indian tech billionaire Senapathy "Kris" Gopalakrishnan's gift is the largest from an Indian national to NTU.
Indian tech billionaire Senapathy "Kris" Gopalakrishnan's gift is the largest from an Indian national to NTU.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Indian tech billionaire Senapathy "Kris" Gopalakrishnan is donating $4 million to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to attract top young scientists from across the globe to conduct research there.

Half of the endowed gift will fund up to two post-doctoral fellowships a year for five years, starting from academic year 2018-19.

The initiative promises to benefit both Singapore and India in their Smart City aspirations.

To be called the Gopalakrishnan-NTU Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, the award will fund two researchers from any discipline to pursue their research at NTU.

The other $2 million is to enable students from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru to either pursue a joint PhD or enter a PhD-level collaboration with NTU.

The donation was formalised during a signing ceremony at the NTU auditorium on Friday (June 1). It was witnessed by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on a visit to Singapore.

Mr Gopalakrishnan, 63, is the co-founder of Indian IT giant Infosys and chairman of start-up accelerator and seed fund Axilor Ventures.

His gift is the largest from an Indian national to NTU and will further boost its research and innovation efforts in Industry 4.0, which envisages smart and connected technologies that will change the way businesses and countries operate.

Mr Gopalakrishnan told The Straits Times on Thursday: "The philosophy of my support to research has been that if I can connect research in India with research happening elsewhere, more people will work on the problem.

"They will not reinvent the wheel, they will actually build on the research that's happening elsewhere."

He also said that after 40 years in the IT industry, he has seen how extensively the approach has benefited India.

"Now we need to sustain that," he added, speaking on the sidelines of an Indian High Commission event at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Mr Gopalakrishnan retired from Infosys in October 2014 and has since devoted a large part of his attention to philanthropy.

One of his focus areas is global research and connecting the research ecosystem in India with those outside his country, especially in developed countries such as the US and Singapore, he said.

NTU president Subra Suresh noted the university's track record of collaboration with India, with more than 800 joint publications with 169 Indian institutions in the past five years.

The two post-doctoral fellowships to be funded by Mr Gopalakrishnan are part of a programme for 10 new PhD holders to spend two years at NTU and connect them strategically to collaborators via corporate labs on campus.

The programme was announced at the end of February, but in six weeks, it received 600 applications from across the world.

It was during discussions between Dr Suresh and Mr Gopalakrishnan that the idea of a philanthropic contribution came about.

The recipients of the two post-doctoral fellowships with Mr Gopalakrishnan's name will probably be announced in the next month or so, said Dr Suresh.

"So they will start in August, when the next school year starts," he added.

On Industry 4.0, Dr Suresh said the NTU campus can be a test bed, given its strengths in robotics, artificial intelligence and material sciences, among other areas.

"Our aspiration is that maybe our efforts on campus will contribute significantly to the Smart Nation initiative."

Industry 4.0 refers to the convergence of the digital, physical and biological worlds, whether with autonomous systems, robotics or human-machine interactions, Dr Suresh said.

For example, if a person needs a knee replacement, a digital image would be taken of the knee cap. The replacement would then be made through 3D printing.

When the knee cap is implanted, a computer chip would also be embedded to give feedback to a device like a mobile phone on the performance of the artificial knee cap.

"That's a classic example, which we can do today, of the physical world, the digital world and the biological world," said Dr Suresh.

He also said Mr Gopalakrishnan would be in the initial cohort at NTU of a programme called the Nanyang Professor of the Practice.

It is for non-academic people who are highly accomplished in different spheres of life. They will give students a unique perspective on not only teaching and research, but also innovation and leadership, Dr Suresh said.