By Behlol Nawaz
Dr. Syed Muhammad Raza Kazmi is an Assistant Professor in Department of Electrical Engineering at School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (SEECS), NUST. He did his PhD from Tohoku University Japan. He is part of the Power, Electronics and Control knowledge group.
So, sir we know you did your PhD from Japan. Please tell us about your early education.
PAF Inter College Chaklala, that’s a place I really really love. I owe a big deal to PAF Inter College Chaklala for being the person I am right now. After that, I joined GIKI, one of the pioneering batches – Batch 3 and then I went on for Masters to UNSW Australia. I served for four years in College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, (EME) after my Masters. Then I did my PhD and two Post-docs in Japan and Australia, and now I’m here.
What was your motivation for coming to engineering, especially electrical engineering?
Well I scored well in biology and mathematics, but I was terrified at the sight of blood. I thought I would be unconscious before the patient!
Actually, I had starting reading an Urdu book in school which I got from a friend. It was named “Barqee Ro”, electricity. It was a very good book. Starting from the basics, with good illustrations and as it was in Urdu, it was easy to understand. Reading that, my interest increased to the point that I became a bit obsessed with doing experiments with electricity, which were quite dangerous at times. For instance, once I touched the live wire with bare hand thinking that it won’t shock me because I’m not touching the returning wire. I forgot that the circuit can be completed through ground via my body. That indeed was quite an “Electrifying” experience, but Alhamdulillah I live to tell the tale.
Could you tell us about the Solar Power Club? The idea put forward by the Principal, which you are leading towards the formation now. What would be the aim of this club?
The aim is to produce inventors and entrepreneurs through this club who can create start-ups and jobs in the field of renewable energy systems. So far there is no curriculum that covers any part of the Solar energy technologies. Through this club the students will be exposed to this field right from the start with several technical as well as entrepreneurial workshops and training moots. They can build small projects and improve upon them in three years. Eventually when they reach the stage of final year projects (FYPs), they can evolve their 3 years of work into a product ready for the market. So this would be a club that will lead to entrepreneurship which has a huge potential in Pakistan. The Renewable Energy Association of Pakistan (REAP) conducts a convention every year, which is participated in by almost the entire renewable energy industry of the country. There you can witness that only a very few companies have their own products while most are selling Chinese stuff so there is a huge market for indigenous and better designs.
Wouldn’t it be expensive?
Unfortunately yes. We need seed funding so that we can buy solar panels as well as some important instrumentation devices. So sponsorship campaign is the very first and the foremost task.
How far along are you with the establishment of this club? What will be its structure?
We had a meeting today where I called the interested students. We don’t have anything till now, but it’s really heartening to see the few but motivated ones who can really spearhead this campaign. We’ll start our sponsorship and recruitment drives within the current semester, that is, fall ‘14. We may derive the organizational structure from the established societies like IEEE or YES.
Are there any plans for expanding the club into other renewable energy technologies, given that you have done a lot of work in wind power yourself?
Absolutely, you know Wind Energy is actually a form of Solar Energy. So this club will be extended into that domain too Insha-Allah together with SMME. Then again, instruments such as wind meters or radiation sensors for measuring irradiance of the sun don’t come cheap. We’ll need more money for that.
So you’d like to expand this club throughout NUST in the future?
Involving Centre for Energy Systems (CES) in this project immediately comes to mind.
CES, as far as I know, is more focused on the research side. But of course we can use their expertise. I would like to invite them to deliver talks and seminars.
Coming towards the idea that you mentioned regarding high school students’ exposure, during the IEEE oath taking ceremony, what was it exactly? And its inspiration?
Were you here when EXYLENT was conducted?
EXYLENT, which stands for EXploring Young LEaders Natural Talent, was a summer program we conducted at SEECS. It was for school students of varying age groups to instigate their creativity and engineering skills through hands-on experience. By the end of the program, the students were able to build and program the robots as well as build and understand principles of simple electric circuits. It was a great event but its registration fee was Rs. 20,000 which can likely be a bit out of reach for the kids of a middle class salaried person.
I would want something like that to happen on a larger level but with minimal cost. What I want to do is to have one entire week of Open House for Junior and High School students. They’ll go to the different labs and perform or observe some relatively simple experiments not only at SEECS but to all the schools at H-12 campus.
Secondly, I would like to take forward the model of OWYP (One World Youth Project) and create a technical curriculum to teach the interested school students in their free time. Not only we’ll cover the basics in a more intuitive way than what they learn in regular classes, but also there will be special sessions to tell the students that what is emerging in the world.
What would be its effects on the general thinking regarding STEM related careers in education?
You might have seen or read about different competitions where you hear a 13-year old receiving a prize for work in something like nanotechnology. That’s when students work with university students and teachers that they are able to compete there. We are a long way from that culture. But we have to start somewhere.
So this will also increase awareness regarding different fields of study. To teach our people that knowledge is not limited to medicine or engineering. It is important for students to know what different fields await them and help them find their passion.
What are the challenges you foresee if this venture is attempted?
Administrative challenges, plenty of them. Managing all the activities and the labs will be a lot of administrative work. Then for the actual essence of this idea, it will be quite a task to involve and synchronize all schools of this campus. But I’m quite sure that with it can be done.
Are there any projects of your own you are working on these days?
Yes. The FYPs I am advising at the moment are my main focus. Some very good work was done in last year’s FYPs. So I am trying to find funding for that too. God willing, if I get the funding, I would like to establish a research institute here – a Centre of Excellence in Renewable Energy Systems.
One last question…
You’ve spent time abroad in Australia and Japan. Was there anything in the academia which you miss here?
The thing which I really miss and would want to have in a good institute like NUST, or anywhere else, are tutorial sessions after normal teaching hours, taken by R.As (research assistant) or T.As (teaching assistant). The best professors, who would be very active in their respective fields would teach you the relevant courses. Then they would make sets of problems and solutions, give them to their R.As or T.As to make the students discuss and practice in the tutorial sessions.
And then there we used to have a huge board in the lobby for the students, with the sitting area. Students come, sit there, do their assignments, engage in academic discussions and explain ideas to each other. We don’t have this culture. It is very important to develop the “University is a Home” culture. The University never sleeps.
Thank you for your time, sir.