IIT Kanpur takes innovation to new heights. Here medicine meets engineering and finance

What makes the premier institute stand out is its multidisciplinary approach

gallery-image Students in front of the library building | Pawan Kumar
gallery-image Taking off: The flight laboratory at IIT Kanpu | Pawan Kumar
gallery-image Data defenders: Students studying cyber security at IIT Kanpur | Pawan Kumar
gallery-image Prof Sandeep Verma: head, Gangwal School of Medical Sciences and Technology, IIT Kanpur | Pawan Kumar

Imagination can run wild in a classroom, but it finds wings at the flight laboratory of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur.

Collective expertise in computer science, mechanical engineering and the department of design can be leveraged to bring out innovation and disruption in medical education and medical technologies to create doctors for the future.

Inside, half a dozen training aircraft are parked in the hangar. Apart from an airstrip, IIT Kanpur boasts three helipads, too. No other institute boasts such a facility, says Prof G.M. Kamath, head of the department of aerospace engineering, IIT Kanpur. Thanks to the lab, students here get hands-on training.

“We get pilots to fly these aircraft. It benefits students as they can do experiments based on the manoeuvres,” says Kamath. “This helps the students get a feel of the aircraft and helps them design better aircraft.”

The flight laboratory runs courses in flight testing, wherein students collect, analyse and evaluate performance and handling qualities of the airplanes. And so, students from across the country―from the Punjab Engineering College (PEC) Chandigarh to IIT Bombay, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Madras and the Madras Institute of Technology―flock to the lab. A few years ago, students from the Nanyang Technological University Singapore also visited the lab.

“Close to 300 students from outside come here every year for a 10-day course,” says Kamath.

The flight lab is closely monitored, audited and certified by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. On prominent display is the HANSA-3, the first indigenously produced composite aircraft in India. Designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories in Bengaluru, the aircraft carries fibre optic sensors developed by IIT Kanpur’s aerospace engineering department. The sensors―each as thin as a hair strand―help monitor the structural health of the aircraft for five to 10 years.

“One can monitor whether the aircraft went through some kind of turbulence or if it had a hard landing,” explains Kamath. “Each and every aspect of the flight can be monitored.”

Among the interesting fleet is an Indian registered aircraft that was certified for cloud seeding (it was never used for it though). Another one is ‘Maraal’, the first Indian solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle. It was developed by Vijay Shankar Dwivedi, a postdoctoral candidate at IIT Kanpur; Dwivedi is now in the UK. Maraal took flight and is now Maraal Aerospace, an IIT Kanpur-incubated company. Aircraft apart, there are gliders, too, including one belonging to the Aero Club of India.

The aerospace engineering department recently received funding to set up a national simulating facility. “The advantage: if students are unable to fly in an aircraft, they can at least learn through simulation,” says Kamath. “We will also have a drone-pilot training school, funded by the Uttar Pradesh government.”

All this would have seemed like a flight of fancy in 1959, when IIT Kanpur was founded. Established by an act of Parliament, it had its humble beginnings in a room in the canteen building of the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute in Kanpur. It moved to its current location on Grand Trunk Road near Kalyanpur village in Kanpur district in 1963.

Initially, a consortium of nine US universities―including MIT and Princeton University―helped set up IIT Kanpur’s research laboratories and academic programmes under the Kanpur Indo-American Programme (KIAP). Scientist P.K. Kelkar, who was instrumental in securing the collaboration, was its first director.

Within a couple of years, IIT Kanpur became the first institute in India to offer computer science education, thanks to the guidance of economist and former US ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith. The earliest computer courses at IIT Kanpur were started in August 1963 on an IBM 1620 system. In 1971, the institute began an independent academic programme in computer science and engineering, leading to MTech and PhD degrees. In 1972, the KIAP programme ended, in part because of tensions over America’s support to Pakistan. Government funding was also cut owing to the sentiment that IITs were contributing to the brain drain.

Today, IIT Kanpur is one of the best engineering colleges in the country. Spread across 1,055 acres, it has 19 departments, 25 centres and interdisciplinary programmes in engineering, science, design, humanities and management. It has more than 570 full-time faculty members and around 9,000 students.

“Going forward, our top priority will be to encourage translational research that focuses on giving technological solutions that make life of citizens better,” says Prof Manindra Agrawal, director of IIT Kanpur. “We have planned many new initiatives such as the promotion of defence technology development, the use of AI for developing applications, and creating a cell that addresses local problems of the city and state.”

In 2022-2023, IIT Kanpur received Rs200 crore towards sponsored research and about Rs100 crore for consultancy. Much of the research money came from non-government sources to solve problems they were facing. And, the solutions have become products as well.

“We have cumulatively filed for 1,000 patents ever since the institute started,” says Prof Tarun Gupta, dean, research & development, IIT Kanpur. “Last year, we filed around 140 patents; 14 got licensed.”

At a recent programme in IIT Hyderabad, a bilirubin testing kit, commercialised by Prof Siddhartha Panda of IIT Kanpur, was showcased. High bilirubin could lead to jaundice. Usually, a blood sample is taken from a vein in the arm using a syringe. But this kit makes it as simple as testing blood glucose. A drop of blood on a strip, and you have a diagnosis.

The institute also has centres for excellence like the one for drones and the National Centre for Flexible Electronics, which is expected to receive funding soon. There will also be a Kotak School of Sustainability. “It is a huge grant from the Kotak Mahindra Bank as part of their corporate social responsibility. Nearly 52 faculty members from IIT Kanpur are going to join hands and work towards sustainability,” says Gupta.

Recently, the phase 1 building of the IIT Kanpur Research and Technology Park, commonly known as Technopark@IITK, was inaugurated by Abhay Karandikar, secretary, department of science and technology, government of India. He is also the former director of IIT Kanpur. With around 13 companies already on board, the institute is also trying to rope in the Adani Group and the JK Group. Pharmaceutical firm Laurice Labs, which uses IIT Kanpur’s patented gene therapy, is coming out with techniques that will help people with terminal eye disease.

Marrying medicine with technology comes easy to IIT Kanpur, and therefore it will soon have the Gangwal School of Medical Sciences and Technology. The aim is to establish India’s first engineering and technology-driven medical school.

“Collective expertise in computer science, mechanical engineering and the department of design can be leveraged to bring out innovation and disruption in medical education and medical technologies to create doctors for the future,” says Prof Sandeep Verma, who has been appointed head of the school. “With this intent, we prepared a detailed plan for this school. Thanks to the reputation of IIT Kanpur, the education ministry readily agreed and the foundation stone of this medical school was laid by Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.”

Around 30 acres have been allocated for the medical school on campus. Construction work is in full swing. The school is named after IIT Kanpur alumni Rakesh Gangwal, cofounder of IndiGo airlines, who donated the seed money. There are different phases in the creation of this medical school, with the initial focus on nine super-speciality postgraduate programmes.

There will also be a 500-bed hospital, named after another alumnus―the late Yadupati Singhania of the JK group. The JK Group, with its origins in Kanpur, has also donated generously to the medical school.

The education ministry has approved more than 50 faculty positions, including a dean of medical school. “We want doctors who can even write code in Python,” says Verma.

Then there is the C3iHub, funded by the Union government’s department of science and technology, under the National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber-Physical Systems. The C3iHub detects security vulnerabilities in critical cyber-physical systems, develops security tools to address the vulnerabilities, nucleates startups and partners with industries to commercialise the security tools, and provides training to the next generation of cybersecurity researchers.

In the first five years, the government will fund the C3iHub. “The aim is also to promote startups, incubate them, help them with technical advice and also help them to connect with various markets,” says IIT Kanpur director Agrawal. “Skill training is also conducted here. We have been operational for four years and have nucelated 50 startups. These startups are all spread across the country.”

The C3iHub has currently more than 100 people, of which more than 80 are engineers. Most of them do cyber security audits of organisations by analysing and finding their weaknesses and bringing out a report. The hub has audited the National Highways Authority of India, Indian Ports Association, Bhilai Steel plant and the Indian Army, and it is planning to do audits for the Rajasthan government and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation. Besides security audits, the C3iHub has a Security Operations Centre, which allows an organisation to continuously monitor its cyber security status. It is also working with law enforcement agencies to develop cyber-crime investigation tools.

With IIT Kanpur expanding its horizons, it is a win-win for its students. The multidisciplinary environment has found many takers. Take, for instance, Sujal Harkud, who hails from Amravati in Maharashtra. He is in his fourth year of electrical engineering, but has had opportunities to do projects in finance and robotics. “I got to work on a project with the Defence and Research Development Organisation on a simultaneous location mapping vehicle,” he says. “I have also done courses in social sciences and finance while studying electrical engineering.” Likewise, Amritansh Tripathi from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, a fourth year BTech student, mentions his research on schizophrenic symptoms.

Knowledge knows no bounds at IIT Kanpur.

Introducing interdisciplinary programmes in emerging fields and establishing industry partnerships, incubation centres and research facilities will foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Integrating skills development, AI and technology into the curriculum can make students industry-ready and prepared to contribute to the countrys economic growth. Increased autonomy (under NEP) has enabled us to innovate and excel in various fields, develop infrastructure as per student training requirements, and offer interdisciplinary programmes.


The NEP 2020 has provided a robust framework for educational institutions in India. There is a marked shift towards skill-oriented education, with a greater emphasis on vocational training and skill development programmes. This focus ensures students are not only academically proficient but also possess practical skills that enhance employability. The interdisciplinary approach equips students with a broad knowledge base and versatile skills.


The government has ushered in a new era of educational reforms with NEP 2020. By promoting a systemic transformation from rote learning to practical learning, this policy has brought in essential reforms that make education not only holistic, flexible and inclusive but also multidisciplinary and technology oriented. NEP is a step towards making education in India representative of the Indian ethos and suitable for India’s upcoming needs.



THE WEEK-Hansa Research Best Colleges Survey 2024 covered 11 disciplines―arts, sciences, commerce, engineering, medicine, dentistry, law, hotel management, fashion technology, mass communication and architecture―across 18 cities and the National Capital Region.

A primary survey was conducted with 1,026 academic experts, 3,003 students and 48 recruiters. The opinion of recruiters was taken only for engineering. The respondents were asked to nominate and rank the 25 top colleges in India and their respective zones.

Perceptual score was calculated based on the number of nominations and the actual ranks received.

For factual data collection, a dedicated website was created and the link was sent to more than 3,500 colleges. Of the 477 colleges responded, those that did not meet the eligibility criteria (23)―at least three batches should have graduated―were eliminated. Data for the remaining colleges was used for rankings and validations.

Factual score was calculated based on weightages assigned to parameters such as infrastructure, faculty, teaching-learning process and extracurricular, placement and hospital association (for medicine and dentistry). Placement was assigned a lower weightage (20 per cent) in the case of arts, sciences and commerce compared with other disciplines like engineering (30 per cent) and architecture (27.5 per cent).

Final score = Perceptual score (out of 600) + factual score (out of 400)

Some colleges could not respond to the survey. For them, the composite score was derived by combining the perceptual score with an interpolated factual score based on their position in the perceptual score list. In cases where factual data from within the last three years was available, that was used. Colleges that did not participate and did not wish to be ranked have been omitted.