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Dr. T.S Kanaka: Asia’s first woman neurosurgeon recalls her journey to the top

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

An exemplary woman of India, the 79 year-old Dr. T.S Kanaka has achieved many rare feats in her life. An expert in brain stimulation, she has spent her life in struggles and successfully emerged as Asia’s first female neurosurgeon.

Her journey to the top has been extremely challenging and difficult, she says as she recalls the days of her under-graduation and post-graduation.

“Women were never admitted to master’s programme in general surgery. Two other women had been admitted to the M.S. general surgery simply because they had won the Johnson Medal (the highest recognition for a student at Madras Medical College). While one went on to become an anatomy professor, the other never practised. When I applied for the MS programme, I was told I would never be accepted,” she recalls.

Not just getting admission, but also completing her MS in surgery was difficult. She was the only woman in eight students and women weren’t even allowed to hold a knife, let alone perform surgeries. Crossing many hurdles, she finally passed her final exams and earned her MS in surgery degree.

“As it is, passing the M.S. degree examination is difficult, even without discrimination. Every time I took the final exam, the external examiner from Bombay failed me. It was only in the sixth attempt that I finally qualified,” she recalls.

A chance to show her skills came to her when the surgeon she was assisting had to leave for training and she was asked to take his place. Since then, she worked hard and honed her skills under the tutelage of Dr. B. Ramamurthy.

Even after that, she faced a lot of struggles as her academic research papers were continuously scrutinized by her US counterparts.

A life completely devoted to medicine, she implores scientists to develop brain stimulation kits for stereotaxic surgeries locally, in her lecture tours, so that treatments are made cost effective, which Dr. Kanaka was a staunch advocate of. “My job is not done until India develops its own kit for cost-effective treatment,” she says.

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)