Monday, 1 August 2011

One man went to work* – a catalytic converter

News of a recently registered institutional repository (IR) has emerged. Called Catalysis Database, it uses the Eprints software and can be accessed at It is hosted by the National Center for Catalysis Research (NCCR) at the Department of Chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IITM), and contains published research articles, unpublished concept articles, theses, reports, working papers, teaching resources and much more. There are currently over 1740 items archived, and the remarkable point to note is that this effort has been driven by a single man, Professor B Viswanathan, and follows from his attendance at an open access workshop organized by EPT Trustee Professor Subbiah Arunachalam.

The professor has acknowledged that it would not have been possible without the help of a young IITM undergraduate student(Venkatasubramanian Viswanathan) with computer skills, who was able to set up the repository ‘within days or hours’ and who still helps resolve any technical problems that arise, ‘though now working in the USA. But it is clear that the driving force was a single person who had the vision and open mind to understand the concept of open access as presented at a workshop, and to see the vast potential of such a repository.  Most of the deposit of material has been carried out by Viswanathan himself as he found there were many inaccuracies when carried out direct by the authors, leading to failed searches. He has received no direct input from his institution, apart from registration of the domain name, carrying out the work himself. He describes the repository as an education and knowledge resource for catalysis since it also includes book chapters and other material of general relevance to this discipline.

And the cost? The server was purchased by the Catalysis Society of India for hosting its online journal and other catalysis purposes. The Institute covers the costs of direct online access and maintenances. Viswathan says, ‘I would not say the cost was free, but hidden’ as he was able to take advantage of the spare capacity within the ICT facilities at his institute. Since the resource is also a major contribution to his own work in many ways – allowing download of data in response to student class queries, for example - the time he exerted was also in the interest of the NCCR and part of his regular teaching and research work in the catalysis field.

He reports that the IR is used extensively on a global basis, and describes how he himself was able to prepare a lecture at short notice by downloading much information from the IR while attending an American Chemical Society meeting in March 2011. He had been ill-informed about his role as a main speaker, discovering the error only on the conference notice board on arrival.

It is good to know that he has benefited himself from his own efforts, but the value of the resource to the science of catalysis must be very substantial.  One man and a student from the NCCR institute have achieved a catalytic impact on their discipline, though it is surely unlikely that the effort has left the ‘agent’ unchanged.

Our congratulations to Professor Viswanathan and the NCCR student – we hope all catalysis researchers appreciate their good fortune.

*Counting Nursery Song, ‘One man went to mow’ -