In Hindi we have a saying: मस्त लोग थे – they were cool and open to new ideas – which is the best gift an exhibitor can have! Bharat Bhatia and I (Manisha De) are both from the Department of Electrical Engineering & IT at ETH Zurich. While Bharat recently completed his master’s and started his PhD, I am still doing my master’s. We had the honour of representing ETH at Techfest in Mumbai, India. Organised by IIT Bombay, it is Asia's largest science and technology festival.
I am from Calcutta, in eastern India, and have spent most of my 24 years in India. For Bharat, it’s a different story. Despite having an Indian background, he moved to Austria at a very early age, and was better acquainted with European culture.
We were both impressed by the size and quality of Techfest, and the sheer life of the three-day event. But how did we get there?
India, here we come!
Despite having spent so many years in India, I never get bored of visiting. Being such a huge country, it is impossible to be familiar with all her traditions and cultures! It was on my last visit to Calcutta, in October 2019, that I read about the opportunity. I had taken my mother out to lunch. After a sumptuous meal, I was browsing Facebook when a post caught my attention: "ETH students to showcase their project in India". My first thought: another chance to visit India!
I immediately opened the link and read about the possibility of exhibiting at Techfest, IIT Bombay. This was an exciting opportunity to showcase one of my semester projects, and be a brand ambassador of ETH at the same time. Students across the globe dream of pursuing their studies at ETH Zurich. This would enable me to help a few of them.
Next step was to decide on a project to showcase, and prepare a good motivation letter and project description before applying to ETH Global (now: Office of the President/International Affairs and Community & Outreach). The project I decided on was '3D Magneto-Inductive Localization System', my semester thesis, which correlated with Bharat’s research. The project’s fancy name describes an indoor localization system for estimating the position and orientation of an object based on electromagnetic inductions.
After a few weeks, I received a mail that the application was selected! We had a few meetings with ETH Global to discuss requirements for our trip, prepare posters and presentations. Then we were ready to fly.
The Mumbai 'Pav'
On our arrival at Mumbai airport, we were received by an IIT first-year student, who gave us an overview of the next three days. I was amazed to hear that last year, Techfest had around 150,000 visitors. Asia's largest technology fest really was large!
We were dropped off at one of IIT's lovely guesthouses. Despite exhaustion, we were eager not to waste the evening. Where better to start than with food? I had long known that Mumbai was famous for its 'Pav' (a type of bread), and our expectations were fully met when we tried a plate of Pav Bhaji. It consisted of two butter fried Pavs, finely chopped onions and a veg curry which tasted super with a pinch of lemon and coriander – a true Maharashtrian delicacy.
Techfest – truly the largest!
Next morning, after an early breakfast, we reached the arena by 9 am, in time to set up the booth. At 10 am visitors started swarming into the exhibition hall. We were overwhelmed to see this amount of interest in science and technology. Speaking for 7 hours was exhausting. But the enjoyment of explaining our project to numerous groups surpassed all forms of tiredness. We don’t really know what made us so happy. The enthusiastic audience? Their intelligent questions? Or even their good proposals about our future work! In any case, we were glad people were so interested in our project as well as in ETH Zurich.
What gave me the most joy was having to explain this master’s-level project to some kids barely 6 or 7 years old (Picture 1). Even better, they understood it all and asked good questions! Another unusual experience was explaining our work to an extremely old gentleman. He will always be an inspiration to us – living proof that age is just a number and if you truly love science and technology, nothing can stop you from knowing more. It also filled our hearts with pride when people expressed appreciation for ETH Zürich for its contributions to science and technology.
During lunch breaks, we explored other booths: exhibitions on drones, robotics, rocket designs... The international exhibitions are just one part of Techfest. Elsewhere on campus, there are lectures by eminent professors, games like laser tag, IIT's R&D exhibitions, and much more. Evenings were mostly free. Towards 9 pm, we had delicious Indian dinners – very late by Swiss standards but early for India. Here we had the chance to interact with other exhibitors. Sometimes IIT students joined us for dinner as well. It was interesting to hear about their experiences managing the entire Techfest. To ensure everything went smoothly, preparations had begun a whole year ago.
Looking back, this was an extremely enjoyable experience and we were honoured to help answer questions about studying at ETH Zurich. This is a superb venture carried out by ETH Global and every ETH student should look forward to such an opportunity. An exhilarating experience in incredible India!
About the author
Manish De is from India. After completing her Bachelor’s in Electronics & Communication Engineering, she worked at Ericsson India for 2.9 years. Work was getting a bit mundane and that's when she decided to start her master’s. The choice of university was very biased from her end. Since she’d already had the chance to work as a research intern at CERN (Geneva) during her bachelor’s, nothing seemed better than ETH Zurich, which is also in Switzerland. She had the opportunity to attend Techfest at IIT Bombay in January 2020.