Professor N. R. Kamath (NRK) (September 8, 1914 – August 1983), an early architect of the IITs, was Deputy Director (provost) of IIT Bombay from 1960 to 1966 and from 1970 to 1974. As Deputy Director, he was the chief academic officer of the institute. His responsibilities covered degree programs, research, and liaison with the industry. He joined IIT Bombay in March 1959 as Professor and Head of Chemical Engineering Department where he continued till his retirement in September 1974.

A pioneer of the JEE for the IITs:
With diverse standards in various states, there was a need to have a common set of standards for admission. Thus, the IITs initiated a Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) in 1963. The challenge was to design the examination in chemistry, English, mathematics, and physics that evaluates fundamental knowledge without relying on the easy-to-grade option of multiple choice questions that the United States uses for its SAT and GRE examinations. Professor Kamath headed the responsibility of designing, administering, and grading the examination. The contributions of the IIT graduates all over the world are a testimony to the effectiveness of the examination. This examination still retains its central role in selecting students for admission to the undergraduate programs at the 23 IITs and is widely regarded as a key strength of the IITs.

An architect of the curricula of the IIT Bombay:
The curriculum was the other important parameter for a world class undergraduate program. IIT Bombay was the second IIT after Kharagpur. Here again, Professor Kamath took the leadership role. Whereas the curriculum was designed only for IIT Bombay, it had spillover effects not only on other IITs but also on other engineering and polytechnic colleges. At the time, the IITs offered a five-year undergraduate program after 11 years of schooling. Under NRK’s leadership, IIT Bombay designed a program that was arguably the most rigorous in the world. For each of the ten semesters, students had to attend lectures, tutorials, or lab for 35 hours in a week. The program had three important dimensions. First, for each engineering branch (major)—chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, and metallurgical—the program was a union of the sets of the courses included in similar programs at CalTech, Imperial College, MIT, or Stanford, that is, it included almost every science or engineering subject that was included in those programs. Second, several final year courses were designed to be equivalent of the masters level courses in breadth and rigor in the leading engineering schools in the world. Third, the program had a multidisciplinary character. For example, a mechanical engineering student was required to take certain courses in chemical, civil, electrical, and metallurgical engineering. NRK also led the design of the M.Tech. and Ph.D. programs.

Research:
His work during the years 1940-46 in UL resulted in 18 publications on lac utilization. Shellac was a critical ordnance item during the second world war. On his return to India, he published a paper “Iodometric Determination of Acid Value of Lac” with V. B. Mainkar in Analytical Chemistry. He published his works on castor oil with B. Sreenivasan and JG Kane.

Educator:
NRK taught several chemical engineering courses at postgraduate and undergraduate levels. He also developed and taught a course on economics of chemical industries. He was an effective teacher. Rekha Rege Nadkarni (1968 Chemical), the first woman to graduate in chemical engineering from an IIT, says, “Professor Kamath’s unique style of teaching, using humor to drive a point home is something I have cherished all these years.”

History of Technology:

A unique required course taught by NRK. This was the goal of the first year required course, History of Technology. NRK taught all sections of this required course to the first year students. Its raison ďetre: Where there is no knowledge of the past, there is no vision for the future.

Awards and Honors:
At the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the All India Manufacturers’ Association in 1973, India’s President V. V. Giri honored Professor Kamath with an award for his contributions to chemical engineering. In 2012, The Institute of Chemical Technology instituted “Professor N. R. Kamath Book Authors’ Award” for its faculty, students, and alumni for their textbooks, monographs, or edited volumes on science, technology and management. The award is supported with an endowment from his former students. Management and Business Review (MBR), a journal for executives and managers sponsored by a dozen leading business schools, has established a biennial Teck-Hua Ho (National University of Singapore) and N. R. Kamath (Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay at Mumbai) Award for Research in Engineering and Technology that has benefitted organizations and society.

Legacy:
His legacy is that the IITs are today regarded among the top engineering schools in the world. The United States’ CBS’ 60 Minutes newsmagazine described the IITs as “Harvard, MIT, and Princeton put together.” The Business Week magazine published a cover story on the IITs. IIT Bombay at Mumbai ranks as India’s Number 1 university in India in all global and national rankings. The Sun never sets on the lands where his students and his students’ students have been making a difference in the lives of people. They are or have been engineers, scientists, and technologists; entrepreneurs, executives, and heads of large corporations in both private and public sectors; first Indian to head a Fortune 500 company in the US and one of the 20 richest persons in the world; professors, scholars, founders and editors of leading journals and founders and presidents of national and global societies that interface engineering and management; Fellows of the Royal Society and The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (The Fellows of both societies include several Nobel Laureates); heads of such scientific organizations as the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Indian National Science Academy (INSA); novelist, story writers, travel writers, and playwrights; film producers and directors, film actors, and musicians; social and environmental activists; recipients of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award, the Marconi Prize, and the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal; and Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan honorees from the President of India and National Medal of Technology and Innovation honoree from the US President.

The birth centenary year in 2014 was celebrated at IIT Bombay as a tribute to Prof. Kamath’s pioneering mentorship. Several of his students came together and recounted ways in which he had touched all their lives and profession. As a deep mark of respect and reverence, all of his students raised finances to establish a distinguished chair professorship at the Institute in the memory of Prof. N R Kamath. Since then, several distinguished luminaries from academia and industry have occupied the chair and have collaborated with faculty and students at IIT Bombay. As the Institute grows the activities under this chair professorship, we seek you generous financial support and participation, by way of your tributes to Prof. N R Kamath.

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