Rediff Logo
Home > Money > Business Headlines > Interview
August 29, 2002 | 1354 IST
  Money Matters

 -  Business Headlines
 -  Corporate Headlines
 -  Business Special
 -  Columns
 -  IPO Center
 -  Message Boards
 -  Mutual Funds
 -  Personal Finance
 -  Stocks
 -  Tutorials
 -  Search rediff


 Secrets every
 mother should

 Your Lipstick

 Need some
 Extra Finance?

 Bathroom singing
 goes techno!

 Search the Internet
 Sites: Finance, Investment

Print this page Best Printed on  HP Laserjets
E-Mail this report to a friend

'I always feel very young when I am with students'

Meet the man who might make cadavers vanish from medical schools one day. Thenkurussi Kesavadas is also convinced the days of killing animals for experiments could come to an end. Cadavers could be replaced by 3-D images, he says.

In a lengthy profile of Kesavadas recently, BusinessWeek called him a 'visionary on the cutting edge of a medical field that has yet to get a specific name'.

A professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Kesavadas has been working with a team of top doctors, engineers and sculptors, to build a virtual-reality tool for brain surgeons that helps them go through a lot of delicate and complex maneuvers before cracking open a real skull. Physicians can avoid a lot of costly mistakes by using his tools, he says. Cadavers are not the best tools for learning, he explains, adding that many doctors have to wait for patients so that they can continue learning more.

When a special glove invented by him is wired to a software that he has developed, it receives tactile feedback replicating what fingers experience in an operating room.

His haptic sensors allow a doctor to record or replicate what he feels during an initial examination of a patient. The feedback is then converted into bits and bytes to build a 3-D image of a virtual examination. At a later stage the same or other physicians can put on the haptic glove, move across the 3-D images, and feel afresh the medical condition of the patient.

Kesavadas, who has a first college degree from the University of Calicut, had his doctoral studies at Penn State University. His interest in medical technology rose from the work he had done on a project at Penn State to design a robotic system that could have medical utility. For over six years he has been involved in the Virtual Reality Lab at SUNY, Buffalo, where he leads the Virtual Human Model for Medical Application project.

Kesavadas speaks to Arthur J Pais in a candid interview.

Why do many people think of scientists as nerds?

(Laughs) I guess because we are nerds. I listen to a lot of music, and there was a time when I drank a lot of Coke. And that's what nerds do, don't they?

You used to play the guitar when you were a student. Do you still play it?

I do. In fact, when my son Tushar [who is 6] gave a piano recital recently, I accompanied him on guitar. I have played at some functions and events but accompanying my son gave me a distinct pleasure. I wish I could devote more time to it.

What kind of music do you play?

Among other things, I try to play on guitar the kind of music that requires a sitar. I am very fond of fusion music.

You should try your hand at the movies.

(Laughs) Some day. I have several friends who are in films. One of them is the well-known art director Sabu Cyril. We were college-mates. We keep in touch, and at times he talks to me about special effects in the movies.

What kind of movies do you like?

My favorite is [the martial arts drama] Matrix. Apart from a wonderful story, it has amazing special effects. I discuss it with my students in graduate classes.

And books?

I am very fond of war literature. Works by Joseph Heller, particularly Catch-22. And the books by John Le Carre. When I travel I look for a John Grisham. I love legal thrillers.

I am curious about your first name. Thenkurussi?

Actually it is my mother's family name. It has to do with the matriarchal tradition we follow in Kerala. People mistake it for my first name. My given name is Kesavadas. And there is also a Menon. But my father [who was a chartered accountant with Coal India] did not use Menon in his name. I wish I had Menon added to my name right from my birthday. In a nostalgic way, I wish for it.

There are many Indians who shorten or alter their names, for instance Krishna becomes Chris or Janardhanan becomes Jan. Were you ever tempted to alter your last or first name?

Never. My friends call me Kesh. And they were calling me Kesh in India too. From my experience, I know that people can make the effort to pronounce a name correctly.

My baby girl is called Mrinalani Parvathi, and you will be surprised how many Americans can pronounce it correctly. Recently I bumped into a person I had met many months ago, and among other things, he asked, 'How is Tushar?' I was surprised he remembered my name after many months. Perhaps he remembered it so well because it is not a common name.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Guiding young men and women. From time to time during my lectures, I stop discussing technology and share with them my experience in real life. For instance, often young people find out in their first job that in real life they are to do things far differently from what they have learned in a classroom. In my class, we also learn how to handle such situations. We discuss about coping with real life situations.

What do you take from your students?

Freshness, for one thing. I always feel I am very young when I am with students. From them I know what is going on in the big world, about music, books and films. I also feel challenged to be a better teacher and researcher. I can't walk into a classroom with over 100 students without solid preparation. Naturally, I also become sharper in whatever I do.

You say your father encouraged you a lot. How?

Among other things, he noticed I was creative. I was not a very good student. I did not get great grades. But he knew I was doing something creative or the other and he encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do.

What kind of creative things?

I had a little workshop inside the house when I was studying in school [in Bihar] and I had even a signboard to announce it. My father knew I was also good with my hands.

Are you an idealist?

Not like I used to be when I was a student, when I was very rigid in dealing with people, especially members of the family. [Now] I see things in pragmatic terms. I have realised most of things in life change incrementally.

Are you religious?

I am not very demonstrative. I like to do the right things --- and that is more important to me. I studied in a convent school run by Carmelite nuns. I was thus exposed to Catholicism and my own religion. I can say I had a broad upbringing.

Do you pray?

I do but silently. I am not a great one to go to temples and religious ceremonies.

Do you believe in miracles and god-men?

In miracles, maybe, but not in god-men. I like to see people who are almost dying revive, or good things coming to people unexpectedly. But people who follow god-men often become extremists. I have a relative who was so much into god-men that he neglected his own family and his daughter.

Do you believe in reincarnation?

(Without hesitation) Yes.

And what would you like to be born as?

Ask me after 20 years. I will know for sure then.

You talk about how much you enjoy being a teacher. If you were not teaching, what would you be doing?

Maybe work in the creative visualization field… find a job in the movies in Hollywood or Bollywood.

If you are not to teach at all?

I would be a rich man. If I go into private business, I am sure I will make a lot of money.

More Money Headlines