From India to Australia: Making a splash with an international award

Publication date
Friday, 31 Mar 2023
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When Dhruv Bhagtani landed in Australia thanks to a prestigious Future Research Talent Award, he knew he’d be doing world-class undergraduate research. What he didn’t expect was the world of opportunity it also opened up.

The Future Research Talent Award offers funding to top-performing students at high-quality institutions in India and Indonesia to complete research projects at The Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

“I first heard about the award while I was studying for my undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras,” Dhruv says. “I thought this was a great opportunity that I should definitely apply for.”

After he was accepted, Dhruv was unsure what to expect when moving away from India for the first time.

He says that his research supervisor, Professor Andy Hogg, was central in the process of easing this adjustment.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisor. I felt extremely comfortable discussing research questions however silly they seemed.”

This was especially important because Dhruv was trying something new.

“Andy understood that I would need time to move from my engineering background into scientific oceanography research.”

Although the research project was different to what Dhruv was doing in India, he says that his background in ocean engineering also assisted with his research at ANU.

“My engineering background helps me look at scientific problems from a different perspective.”

Dhruv enjoyed the project so much that he decided to return to Canberra, to undertake a PhD with the Research School of Earth Sciences with an ANU scholarship, where he is working under the supervision of Professor Andy Hogg, Dr Navid Constantinou and Dr Ryan Holmes.

“I am immensely grateful to my PhD supervisors, who have been instrumental in my development as a researcher.”

He is now helping the world to better understand one of the biggest problems it faces: climate change.

To do this, Dhruv uses Australia’s largest research supercomputing facility, the National Computational Infrastructure at ANU, to run complex computer simulations to better understand how large-scale ocean circulation works.

“I hope my research helps us better understand the processes behind circulating currents in the major oceans, called gyres, and how they are going to change because of climate change.”

Dhruv says these gyres can be between 5,000 to 10,000 kilometres wide and are connected to a global network of ocean currents.

“Gyres form a part of the ‘ocean conveyer belt’, carrying and mixing salts, nutrients, and heat across global oceans.

“For example, in the North Atlantic Ocean, a strong current travels up the East Coast of America.”

Dhruv says that the northward current carries warm water upwards, promoting more habitable conditions along the East Coast.

“This current is predicted by climate models to slow down. This could have long-term impacts on the living conditions in the East Coast of America.”

A man sitting in a computer server room, looking at a laptop

Despite being central to the large-scale current system, Dhruv says we only have an incomplete picture of how these ocean currents operate and what drives their ocean-swirling activities

“Previously, people thought they were driven primarily by winds,” he says. “Now we think that in addition to winds, they can also be driven by heating and cooling different parts of the ocean.”

Dhruv is working to prove this hypothesis by artificially changing the heat intake in the ocean in different areas within his complex computer simulations.

“Climate change will heat up different parts of the ocean differently,” he explains. “And if these circulatory features change, then the concentration of properties they carry with them, like heat, nutrients, oxygen, and marine animals, could also change, causing global impacts.”

Like Dhruv, many of the Future Research Talent Award students have gone on to undertake PhDs at the world’s best universities, working on diverse problems in health, medicine, science, engineering and computer science.

“My experience in Australia has been splendid, to say the least, and it was only possible because of the Future Research Talent program.”

In May, Dhruv will help to welcome a new group of awardees to ANU, arriving on campus for the first time since COVID restrictions ended. His advice for them is to make the most of the social and cultural opportunities the program provides.

“Apart from gaining invaluable experience in world-class research facilities at the ANU, it’s a perfect opportunity to meet new people, explore different places, go out for hikes, and enjoy the lifestyle and culture in Australia.

“I’ve learnt so much about Australian culture and have embedded a number of those things in myself, like the healthy lifestyle Australia takes pride in.”

Another cultural value Dhruv has taken from his experiences in Australia is to have a more balanced approach to work.

“I believe that in the long run, having a work-life balance is crucial.  Otherwise, you might burn out in the long run, and won’t be able to enjoy the lifestyles and cultures the world has to offer.”

Make a global impact with a Future Research Talent Award. As part of the 2023 FRT program, 93 scholars from 41 institutional partners in India and Indonesia will be funded to come to the ANU and undertake research projects based across 11 ANU Research Schools, Centres, and Institutes. For more information, please visit FRT India or Indonesia webpages.  

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