Prabhu Rajagopal

Our interviewee for this instalment of People in NDE is Prabhu Rajagopal, an Associate Professor from IIT Madras in India, who has also co-founded two inspection start-ups and is a successful poet. You can contact Prabhu by email at: or on Twitter: @foenon

Briefly describe your current role
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and an Associate of the Centre for Nondestructive Evaluation at IIT Madras (IITM), Chennai, India. I teach aspects of design in addition to non-destructive evaluation (NDE) and structural health monitoring (SHM). My research interests include strategies for the inspection of complex structures under challenging conditions and high-resolution ultrasonic imaging using metamaterials (synthetic materials, the structures of which give them properties that are not usually found in natural materials). My research has a strong industry focus, with over 12 sponsored projects with a total value of more than 
US$3 million. My research is also typically collaborative and international, with joint projects/publications with groups from universities across five continents. I currently guide 15 PhD projects (two of them jointly with the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and one with Swinburne University of Technology, Australia) and six MS projects. I also co-founded two start-ups – Planys Technologies and Solinas Integrity – which deliver solutions for robotic inspection of submerged infrastructure. I guide the operations of these start-ups as a member of their Board of Directors.

What education or training route did you follow?
In 2003, I graduated from IIT Madras with a dual master’s degree in mechanical engineering, specialising in intelligent manufacturing. I then obtained my PhD in ultrasonic NDE from Imperial College London, UK, in 2007.

What other roles or jobs have you had in the past?
I was a post-doctoral researcher at Imperial College London from 2008 to 2010. In this role, I developed advanced computational tools for the inspection of welds in a project funded by Rolls-Royce plc. I was an Assistant Professor at IIT Madras from 2010 to 2014. In this role, I was involved in teaching several undergraduate and master’s courses on the fundamentals of mechanical design, while also carrying out research on high-temperature transducers and feature-guided ultrasound.

What would you consider to be your biggest NDE achievements and challenges to date?
I think a couple of outputs from my research can be of great value to the NDE community. Firstly, super-resolution imaging in ultrasonic C-scanning using metamaterial lenses could open up the possibility for high-resolution inspections using portable devices and eventually guided waves. Secondly, my work has helped discover several feature-guided waves (FGWs), which can lead to novel sensors, including those used to monitor pipeline anomalies, plate bends and radius-filler (noodle) regions in composite joints. Thirdly, my work on compact submersibles, in collaboration with start-ups such as Planys, is now applied in the inspection of submerged sections of dams, bridges, etc, where there are currently very few solutions. I believe that this, along with my recent work on detecting pipeline leaks using spherical robots together with Solinas, will find wide application globally in the coming years.

What do you think are the pressing challenges for the NDE industry?
Expanding the scale of inspections to consider more realistic structures (for example multi-layered structures) under practical conditions (for example at high temperatures) is going to be the key challenge for NDE as we go forward. Already, site managers are looking for solutions to online inspection cases and technologies, such as drones, and soft sensors leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) will become crucial here. Strategies for managing and manipulating large-scale data are also vital, as are analytics and other approaches for prediction, prognosis and dynamic intervention.

What changes, if any, do you foresee for NDE in the future?
I see a number of disruptions around the corner. For example, intelligent materials that can self-sense for defects and take corrective action are not too far from realisation, especially in composites and some advanced concrete. Machine learning and analytics will provide an ever-improving capacity for predicting the propensity of structures to failures. Robotics-based online inspections will provide us with an ability to probe structures and systems under ever more challenging conditions. The fusion of simulations and experimental results with virtual reality and augmented learning will play an increasing role in the visualisation of hotspots and defects and will provide managers
with unmatched abilities to respond and plan for interventions. Finally, new tools and techniques from other fields, such as archaeology and geophysics, will provide NDE scientists with opportunities for rapid assessment of large-scale infrastructural assets.

What is your involvement with NDE societies such as BINDT?
I was a student member of BINDT and the Institute of Physics and, as such, enjoyed the possibilities they offered for interaction with members from other universities, as well as personnel from industry and agencies. Recently, I have been a member of the Acoustical Society of America and a keen participant in the activities of the Indian Society for NDT (ISNT), of which I am a life member. For example, I am leading an effort by ISNT to reach out to and foster NDE research among a wider set of engineering and technical institutions in India. I am also one of the technical editors for ISNT’s NDT&E International journal.

How would you describe NDE to someone who has not heard of it before?
Most people are familiar with at least some of the diagnostic tools used in biomedicine for imaging the human body, such as ultrasound, X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). I would say NDE is a group of similar tools and techniques used by engineers to probe into metallic, composite and concrete structures.

Outside NDE, what are your interests and hobbies?
Robotics has fascinated me since childhood and remains one of my main interests beyond NDE, and I relish studying the physics of fin-like propulsion in small underwater vehicles. I am also interested in artistic/cultural movements and philosophies (especially yoga-based) and how these impact design. Outside of all of this, I am passionate about poetry, chiefly in the English language. My work has appeared in online magazines and anthologies, besides featuring in some competitions. I have also published two volumes of my poetry using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Ten Years and The Hermit, the latter exploring avant-garde styles through the life of a German-origin hermit in Georgia.

Please get in touch if you have any recommendations for future interviewees or would like to be interviewed yourself. Contact the editor at or email Maria Felice direct at

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