Delhi Iron Pillar- Nano Technology

Sri Rajiv Malhotra in his talk at The Annual Indian Heritage Day @ Canada refers to a project at IIT Delhi funded by Ford on the Delhi Iron Pillar. He says that the US government is interested in the technology behind the Delhi Iron Pillar ( Vishnu Stupa) which was not rusted for over 1000 years since they need to use technology for nuclear plants which do not rust. In the same way Ford company would benefit with the technology for making rust free engines and cars.

On exploration, it was discovered that there is an element of nano-technology scale layer of phosphorous in the pillar. There was some kind of chemical mixture which was applied which on exposure to air, has made the layer.

Awarness on our heritage is not only for “feeling good” about ourselves, but also for many applications today. The following article gives some detail on the Vishnu Stupa and the nano-technology story

Nano-express from New Delhi?



The Delhi iron pillar, standing for 1,600 years without corrosion, is a symbol of India’s glorious past in materials science.

Having missed the semiconductor ‘bus’, India does not want to overlook the nanotechnology revolution. In fact, it wants to be at the forefront of it. Can it do it?

It has the credentials. Indians made corrosion-resistant iron 1,800 years ago and gave the world the toughest steel in 300 BC. In recent times — when India has been faced with refusals by the US and its allies to sell it their militarily sensitive technologies — its materials scientists delivered hardened steel for missiles, carbon composites for fighter aircraft, and carbide fuels for nuclear reactors. Indian materials science has been waiting for a renaissance. That moment seems to have arrived.

Research at the nanoscale in India — primarily funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology — is still in its embryonic phase. Scientists have, however, established capabilities for synthesis and characterization of nanoparticles, nanotubes and nanowires. Synthesis of Y-junction tubes1, electric-field generation due to fluid flow over carbon nanotubes2, biosynthesis of gold nanoparticles3 and insight into the inverse Hall–Petch effect4 are seen as major breakthroughs. But what India has been lacking is focus and direction.

These issues have now been addressed by the ministry with the creation in February 2005 of the Nano Science and Technology Mission (NSTM) with assured funding of $25 million in 2005, $50 million per year from 2006 until 2010, and $125 million annually from 2011. This is significant considering the science ministry’s total research and development budget of $70 million for physical and engineering sciences and $100 million for life sciences in 2005. C. N. R. Rao, a leading materials scientist who heads the NSTM, says that nanotechnology is not a bandwagon, as some critics allege, but an “express train” that New Delhi cannot afford to miss. In fact, India expects to enhance its visibility in this area by hosting the International Conference on Advanced Materials (ICAM 2007)5.

The NSTM lays equal thrust on basic research and technology development in four focused areas: nanoscale surface coatings, phosphors for lighting and display, drug-delivery systems and electronics. The NSTM expects to promote foreign collaborations and create venture funds for startups and, over the years, build up the infrastructure in some 12 public-funded institutions and national laboratories to make them globally competitive in nanotechnology.

A networked programme of a size such as the NSTM is bound to face unique administrative and logistic problems. It’s organizational structure, which is still being evolved, should ensure projects are carefully peer-reviewed and funded strictly on merit. Regarding technology development, it would be prudent to take note of Taiwan — where they specialize on computer chips rather than the whole computer — and focus on specific components, for instance, read or write heads for memory devices.

Riding the nano express will no doubt make India feel good. But whether nanotechnology will lead to wealth creation — as IT or biotech did — depends on how soon the NSTM is able to awaken the local industry (a potential flow sensor developed two years ago2 still has no takers). One way out is to enable NSTM’s own scientists to establish startups by providing initial funding. One successful startup could lead to a snowball effect and encourage bigger companies to step in.

In the absence of a homegrown advanced material-based industry, the likely beneficiaries of any leads from NSTM will be multinational companies such as General Electric with their research and development centres in India. In fact, three potentially marketable nanoproducts that came recently from Indian labs — anti-corrosion coating for the aerospace industry; low-temperature soldering of lead; and inorganic nanoparticles for gene delivery6 — are currently being exploited by US firms.

Because the luring of trained scientists and PhD students with attractive salaries by multinational companies is rampant, an aggressive recruitment drive is urgent. Appealing to ‘patriotism’ and offering greater freedom in the work environment is not enough to persuade expatriate scientists to return to government and university labs. NSTM certainly cannot match corporate salaries — but it can reduce the disparities. Rewards for good performance and removal of bureaucracy will do the rest. India has talent. What it needs is a systematic strategy to harness it.

Top of page


  1. Satishkumar, B. C. et al. Appl. Phys. Lett. 77, 2530–2538 (2000). | Article | ISI | ChemPort |
  2. Ghosh, S., Sood, A. K. & Kumar, N. Science 299, 1042–1044 (2003). | Article | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  3. Shiv Shankar, S. et al. Nature Mater. 3, 482–488 (2004). | Article |
  4. Padmanabhan, K. A. & Gleiter, H. Mater. Sci. Eng. A 381, 28–38 (2004). | Article |
  6. Maitra, A. N. et al. US patent 6555376 (2003).

4 thoughts on “Delhi Iron Pillar- Nano Technology

  1. Adheer Singh

    I would think that to make it lucrative to attract Indian’s(both local & International) to develop ideas @ Indian Universities & R&D centres should offer a portion/% of the royalites of the discoveries to the Intellect behind the discoveries,also will aloow post-grad students an opportunity to work with great mentors. In the early 20th century with ppl like SN Bose,JC Bose, CV Raman,Homi Bhabba etc… youngsters where inspired by these intellectual giants & many remained to build the nation but as well know man cannot live on bread alone so if companies including the Govt. offers a % of the royalties to the discoverer it may just work.

  2. skandaveera

    It is never patriotism that is in dearth in Bharat. In spite of having shortage of good scientists, the organizations are failing in recruiting motivated and capable people because of its stupid recruitment policies. The same holds true with universities and research organizations, right from defense.

  3. Kaipa Srinivasa Reddy

    Arise Bharat,

    Appreciate your efforts in coming up with an extremely relevant article. I have a few things to say.
    1. The composition used for Vishnu Stupa has been traced back to Rig Veda. Prof.Balasubramaniam himself is the renowned expert on this.
    2. Let’s call it “Bharatiya technology” rather than INDIAN technology. The reason being “INDIA” is a very recent word originating from SINDHU (and hence HINDU). The word did not exist when Vishnu Stupa was erected. But, the technology when the Vishnu Stupa was erected (attributed to Chandragupta Vikramaditya of the Maurya dynasty and/or Chandragupta I of the Gupta dynasty – both of them separated by a few hundred years) was Bharatiya technology. There are also theories it was originally erected or made in Udaya Giri near Ujjain in present-day Madhya Pradesh. As we all know, Ujjain was the legendary International time-reckoning place (like current-day Greenwich), though for all the right reasons.
    3. One appeal – Calling it “VISHNU STUPA” makes better sense than calling it just Iron Pillar.
    4. Let’s hope our belief in our own ancient glory and technology will inspire the younger generation and also bolster our faith and confidence in everything that is “Bharatiya”

    Jai Bharat,
    Dhanya Vaad,
    Kaipa Srinivasa Reddy

  4. Pingback: Delhi Iron Pillar- Nano Technology « NanoSpeed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s