IIITH Seeks Pitches To See Which Walls Will Fall Next

On 20 August, IIITH is hosting the international Falling Walls Lab which is a world-class pitch competition for students across disciplines and early-career professionals. The most innovative idea – research project, business plan, or social initiative – will qualify for the global finale in Berlin in November. 

The Falling Walls Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation based in Berlin that was set up on the 20th anniversary of the buckling of the iron curtain. As the name suggests, its mission is to channel the iconic image of a broken down barrier while tearing down similar walls that exist in science and society. One way of initiating dialogue between researchers and enabling scientists to share their knowledge with a global audience is via the Falling Walls Lab. Renowned academic institutions from over 60 countries around the world host the international Falling Walls Lab to showcase innovative ideas from their regions. 

Launching In Hyderabad
While the Falling Walls lab has been organised in India over the last few years by the German House for Research and Innovation (DWIH) New Delhi, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in partnership with various institutes, this is the first time that the lab has come to Hyderabad. As a PhD student from KAUST, Saudi Arabia, who made it to the grand finale in Berlin in 2014, Prof. Aftab Hussain counts the entire experience as one of his most memorable till date. When he joined as faculty at IIITH in the Centre for VLSI and Embedded Systems Technologies (CVEST), it was his dream to mentor research students for a Falling Walls Lab India edition. Recalling his own finale, he exclaims, “It is basically like an Olympics of Science presentations,” adding, “The presentations there were incredible, the energy levels were amazing, and the production quality was so high that the Chief Judge who was on the panel judging the presentations was the Head of the Nobel Prize Committee!” Hence, for Prof. Aftab, the ‘Launch A Lab’ initiative by the Falling Walls organisers couldn’t have been more opportune. “As a Lab alumni who was keen on bringing the event to my region, I think the organisers trusted me with the entire process – the way the ceremony is to be conducted and so on,” he says of the launch in Hyderabad.   

The Way It Works
In the competition, participants are given 3 minutes each to present their solutions to some of the most challenging problems of our time. Judges comprising a panel of experts drawn from academia, industry and the general public determine a winner based on the innovativeness of the proposed idea, potential impact of the presented work, and how convincing the presentation was. Winners across regions who qualify for the global finale in Berlin on 7 November not only compete to become the Breakthrough Winner in the Emerging Talents category of the competition but also win a ticket to attend the Falling Walls Science Summit where “international Lab winners get to interact and network with the world’s movers and shakers of science, business and policy-making”. In an indication of the quality of networking that awaits the international lab winners, Prof. Aftab recounts his encounters with several Nobel Laureates in Berlin. “I also got the opportunity to meet the President of the RoyalSociety of London, a position that was once occupied by Sir Isaac Newton.”

A World Class Experience
The winner from the international Lab gets to go to Berlin and the finale winner, apart from taking home the winning title, and prize money, receives another opportunity to speak on the grand stage of the Falling Walls Conference which throughout the day hosts leading experts, changemakers, and many luminaries. However, according to Prof. Aftab, the process of applying for the pitch is an experience in itself. “Right from the title of the presentation itself which begins with ‘Breaking the wall of..’, there is a 40 character limit that includes spaces! Similarly the description of the project has a 200 character limit. One has to weigh every word carefully while applying. And then there is the 3 minute limit for presenting. This is the beauty of the entire competition,” he says. What he would like to tell students and researchers is this – “Even if you don’t win this and go to Germany, the process of applying and prepping for the 3-minute pitch is a valuable experience that ought not to be missed.”

The deadline to apply is 24 July 2022. More information can be gathered here.

Sarita Chebbi is a minimalist runner, practising yogi and baker of all things whole-wheat, and sugar-free. Currently re-learning her ABC’s…the one that goes: A for algorithm, B for Bayesian, C for convolutional (neural network)….

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