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Chaitanya Bhat: Sweet Sounds of Engineering

A native of Bangalore, India, Chaitanya Bhat came to Purdue University as a graduate student in mechanical engineering, researching the acoustic properties of diesel engines at Herrick Labs. At the same time, he has always had a love for North Indian (Hindustani) classical music. Now he can pursue his two favorite kinds of sound: as an acoustical engineer for Honeywell in Bangalore, and as a performing musician in concerts and recordings. In his own words, here is Chaitanya's story...

In the summer of 2006, I completed my undergraduate course in Mechanical Engineering in my hometown of Bangalore, India. I had turned down a job offer at Larsen & Toubro and had not yet applied to graduate school, not knowing what specialization I wanted to pursue as a grad student. Then, I paid a visit to Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which is a stone’s throw away from my home in Bangalore. There, I got in touch with Dr. Venkata Sonti, who was then an associate professor in the mechanical engineering school. As luck would have it, I learnt that Dr. Sonti had completed his PhD at Purdue University while working at Herrick Labs. He introduced me to the field of acoustics and offered me an opportunity to work on an underwater acoustics project at IISc. Soon it became clear to me that I wanted to pursue graduate studies and a career in vibro-acoustics.

I have also been a passionate student of Indian classical music since I was 8 years old, and have been training in the North Indian style of classical music, generally referred to as Hindustani classical music, which is performed either in vocal or instrumental form. I have been training in ‘Khayal gayaki’, which literally translates to ‘singing one’s imagination’. This form of music involves highly improvised elaboration of a Raaga, which is a melodic framework of specific musical notes, with different Raagas representing different emotions, time of day, seasons of the year, and so on. As the performance proceeds, the musician continues developing the Raaga with faster paced rhythmic patterns. Based on its nature, a Raaga is elaborated by means of lyrical compositions having themes such as mythology, romance, nature, valor, religion, etc. The vocalist is usually accompanied by a percussionist, who provides the rhythmic platform on which to develop the performance, and by another instrumentalist who provides melodic support by means of a reed, string or wind instrument. Pursuit of music as a passion and noise & vibration control as a profession seemed a natural fit to me.

As I continued working at IISc, I started applying to grad schools in the US, with Purdue being my most preferred destination, having heard Dr. Sonti speak about the place and its people in glowing terms. I was thrilled to have been accepted into Purdue’s graduate program in spring 2008. Soon after arriving in West Lafayette, I was contacted by Dr. Peter Meckl, who gave me an opportunity to pursue my research in engine controls and combustion-induced noise in single-cylinder diesel engine at Herrick Labs. Having accepted the offer, I spent the following two and a half years at Herrick, working alongside fantastic professors such as Dr. Meckl, Dr. Stuart Bolton, Dr. Patricia Davies and Dr. John Abraham at Zucrow labs. My primary research was in combustion and combustion-induced noise radiation in a single-cylinder diesel engine controlled by means of an electronic fuel injection system. Over the course of my work, I developed a deeper understanding of engine system controls, noise and vibration measurement techniques, combustion in IC engines and digital signal processing. I learnt much from the delightfully friendly staff members and colleagues at Herrick, while sharing my work with them and learning about their projects. I enjoyed presenting my work to industry representatives during the IAC meetings, while trying to understand their views and expectations from academic research. There was always a sense of warmth and comfort about the long hours I spent at Herrick and it became my second home at Purdue. I certainly miss the Donut Thursdays in the kitchen area of the lab, and I hope the tradition continues to this day!

As much as I loved my life in Purdue, including the Midwestern winters, my desire to pursue my musical interests alongside a career in engineering made me return to India following my graduation in the summer of 2010. I accepted a job offer from Honeywell to work as a vibro-acoustics engineer in the turbocharger business. All of the knowledge I gained in Herrick has served me wonderfully well in the last six years at Honeywell, where I continue to work towards designing structurally and aerodynamically quieter turbochargers for applications across European and Asian markets. During my initial years at Honeywell, I worked mostly on diagnosing turbocharger-induced noise claims from our customers and helping manufacturing decide balancing requirements to avoid structural noise in vehicle. Since then, I have been involved in designing vibro-acoustic test rigs, defining measurement techniques, aero and structural acoustics simulations and design requirements for proactive noise and vibration control in turbochargers.

At the same time, I have become a graded artist of Indian classical music at All India Radio (AIR), with the first of my grades granted during my first semester in Purdue, which followed an audition that I did just months before I left India for West Lafayette. Since then, I have regularly done recordings or live performances at AIR. Over the years, I’ve been invited to perform live at various music festivals in and around Bangalore and other cities in India. I have released a couple of studio albums, which received favorable reviews by critics and connoisseurs. A YouTube search of my name yields a sample of one of the album tracks, with links to the full album for interested listeners.

In 2015, I married Neha, who is an accomplished Indian classical dancer and instructor and also a graduate in clinical psychology. We plan to collaborate in the future on projects implementing our skills in music and dance. Pursuit of music and an engineering profession, simultaneously, has certainly been challenging, especially in terms of organizing my life around two activities that demand a lot of time and dedication. However, the very nature of Indian classical music has ensured that it has always been a positive, relaxing and rejuvenating influence on other facets of my life.

I continue to live my dream of residing in my hometown, close to friends and family, while pursuing a career in vibro-acoustics and passion for music. For having helped me realize a big part of this dream, I owe much to the time I spent at Herrick, of which I have nothing but the fondest of memories. I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to all my professors, colleagues and friends at Herrick and I wish them the very best for the future.

More about Chaitanya Bhat's music: http://underscorerecords.com/artistes/detail/257/Chaitanya-Shankar-Bhat
Herrick Labs: http://purdue.edu/herrick