In memoriam: Prof. YBG Varma (26 December 1936 – 4 April 2020)

In memoriam: Prof. YBG Varma
(26 December 1936 – 4 April 2020)

Dr. Y B G Varma graduated in Chemical Engineering with the ‘Sir Arthur Cotton Gold Medal’ at Andhra University. He received his M.Tech. from IIT Kharagpur. He was awarded his Ph.D. degree in Chemical Engineering in 1966 from IIT Madras, the very first Ph.D. in Engineering awarded by the institute. He served IIT Madras as a faculty member in the Department of Chemical Engineering for 35 years. From 1978-1981, he was the Head of the Department.

Dr. Varma worked with Professors Kirschbaum, Rumph and Pichler as a DAAD scholar at the Technical University, Karlsruhe. Later, he worked with Prof. Brauer as an Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellow at Technical University, Berlin. He had the distinction of being the coordinator, along with Prof Brauer, for Indo-German Joint Research Programs in Chemical Engineering consecutively for two terms. He has authored a book on ‘Air Pollution Control’, published by Springer-Verlag, NY.

He taught several courses including Multiphase Flow, Heat and Mass transfer, Chemical Reaction Engineering and Chemical Plant Design. He was adjudged as the best teacher in Chemical Engineering by the Institute. After superannuation, he served briefly as Principal of an engineering college at Vaniyambadi in Tamil Nadu, inspiring many students to excel in higher education and realize their potential.

Most of Professor Varma’s research was conducted on pilot-scale equipment, resulting in design and development of multiphase chemical process equipment covering single and multi-stage fluidized beds, gas–liquid downflow trickle beds, gas–liquid upflow packed bubble columns and reciprocating plate columns. The emphasis in his research was on fundamental studies on fluid–particle distributions and interactions, residence time distributions, modeling, film and overall coefficients, interfacial area, etc.– all of which are of primary importance in the design and development of chemical process plants. He supervised 28 Ph.D. Scholars and numerous M.S. students. He published more than 90 research articles in reputed journals such as AIChE, I&EC Fundamentals, Powder Technology, Canadian Journal of Chem. Engg., and Chem. Engg. Science. In December 2019, Prof. Varma was honoured with the Dr. B P Godrej Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant contributions to Chemical Engineering by the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers (IIChE) at its annual session held at IIT Delhi.

All of his Ph.D. students hold very high positions today in both academic and research organizations in India and abroad. Many equipment developed during his research are presently being adopted in industrial practice. Prof. Varma has to his credit a number of sponsored and consultancy projects from industries including ITC, L&T, Hindustan Unilever, IGP Engineers, UCAL Fuel Systems and Engineers India Ltd.

In the words of his colleagues….

Prof. MS Ananth:

In the passing away of Prof. Varma, I have personally lost a former senior colleague and a good friend. He was the first Ph.D. in engineering from IIT Madras. He served as Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering for 23 years until his superannuation in 1996. He was consistently rated one of the best teachers. He was by far the best researcher in Chemical Engineering with seminal contributions in the general area of multi-phase flow. His attention to detail ensured that some of the finest data in multiphase flow systems came from his laboratory. He was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow and co-author of ‘Air Pollution Control Equipment’ published by Springer Verlag, Berlin.

As a person, he was sincere, steadfast of purpose and loyal to his family and friends. He was frank and always truthful. He was a true karma yogi. He was professionally very strict with his students, friends and family, but stricter still with himself! For nearly two decades until he superannuated, I had the pleasure of pursuing joint research with him in multi-phase flow systems.  He enjoyed his research work and pursued it with an uncompromising integrity. He never bragged about his considerable achievements. I personally owe a great deal to him for my own professional success.

I pray that God give Mrs. Varma, who played such a silent yet pivotal role in her husband’s success, and her sons the strength to bear this loss.

Prof. A Kannan:

I am distressed to hear the passing away of my (MTech) Guide Professor YBG Varma.  He had the students’ welfare at heart and wanted them to excel in their profession.  He inculcated discipline and helped them to understand the benefits of hard work and attention to detail in research.

He was a great Teacher, and the Award instituted in his name in the Department continues to encourage Excellence in Teaching so that thousands of students will continue to benefit. My heartfelt condolences for this irreplaceable loss….  I pray that his Soul rests in Peace.

Prof. Sreenivas Jayanti:

I am sorry to learn of the passing away of Prof. YBG Varma.  He was already a giant in the department when I joined, but gave me all the respect of a fellow colleague from Day 1.  He was a role model as a person, and also as a researcher and teacher.

Prof. K. Krishnaiah

The passing away of Prof. YBG Varma Sir has left a vacuum in my heart which cannot be filled. I lost a great GURU.

I joined his Indo-German Project in June 1976 as a Ph.D. Research Scholar. Since then, for the past 44 years, I have been his student and in constant touch with him all the time. After my retirement in 2013, I have my house just behind his, with a common compound wall, in Narayanapuram, Pallikaranai.

During my Ph.D., like all his students, I learnt a lot, not only of the subject but about self-discipline, punctuality, life and many more. For all his Ph.D. and M.S. scholars, he was an excellent role model in professional and personal life. Most of his Ph.D. scholars graduated within 3.5 years with very good journal papers. Prof. Ananth was also a joint Guide for some of his students. Almost all the students were in touch with him till his passing away.

On 2nd February 2020 (2.5 months back), around 20 of his Ph.D. students gathered with families in Chennai to felicitate him after he was awarded “Lifetime Achievement Award” by IIChE, in December 2019. His friend and co-researcher, Prof. Ananth, was also present.

Prof. Varma Sir retired in 1996, and at that time, an International Conference was organised by the Department in which many well-known international researchers participated. There was a program honouring Prof Varma Sir. For this function, all his M.S. and Ph.D. students (around 24 of them at that time) attended, making the function a great success.

I am writing all this to convey how he treated his students even after some retired. When he was residing on campus during his service, he used to invite all his B. Tech. & M. Tech. Project students and M.S. & Ph.D. scholars every year to his house for tea or dinner.   Subsequently, he showed great heart in maintaining contact with all his students. It was not only the students, even the faculty and Staff from ChE and other departments were regular visitors to his Office when he was in service, and to his house after his retirement. When he was in service, he used to send new clothes to the houses of Technical and Office Staff on any small occasion in their houses. This was a great quality in him—caring for the people who were working with him and in the Department.

After his retirement, he was Principal of Priyadarshini College of Engineering in Vaniyambadi (near Vellore) for some time. He helped many poor students who joined engineering from nearby villages by paying fees, supplying books, etc. All of them treat him as God without whom their lives would have been totally different. Most of them are in very good positions, and some of them are even faculty in NITs and other colleges.

From the time I was his student, I used to observe that on any occasion in his house, such as birthdays, functions, etc., he used to send either money or clothes or food to orphanages. This activity would be three to four times in every year, and was continued till his passing away. His sons, who have got this quality from their father, also treat the poor kindly.

I have not seen many people who could balance professional life, family life and societal interventions with such efficiency, maintaining the highest quality in every activity. His professional contributions to teaching, research, consultancy in Chemical Engineering are well known and do not bear repetition.

I would like to say a few words only about his German connections. He worked with Prof. Kirschbaum and Prof. Rumpf at the Technical University, Karlsruhe, and later with Prof. Brauer at Technical University Berlin. Prof. Kirschbaum was one of the world authorities in Coal and Coal Processing; Prof Rumpf was famous in particle technology research; and Prof. Brauer was well-known for his work in Multiphase Systems. It was said that Prof. Rumpf designed our old Particle Technology Laboratory duplicating his in TU, Karlsruhe. Prof. Varma Sir did his Ph.D. in Particle Technology, and his was the first Ph.D. awarded in Engineering at IIT Madras. Prof. Varma Sir had a long-time association with Prof. Brauer and co-authored with him the book ‘Air Pollution Control Equipment’, published by Springer Verlag, Berlin.

All his great qualities have been transferred effectively to his children by Prof. Varma Sir and Mrs. Varma Madam who dedicated herself to the family. They have three sons, Mr. Rattayya Choudhury (Chemical Engineer), Mr. Ramakrishna (Mechanical Engineer, IITM) and Dr.. Srinivas Varma (Doctor, Surgeon). All of them have loving families, and are doing very well in their professions.

The passing away of Prof. Varma Sir is a great loss to the family. I pray God to give the family the strength to bear this loss.


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