Las Cruces – Nadipuram (Ram) Prasad, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NMSU, will journey to Vietnam in January 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar. Prasad has strong ties to the country and his experience there will be academically enriching and personally fulfilling.
In Vietnam, a country rich in hydroelectric potential, Prasad will teach and conduct research at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology and share ideas on scalable and environmentally benign approaches to harvesting hydroelectric energy.
"Building dams for the sole purpose of energy production is environmentally damaging. However, dams built for purposes of flood control are essential to provide safety to all those who could be in harm's way by the forces of nature," Prasad said. "It is a matter of giving the meaning and purpose for what we wish to harvest energy from, why we need to do it, and develop novel concepts that will keep the energy-rich environment in the same shape and form we found it. All this must become a mindset for future generations that must be practiced, cultivated and propagated to future generations," he said.
"The Mekong River delta has tremendous hydroelectric potential and there is a great need for energy in the region, but there are a lot of forces against building dams and any potential impact on biological life and fishing. The people there have a fabulous environmental backdrop, and yet there is a shortage of energy," Prasad said.
The 3,000-mile Mekong River flowing through Laos, Cambodia and Thailand drains into the South China Sea via a delta. The river delta is teeming with freshwater fish and the majority of the people who live in the lower delta are involved in the fishing industry.
"Most of the people there live in abject poverty. They work in the fishing industry and they live on boats," Prasad said. "They are environmentally aware and I believe they can incorporate methods to scavenge energy from ambient resources with no environmental impact," Prasad added.
Prasad has been teaching a course on energy harvesting at NMSU for the past several semesters and also has been working with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District to harvest energy from the canal system.
"The same scenario is a good fit for the canal system used in farming along the Mekong delta," Prasad said.
Prasad will be interacting with engineers who may be involved in the construction of the dams and he plans to take students to visit one of the proposed dam sites for a week.
"Each of us must arrive at our own directly experienced understanding of the environment we live in. It cannot be transmitted to us by the words of others. Their experience and awareness will bring out their talents. It's one's imagination that leads to mindful ways of doing things," Prasad said.
Prasad extends that same approach to his personal life. His wife is from Vietnam and although he has visited the nation many times, he is looking forward to the total cultural immersion.
"All said and done, it is really a cultural exchange. I've always had the desire to spend more extensive time in the region to learn about their traditions and sharpen my language skills. My six-year-old daughter is already my translator she wants to learn some of the ancient dance that is practiced there. My life will be richer as a result of this experience," Prasad said.
Inspiration for pursuing the Fulbright came from a colleague at Howard University who worked with Prasad on a project funded by NASA. He offered good, solid advice for developing his application, a process that Prasad says involved intense self-reflection.
"I spent several months examining and refining my thoughts about what I wanted to learn and share with others," he said. "It was a humbling experience."
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Currently, the Fulbright Program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.