Dr Kalam was often asked by the children, “What has given you happiness in your life in the last forty years?”
He used to reply that of all the research he undertook, two things gave him immense joy and bliss.
“One is KR coronary stent and the other, development of calipers for polio affected children.”
Incidentally both are connected to Hyderabad. Here is the story of light-weight caliper and how the idea originated.
He used to narrate how a complicated research gone into the development of Agni missile helped bring back smiles on the faces of children affected by polio.
Following is his narration of how his team had developed light-weight calipers for polio affected children. Interestingly this is connected to NIMS, Hyderabad.
“Those were the days when the DRDL scientists were struggling to develop a complex material that could withstand a temperature of more than 4500 degrees Celsius in space. We needed a material that could shield the inner components of Agni from the extreme heat or flame Agni emits and keep inner temperature at 25 degrees. Agni emits a flame while traveling with a speed 15 times that of sound, that generates a temperature of 4500 degrees.
So, a heat shield was to be developed to protect the inner parts of the craft. Finally, the DRDL scientists succeeded in the development of carbon-carbon material for the heat shield and used it in the tip of Agni.
One day, an orthopedic surgeon, BN Prasad, from NIMS happened to visit my lab. We explained him about the precious material which was not only heat proof but also extremely light. Impressed by the lightness of the material Dr Prasad asked me to visit his ward then itself. He took me to the NIMS in his car and later to his ward where about 30 patients including children were present. I noticed the children started wearing the calipers upon seeing the doctor. Showing the children, Dr Prasad explained us about the calipers the children wearing hurriedly . They were so heavy, put together two calipers would be weighing around 4 Kgs.
“He asked, ‘What is the benefit in using the precious material in Agni. You please use it for my children in ward who want lighter calipers.”
“We took it as a challenge. We took dimensions. We made 20 moulds in three weeks. We produced 15 calipers, called Floor Reaction Orthosis. I went to the hospital along with my Composite team and fitted these calipers to the children.
“Upon wearing these new calipers which were so light, their weight had come down from 4 Kgs to 400 grams, the children felt so happy that they started running.
When I saw their mothers tears rolling down from their eyes with joy.”