Subhash Risbud wears many hats, only one of which involves his academic responsibilities in the UC Davis Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. He’s also director of the campus’ Internship and Career Center, and — far more intriguingly — a devoted cultural ambassador for the Indian classical music that has fascinated him since 1988, when he joined a weekly class in Sacramento.
For the past several years — in addition to his College of Engineering coursework — Risbud has taught a freshman seminar titled Exploring the Soul of an Ancient Culture through Indian Classical Music. The increasingly popular class helps students learn the basic structure of ragas, while exploring the cultural context of the songs presented.
Risbud also offers concerts in his own home, when schedules allow him to host artists touring from India.
“A lot of nuances of classical Indian music are enjoyed through some level of eye-to-eye contact with the listeners,” he explained, in a 2005 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “The intimacy you get at a house concert isn’t possible in a large auditorium.”
In 2009, Risbud led a Summer Abroad program to Mumbai, India, where he taught a course titled Music and Culture: From Sitar to Bollywood. Students stayed at Mumbai’s Indian Institute of Technology (ITT), and Risbud arranged for voice training and supplemental instruction to be taught by Shubhangi Sakhalkar, a professional Indian classical musician.
For Risbud, it was something of a homecoming. He completed his undergraduate work at that school, then came to the United States and in 1971 earned his master’s degree in materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley. He remained at Berkeley and obtained his doctorate in 1976, in materials science with a focus on glasses and ceramics. He then began his academic career at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, rising from assistant professor to a tenured position in the Department of Ceramic Engineering.
He transitioned to the University of Arizona in 1985, where he served as a professor of materials science and engineering. In collaboration with the university’s optical scientists, he worked on the synthesis of quantum dots in glasses, in a program that was supported by the National Science Foundations’ Industry-University Optical Circuitry Cooperative.
Risbud was made a Fellow of the American Ceramic Society in 1989. As time passed, he served as a consultant to many companies in the fields of glasses, thin films, gradient index glasses and ceramic substrate technologies.
He moved to UC Davis in 1990, joining what then was the Division of Materials Science and Engineering, in the Department of Mechanical, Aeronautical and Materials Engineering. In the lab, he continued his work on glasses, quantum dots and ceramics; administratively, he became a crucial part of major changes within the College of Engineering. In the summer of 1993, Risbud became vice-chair of the newly merged Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. He rose to department chair in 1996, a position he held until 2002.
During his tenure as chair, Risbud was twice honored by the American Ceramic Society, receiving an Outstanding Educator Award in 1998; and the Norbert Kreidl Award, Optical Materials Division, in 2002.
Risbud’s profile as an extremely popular and talented professor continued to grow within the UC Davis community. The College of Engineering granted him an Outstanding Teaching Award in 2005; this was followed, in 2008, with a UC Davis Academic Senate Distinguished Graduate/Professional Teaching Award. In 2009, he received the Blacutt-Underwood Endowed Professorship in Materials Science.
“I will register for any of Professor Risbud’s classes, regardless of content or relevancy to my degree,” wrote one student, “simply on the caliber of his instruction.”
In 2005, Risbud expanded his outreach activities by becoming faculty director of the UC Davis Internship and Career Center (ICC), which provides campus-wide advising and placement services for undergraduate, graduate and professional students, along with postdoctoral fellows and alumni. Although hired for a three-year term, the position has proved a comfortable fit, and Risbud remains director to this day. He has aggressively marketed ICC Career Fairs, touting them as “precious resources” that have become more valuable in today’s world of tightened job markets.
Last — and certainly not least — Risbud is a top-flight cricket player, a sporting passion he developed as an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology. Despite the rigors of the engineering coursework, he nonetheless served as opening bowler — akin to a starting pitcher, in baseball — for the institute’s intercollegiate cricket team. He continued playing cricket while at UC Berkeley, and also joined a team comprising the best players from all over Northern California.
Once in Davis, Risbud’s schedule forced him to cut back, but he still managed occasional “friendly” matches with the Davis Cricket Club.
Contemplative time, he has found, is best spent walking along Putah Creek.
“I love the Shakespearean-style bridges,” he once commented. “And in the wintertime, when there’s fog, it’s a very pretty place.”
For more information on the College of Engineering’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, please email Oliver Ramsey.