In the build-up to the 2023 International Day of Women and Girls in Science, AZoM talks with Dr. Debrupa Lahiri, an associate professor in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at IIT Roorkee, about her research and career in STEM.
Please can you introduce yourself and your current professional role?
I am an associate professor, jointly in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering and the Centre for Nanotechnology at IIT Roorkee, India. As well as my nine years of experience in academia, I have eight years of experience in industry and research environments, which includes serving as a Scientist in the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC), Department of Atomic Energy, India.
How did you start out in science, and what inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
It was not really something I had to think about. My parents are both in academia and in science, and as a high school student, I also liked science more than other subjects. When I was growing up, engineering was considered to be a very coveted discipline to pursue at higher study in India. All these led to my studies and career in science.
What attracted you to materials engineering, and why do you enjoy it?
Materials are the basis of anything and everything we have around us, we do with, and we need. We often say it is a ‘Materialistic World’. So, no wonder one would like to know more about materials. If one can gather enough knowledge about how to use materials for the betterment of the human race, that is what materials engineering is all about. This attracted me to what I study and what I do today.
Do you currently have any ongoing research projects?
Our research group is currently dealing with quite a few interesting research projects. Our research work can be broadly divided into two regimes, i) Biomaterials for tissue engineering and regeneration and ii) Composites for structural and functional applications (in strategic fields as well). We have both government-funded and private industry-funded projects in both areas.
What is the most exciting aspect of your current research focus?
In my understanding, the research we are carrying out on developing technologies and products for providing affordable and efficient healthcare is a very pragmatic one. This spans disease detection, to wound healing, tissue regeneration, fracture fixing, and more.
The field of materials science and engineering is advancing at an extraordinary pace. What do you imagine research such as your own might have achieved in the next 5 to 10 years?
Very difficult to comment on, as research is always unpredictable and that is why it is challenging and rewarding simultaneously. But, definitely, we would like to have some of our technologies going out of the lab and actually being commercialized and taken up by the masses. Some of these processes have already started and we are hopeful they will achieve that step soon.
Looking back over your career so far, are there any roles or moments that stand out to you as being particularly important or enjoyable?
It is difficult to pinpoint. Rather, I would say in our research group we are continuously striving towards our aim and are trying to progress day by day, for developing affordable and effective technologies in the field of biomaterials to serve the healthcare sector. However, we were really happy when we could succeed in developing a technology, jointly with our collaborating research groups at IIT Roorkee, on early-stage cancer detection through a biomarker-based technology, which is non-invasive and highly affordable. This technology has been transferred to a renowned business group recently (towards the end of 2022), which was highly cited in Indian media.
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Apart from that, I received one international award (Zwick Science Award and Paul Roell Medal) for a specific study on nano-mechanical properties. I was also cited as one of the 50 women achievers in STEM in India in the compendium published by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) in 2021, and also in Women in STEM - Vanguards of [email protected] in 2022, on the occasion of the 75th year of independence celebration in India.
Many individuals have experienced additional hurdles in their professional careers due to their ethnicity and/or gender. What more can be done to prevent and address these biases?
The first action should be taken by the individual himself/herself, by not ignoring the biases they see or experience but rather by protesting and taking proper measures so that this does not continue. If this is done, it could definitely work as a preventive measure. However, at a broad level, the government or similar administrative bodies should also incorporate proper measures to prevent such biases. The government of India has already introduced a few interesting policies to take care of biases based on ethnicity and gender, which generally does help in the long run. Such policies are often helpful if implemented with true spirit and goodwill.
Do you have any advice for young women or girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?
STEM is a field that needs dedication and constant commitment. I believe women are inherently very logical, responsible, dedicated, and are natural leaders.
They are capable of taking care of a family, helping children grow to get proper education and training, and at the same time can concentrate on their official responsibilities too, keeping all aspects in perfect equilibrium. I have often come into situations where daily household experiences are of much use in solving a particular problem. This is quite intriguing to me every time it happens and I think as a woman this can actually give us an edge in such cases. Keeping this in mind, every woman who wants to be in STEM should confidently go ahead, without being worried about their family or children or something else. Once they are in their leading position, they will be able to manage all other parts of their life, with similar efficiency and in perfect balance.
What is next for you professionally?
I believe what I am doing currently is not completed yet. I have a long way to go to reach my goals……
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About Debrupa Lahiri
Debrupa Lahiri is an associate professor, jointly in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering and Centre for Nanotechnology, IIT Roorkee, India. She received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Florida International University, USA, M. Tech from IIT Kanpur, India, and B.E from Bengal Engineering College, India (IIEST). In addition to her nine years of experience in academia, she has eight years of experience in industry and research environments, which includes serving as a Scientist in the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC), Department of Atomic Energy, India. She has authored 125 research articles in peer-reviewed journals, 8 book chapters, 2 books, and 7 patents (one awarded and the rest applied to the Indian Patent office), with an h-index of 45 and more than 8000 citations. She is also the recipient of the prestigious Zwick Science Award 2013, which is given for innovations in materials testing. She is cited as one of the women achievers in STEM in India in the compendium published by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) in 2021. Currently, her group ‘Biomaterials and Multiscale Mechanics Lab’ performs research in the areas of nano-phase reinforced composites with different functionalities. The aims of her different research activities are developing novel material systems for different applications, including structural, strategic and scaffolds and implants for hard and soft tissue engineering. Alongside Government funding agency-funded research projects, she is involved in multiple research projects funded by industries as well. She was a team member of one of the three innovations, cited in CII Compendium for the award of the Most Innovative Institute of the Year 2020 to IIT Roorkee by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). The same technology has been recently transferred to TATA Steel for the development of a marketable product in the healthcare domain. (https://www.iitr.ac.in/~MT/dlahifmt)
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