Head to head with Soumya

1. What are the chemicals that shape our everyday experience say like our moods, memory, drive, satisfaction etc?

Our sleep and waking actions are controlled by serotonin/melatonin cycles. Adrenaline plays a significant role in energising us to do work. Endorphins and Dopamine are neuro transmitters that are responsible for the sensations of pleasure, pain and other emotions. All our everyday experiences are a result of a combination of chemical reactions constantly occuring in our body

2. You participated at the Minimaker Faire of the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2013 with your extremely interesting and innovative project ‘Molecular Jewellery’. As a scientist, how did you go about transforming these invisible molecular structures into attractive, wearable jewellery designs?

I love jewellery, especially earrings. Of late I had seen a lot of people I know making their own jewellery. My mother does art work using beads and crystals and such. She told me about shops where a lot of jewellery making supplies were available.

I also follow the website http://www.madewithmolecules.com/ and I love the jewellery there.

When I saw the call for projects at the Minimaker Faire of the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2013, there was an opening for any science/technology/arts/crafts project. So, I decided to merge my love for chemistry and jewellery into the molecular jewellery project.

When I had to choose the molecules, I realized I could only do planar molecules with the supplies available. So, I chose those which can be recognised by general public and also fulfilled the planarity criterion.

The molecules I used were oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, ozone, acetylene, hydrogen cyanide, benzene and pyridine. While I made the designs with beads and wire, there was an option to convert the design into earrings or charms.

I had quite a few visitors, young and old who loved the idea and were happy with the jewellery I made for them.

3. At a time when Chemistry was not a highly fashionable or viable career option, you chose to pursue it and got aPhD in Chemistry from Michigan Technological University, USA. What drove your passion and determination?

Since childhood, I knew I wanted to study and get an advanced degree. My inclination towards Chemistry started in college, in the chemistry labs. I used to love the colourful experiments.

In my bachelors course, I had the best Chemistry teachers whose influence strengthened my interest in the subject. At that time, computer related degrees and careers were the happening thing and I had lot of advice from friends and family to pursue masters degree in a computer field. I also wrote some entrance exams to please my family.

But I knew for sure that I had no mathematical ability and any computer/technology related path would be a disaster for me.

So, I stuck to my interest and pursued Chemistry. I also knew that teaching was a sure shot career option for me.

4. Tell us a little more about your fascination with colour?

My fascination with colour started from my college lab experiments. It continued to interest me so much that I chose coordination and organo metallic chemistry as my research areas.

Whether in research or daily life, colour holds a sense of awe for me. It is such a powerful detector of change. While colour is visually so appealing, it gives so much information about internal mechanisms.

5. You are the project leader  of BrainSTARS’ highly ambitious and work-in-progress science learning centre. How did that originate and what is the working philosophy of BrainSTARS that guides this project?

The idea originated as a result of multiple debates and discussions regarding science learning spaces and practices in our schooling system. It was also fuelled by my own experiences as a learner in India and USA.

The working philosophy of the project is to make science learning centred around the learner and to bring it in context of the learner’s daily experience. It opens up different perspectives of learning science content.

6. Many of us have people who inspire us to keep doing what we believe in. Can you share your inspirations with us? 

I could go on and on with the people and situations that have inspired and influenced me. I will share only two here, that are related to my field of interest.

Marie Curie, whose life story is an inspiration to me. Her single minded devotion to plough through her work is a constant source of inspiration. I quote her in most of my lectures and discussions with students.

Linus Pauling, mainly for his phenomenal work on the nature of the chemical bond that is fundamental for all understanding of chemistry.

Other than these, my family, my teachers and my friends have constantly inspired me and continue to do so.

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