Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Growing up in Chennai and completing her bachelor studies in Coimbatore, Madhu Bhaskaran had her love for science kindled by her doctor parents. When she was encouraged to pursue a higher study in science, electronics was her first choice, as it was the time when mobile phones and computers started finding their place in every home. She did her B.E. in Electronics and Communication Engineering from PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore.
What did you do next?
Madhu Bhaskaran came to Melbourne as an international student in 2004, to pursue a Masters degree at RMIT University, with the clear intentions of returning home after completing the degree. An electronics engineer, Madhu was fascinated by the possibilities of what she could achieve in the field of ‘biocompatible electronic devices’.
Tell us about your work
Now an associate professor leading a team of five at the RMIT University at Melbourne, Madhu has had a fulfilling journey. Elaborating on it, she begins, “I came to Melbourne to pursue a postgraduate degree in Microelectronics. Instead of designing circuits on computers, it was fascinating to be able to actually make microchips in the lab (which was what I did during my Masters project) and that triggered the interest to do a PhD and then continue to stay in the field of research. As a team, we have been working on wearable electronics for five years now and it started off with us wanting to make unbreakable electronics.”
Having won the most prestigious science award of the country, the Eureka Award (2017), for her contribution to stretchable and wearable electronics, Madhu might just be the first female of an Indian origin to win it. The award for the Outstanding Early Career Research category is given to a researcher under 35 every year. “It is an amazing honour and I was very surprised to be announced as the winner as it is tough competition. I am very pleased that the hard work of the team has been recognised,” she adds.
Madhu expounds more about her work sharing, “The use of stretchable oxides for resilient devices that is practically ‘electronic skin’, which might be an integral part of health-care in the future. The product can help in the fight against skin cancer and detect dangerous gases in mines. That’s what our work was about. Wearable electronics started as a concept in 2012 and we now have a patented process for sensors to detect dangerous gases and tracking the amount of Ultra Violet (UV) exposure to the skin too.”
Her main objective is to make her devices come into reality and for people to use them. “I am extremely grateful for the award,” she shares, adding, “We would like to get these sensors out to people for them to have a real-life impact. We are now working with industry partners to see how that can be made into a reality. As a lot of our research is funded by the tax payer’s money, it is important to get the message out. It is also essential to be able to highlight science and technology innovations and breakthroughs to the next generation to spark their interest and motivate them to consider this as a career.”
How does it benefit the community?
“While doing my Masters degree in Micro-Electronics, I got my hands dirty (so to say) in the labs and for the first time ever, made small electronic devices. Thereafter, when I received an international scholarship to undertake a PhD degree, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship, I just couldn’t say no,” said Madhu, speaking to SBS Punjabi.
“I work in the field of designing wearable electronics – it’s much like Fit Bits and smart watches that people wear these days, only that our devices are less clunky and integrate easily with the skin”.
‘For example, I’ve worked on a device that miners could use as a gas sensor – the sensor would warn them of dangerous gases exceeded a safe level.”
“Similarly, a sensor could be worn by beach-goers and it would clearly indicate the UV exposure they’ve had on that day – something like that can be particularly useful in Australia.”
“As an electronics engineer, my job is to turn things from science fiction to reality. It is a futuristic field, where we look at the world 30-40 years ahead, ” said Madhu.
To hear her message inspiring girls and young women to work take up STEM subjects, and also her special message to international students studying in Australia, hear Madhu Bhaskaran’s interview by clicking on the link above.