Please tell us about yourself

I am a multi-skilled organic chemist with degrees in engineering and science. I am currently pursuing a doctorate in carbohydrate chemistry, working on a project related to biofuel (bioethanol) production from plant biomass, and mechanisms of carbohydrate digestion by gut bacteria. I am passionate about all streams of sustainability (environmental, social and economic), and try to spend my off-hours working towards creating a more sustainable community through my role as the chair of GreenChem UBC student group, and as a Sustainability Ambassador with the UBC Sustainability Initiative.

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Tell us about your work

Biofuels, in particular bioethanol, are widely accepted as carbon-neutral fuels1, meaning they have no net greenhouse gas emissions; the amount of carbon dioxide produced during their combustion equals the amount fixed from the atmosphere while the plants grow. These fuels provide an alternative to the current outrageous usage rate of fossil fuels. Plant biomass, a renewable and abundantly available natural resource, is used as the main source for bioethanol production.

In order to produce bioethanol, polymeric plant carbohydrates (polysaccharides) must be broken down into the corresponding monosaccharides, followed by fermentation via yeasts. Typically, starch-rich crops such as corn and sugarcane are the most heavily used as carbohydrate sources.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

Achieving scholarly excellence has been of great value to me from the very beginning of my academic life and I have increasingly believed in its practical significance as a life training method throughout. My deep desire to learn led me to graduate studies, and intellectually stimulating exchange of ideas and problem-solving has kept me going thus far. 

My short visit to Vancouver as a research assistant intern a few years ago was highly rewarding and what the city had to offer resonated with my personal extracurricular interests. UBC being one of the top ranking universities in Canada promises excellent resources for interdisciplinary research and offers the fellowship of a highly intellectual crowd.

Exploring alternate, renewable sources of energy from plant cell walls in the form of biofuels that the research group is currently undertaking was very appealing to me for a doctoral project. My research program is a unique collaboration between chemistry and botany with a variety of avenues of interesting interdisciplinary work such as biochemistrty, genetics, enzymology and molecular biology. It is a challenge to shift to such a multifaceted field from a purely synthetic organic chemistry background and hence a great learning experience.

What did you study?

Iam currently doing my Master’s (Chemistry) at University of British Columbia. Before this, i did my B.Tech (Chemistry) from IIT Guwahati.

What do you like about the program?

The majority of my motivation for the graduate program is credited to the very supportive and inspiring previous research supervisors I have had the opportunity to work with. A variety of undergraduate research projects that I had undertaken, I believe, would be very valuable during my current graduate experience.

 What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

Adventure sports, travelling, music (guitar and keyboards), reading.

 What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Take the time to carefully think over what you’re passionate for. Research can be a very rewarding experience if you know what drives you. The best part about pursuing a research project in your area of interest is that it is yours to mould into whatever you like it to be. Find the right questions to ask and you’ll have the time of your life!