As our world embraces Nanotechnology to bring about breakthrough innovations in Healthcare, Environment, Consumer Electronics and many more sectors, there is an imperative need to understand the fabrication process in the nanoscale dimension.

Ripon Dey, our next pathbreaker, Staff Scientist at Nanotech Security Corp. (NTS), works in the areas of Nanotechnology and Photonics research, mainly focused on Photonics Engineering, Nano and Microstructure fabrication.

Ripon talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being fascinated by physics and deciding to focus on Nanotechnology research which eventually led him to develop a nano-sensor, recognized as a novel patent-protected (IP) technology.

For students, applied physics is as exciting as it is intriguing, because a lot of it is still unexplored with immense potential to disrupt the world !

Ripon, tell us about Your background?

I grew up in an under-developed rural area, called Noakhali under Sunamgonj district in Bangladesh, where people make a living from mainly farming and blacksmith / metalsmith activities, creating special objects from wrought iron or steel by forging metal. Therefore, I usually woke up to the sounds of metal smashing. People used boat as the only means of transportation to visit nearby villages for grocery shopping. There was no high school that we could attend in the vicinity. Later on, my father was transferred to a city for a job where we had a chance to get access to basic education. Our family struggled to meet basic living expenses, and my mother was always counting the money each month and concerned about how she would run the family for the rest of the month until my father got next month wage.

Although I was privileged to gain entrance to a primary school, I lacked exposure to quality education since the school was low ranked during that period. Nevertheless, one teacher in that school was a blessing in disguise for me. He put in a lot of efforts to widen my thoughts and horizons, he did every bit to make everything available to me as much as he could afford. Beside my parents, he was the pioneer who encouraged me a lot to broaden my dream, my passion. He taught me how to deal with failure, how to believe in myself, how to cope up and handle unwanted situation. 

While I was enrolled in high school, my mother realized that I had a huge passion for fine arts, especially drawing. Seeing my interest, my mom enrolled me in a creative arts center where competitions were regularly organized at district or national level. I used to participate in all these fine arts events and have won many prizes. I was fortunate to receive a computer as a gift from my parents, for receiving a national prize in both watercolor painting and pencil sketch competition later on. I now feel that these extra-curricular activities brought out my inner qualities, assisted me in growing, widening my thoughts/motivation, cultivating my innovative and creative spirit. I believe such creative platforms and extra-curricular activities prepare one’s foundation for the future.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I graduated with a B.Sc. honors in Physics with specialization in Optoelectronics and Planetary Physics from Shah Jalal University of Science and Technology in Bangladesh. Upon one year of graduate study in the same department, I moved to the University of Western, Canada, where I earned my master’s degree in Surface Science Physics and Interface engineering. I then moved to University of Waterloo, Canada and earned my PhD from the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) under department of Electrical & and Computer engineering. After completing my PhD, I joined the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology in Canada, as post-doctoral research fellow. Later on, I joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (Nanotechnology Engineering program) as a Research Scientist.

I got a Canadian government scholarship in 2011 which is called “NSERC-IPS” for my PhD study.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

Basically, I just followed my heart, based on what I really wanted to do in the future and set my goals based on following what I wanted to be. Besides, my teachers and parents have guided me on how to reach my destination. While I was doing physics based practical experiments in my science classes, I set my mind to study physics in depth and do something new by applying physics theory. Hence, I went for a Physics program in my B.Sc., M. S, and M.Sc. even though I did take up a one-year job in software engineering in a reputed software company in Sylhet while I was a university student. However, this IT job couldn’t pull me away from Physics. I decided to focus on nanotechnology research and its applications and hence continued my studies later in applied physics.

Tell us about your career path

I always kept myself motivated and focused on my goal by watching science-based video content and news articles across online platforms.

Previously, I was involved in Nanotechnology research as a research scientist and a post-doctoral research fellow appointed at Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN), located in Ontario, Canada, a premier Nanotechnology Engineering Research Institute across the globe. Beside my professional responsibilities, I had been serving as a senior reviewer of Elsevier Engineering and was Mitacs Research fellow at the University of Waterloo.

For those who don’t know details about Nanotechnology, simply speaking, it is an interdisciplinary term for the development of innovative materials and applications in various natural science and technical disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology and medicine, as well as engineering and material sciences. It deals with materials that are at least one dimension smaller than 100 nanometres, and so-called nanomaterials. My research, here, was focused on MEMS/NEMS Engineering, Nano-electronics, Material Engineering, Nano-sensor, nano- and microstructure fabrication with applications in biomedical, nano-electronic and other areas. 

My research interests are largely directed towards understanding the fabrication process in the nanoscale dimension. More specifically, my research was in the area of nanofabrication, with a particular emphasis on nanodevice product development. During my master’s program at Western University in Canada, I was fortunate to come in contact with one of the best professors in Waterloo in the field of Nanofabrication research, which eventually led to my PhD. During my PhD program, I demonstrated a proof of concept of a novel fabrication process to develop a high aspect ratio nano-sensor. There are many process steps involved and each step needs optimization to get the best efficiency. Later on, in the initial years of my post-doc training, this work was recognized as a novel patent-protected (IP) technology. Following this invention and development, I optimized and scaled up this nanoscale optical sensor device by continuing my project at the state of the art nanofab facility laboratory and made this product commercially viable during my diverse post-doc training. Eventually, I succeeded in scaling up the product by optimizing the yield of the inventory to higher-than-average, with a focus on consistency and reproducibility. My research was published in more than thirty papers in reputed peer reviewed journals and granted three patents (Intellectual property). This was a very small contribution from my side for the society.

Besides working on nano-sensors in the nanofab facility, I am continuing my training in diverse nanofabrication methodologies (R&D) that help me in investigating/ characterizing the role of versatile types of nanostructures as well as applying those prototypes in various equipment. In addition, I established and developed the fabrication process for polymer brush monolayers applied on non-flat semiconductor devices using electron beam lithography techniques.

In my master’s program, I received in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience on versatile surface science technologies and methods. Along with these, with skills on nanofabrication, polymer science, process development, research-to-commercialization, programming and background in both physics and electrical engineering, I was very confident of my dream to be an R&D professional in near future.

In addition to my research, I have had the rewarding experience of teaching and mentoring undergraduate students as a teaching assistantship and have participated in a program that aims to increase participation in Canadian standard mentoring. My participation in such programs has provided me with the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences with multicultural students throughout the interdisciplinary program. These mentoring experiences have enhanced my presentation skills significantly. 

The modern world is now heading towards embracing nanotechnology as a future technological breakthrough. Nanoscale semiconductor engineering is a major inevitable contributor, and we will gradually look for more efficient and cost-effective device structures that help leverage nanotechnology to our maximum advantage by increasing the efficiency and by saving energy. This is where the potential of my work lies, to find a better cutting-edge technology which can make devices smaller, improve/optimize efficiency and be cost-effective.

How did you get your first break?

I consider choosing Optoelectronics as my field of research in my undergrad thesis as my first break. In the following years of my study, I just went along with it and continued this area of research till the end. After my undergrad program, I kept looking for institutes in Canada to continue my current research and luckily managed to get full scholarship and graduate funding to pursue my graduate study. I chose a state-of-the-art equipment-based lab group and potential supervisor based on the advice of a few of my friends, which I greatly appreciate even today. I followed their advice, contacted my potential advisor, appeared for an interview, embraced the selection process successfully and finally became a part of the renowned “surface science western” research group in Canada. I then initiated my doctoral study in my targeted field. I had an opportunity to learn and experience so many out-of-box things as a part of amazing research groups, especially how to motivate myself in an innovative environment and how to maintain the high standard/quality along with safety measures. Eventually, the feeling, when we roll out a new product from a new innovative idea, can’t be explained.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Financial/Economical

During my undergrad studies, I struggled financially, since my father was the only earner in my family, which was not enough to run a five-person family. Thus, we, all my siblings, had to earn money by doing private tuitions job beside our studies for a long time. 

Challenge 2: Failure

Students who have been doing research for a long time are familiar with failure in research outcomes, since most of the times the results are not aligned with what is expected, thus frustrating fresh researchers quickly. As usual, my team failed almost every day during our research while inventing our fabrication to make a smart nano device. After long hours of hard work, we became used to the frustration of getting no good results at all. However, we were taught how to learn something from failures and how to embrace it, and how to look into the deeper details of failed results carefully. Each failure helped us to shape ourselves to reach our targeted destination. My advice is, thus, to embrace the failure with love and bring success out of the insights into that failure. Trust me, nothing is forever in this world, not even our failures.

Challenge 3: Cultural Shocks

Since I came abroad directly from my hometown, I did not have any experiences of staying alone in any other city, even in my home district. I experienced a cultural shock once I arrived in Canada which is a completely new cultural environment. Luckily, I adapted to it gradually with support from my friends.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your research

I am now working as a staff Scientist in the R&D department at Nanotech Security Corp. (NTS), which is a leading public company that develops Nanoscale based security products in Canada. I work in the areas of Nanotechnology and Photonics research, as a research scientist, where my research is mainly focused on Photonics Engineering, Nano and Microstructure fabrication for applications in security department. All my doctoral and post-doctoral research experiences on nanotech engineering are the pillar and foundation for my work in this position. My primary duty is to develop/optimize/explore new emerging technologies to fabricate cutting-edge photonics device features. All the brainstorming to create new ideas and do something innovative which can be applied in an impactful way for the benefit of mankind are a great experience in my job position.

How does your work benefit the society? 

My job is related to the development and optimization of nanoscale based security products which are directly related to photonics advancement technology which in turn helps in building a highly secured society that can cope up with the twentieth century.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I took an initiative to raise funds from the regional Indian/Bangladesh community in Canada for the urgent rescue, emergency treatment and follow-up rehabilitation for the victims of the Rana Plaza accident, an eight-story building that collapsed due to a crack. This tragedy occurred on April 24, 2013, resulting in the death of 1,127 people, due to negligence of workplace managers. Upon raising the money, I personally formed two teams: “Immediate rescue team” and “Follow-up rehabilitation team”. I provided one third of the raised amount to the rescue team to immediately save lives from the collapsed building with essential medicine and cutter tools for use during the rescue period and remaining amount to the follow-up rehabilitation team. Some amount of the rescue funds was used for post-treatment of some victims. I played a major role in raising a significant fund for the emergency treatment of few patients in Bangladesh who could not be able to bear their expenses. Eventually, as soon as the sufficient amount for treatment expenses had been raised, their operation was performed, and they recovered immediately. All these initiatives helped me finally to register a not-for profit organization in Canada. Obviously, it was a great feeling to do something for mankind.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I always tell my juniors, if you look in the mirror, you will see God’s best creation. So, believe in yourself. Another advice to students is to do something for mankind beside your professional/business activities, which will create a beautiful world for all of us. If we could do that, we will feel happiness from our inner heart. In addition, always smile and spread happiness. Remember, the most lost day in life is the day we don’t laugh.

Future Plans?

In the future, I want to broadly engage myself in humanitarian activities based on spreading science education among the underprivileged students in Bangladesh community through our non-profit organization. 

Let’s spread smile and humanity together.