Discover Studying Abroad

6 questions with materials science researcher Sudip Ray

Acquiring entrepreneurship skills at an early stage can enhance studentsí prospects, says the University of Auckland scientist, who holds a patent and has worked with innovative companies such as Dupont and GE
BY Uma Asher |   21-12-2016

IIT Kharagpur alumnus Sudip Ray has been a lead researcher at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, for more than 11 years. He is currently Senior Research Fellow in the department of chemical sciences there. Apart from developing products for the medical sector, Dr. Ray has worked with innovative companies such as DuPont and GE. He has more than 100 publications, and is an Elsevier-recognized peer reviewer for more than 50 international materials sciencejournals. He supervises postgraduate and undergraduate students, and advises the University of Auckland on collaborations in India. His current research focuses on environmentally benign antimicrobial materials, among other things.

Dr. Sudip Ray makes a presentation in Silchar, Assam, in November 2016

1. You graduated from IIT Kharagpur. What did you study there that led you to materials science research with corporate giants such as DuPont and GE, and also in academic settings?

Studying the fundamental science and technological aspects of chemicals and materials, especially polymeric materials, at IIT Kharagpur, I gained valuable understanding of, and experience with, materials selection, characterization and processing required for product development. DuPont and GE are innovative, research-based multinational companies that focus on cutting-edge technologies, continuous improvement of existing products, and developing new, advanced materials. My studies at IIT were useful to enhance the practical knowledge at those companies. And the theoretical knowledge I gained at IIT, and the practical experience at the companies, helped me pursue my research career in academic settings later.

2. You hold a patent for novel methodologies to make multifunctional bioactive polymers. Could you tell us a bit about the applications of your work, and what prompted the research that led to the patent?

The 21st century is the era of multifunctional devices and products. Smartphones today can communicate in various ways – navigation device, camera, data storage, light source, alarm clock, calendar, etc. This trend of our era inspired me to develop materials that could provide multifunctional properties useful for public health and well-being. These ‘multifunctional bioactive polymers’ are a special type of material that has key functionalities, such as antistatic, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. With the help of molecular engineering, the molecular architecture and properties of these compounds can be tuned according to the requirement of the end use. Antimicrobial properties are particularly useful in health-care settings – for example, dressing wounds – while combinations of these properties are useful in developing sensors, smart packaging, air purification, and in various consumer products.

At an international conference on antimicrobial resistance at Assam University in Silchar earlier this year

3. How important is it for engineers and scientists to think entrepreneurially? And what should be the role of higher education in this?

Students from engineering and science backgrounds gain knowledge on theory and could experience some practical hands-on exposure. After completing their degree and being employed, the students would have to deliver their knowledge and experience in an independent manner. Success depends on the ability to create a new idea and see it through to commercial application, identify a problem and generate a possible solution, solve problems, manage expenditure and human resources, generate funds and new technologies, and on having excellent communication skills. So acquiring entrepreneurship skills at an early stage would enhance students’ prospects in job interviews and early career development. Higher education could play an important role by emphasizing the importance of entrepreneurship, introducing coursework on it, strengthening engagement with corporations, and increasing opportunities for students to experience the corporate world before they graduate, organizing industry-academic workshops and conferences to help prospective students gain basic understanding and skills. Students are the country’s future workforce, and a skilled workforce would boost economic growth.

4. You supervise postgraduate and undergraduate students at the University of Auckland. Based on your experience, what would you say increases the chances of a student succeeding academically and professionally?

My current involvement in the multidisciplinary programs Biocide Toolbox and NZ Product Accelerator, funded by the business ministry and based in the University of Auckland, includes mentoring postgraduate and undergraduate students. Quality, quantity, time, cost and communication are the key parameters behind any successful event. Fundamental science is important for in-depth understanding to generate solutions to problems. And creative thinking is essential for innovation. There should also be a strong focus on the applicability of acquired knowledge in a timely and cost-effective manner. In addition, there is a need to develop communication and networking to transfer knowledge, and to be successful in job interviews and in career and business development. Some personal qualities, such as self-motivation, willingness to take on challenges, multidisciplinary mindset, work ethics, and the ability to lead and build a team are also crucial for academic and professional success. National and overseas internship programs for undergraduates and postgraduates offer a realistic approach for students to work with motivated professionals.


5. You play a key role in the University of Auckland’s collaboration efforts in India. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of materials science in Indian higher education?

Generally speaking, in the global market, India has unique advantages of having a sizeable young workforce, English language skills, and a relatively reasonable cost of living. The premium universities and institutes do well at the international level, but for a country like India with large young population, a large high-quality workforce is crucial for socioeconomic growth. Even the best Indian universities are far behind in score, compared with the top 100 universities in the world. And specifically speaking, materials science is no exception. Higher education in India requires a more proactive approach towards international partnerships with top-ranked universities, and more networking within the country. This would lift the overall education quality and infrastructure, improve the ability to access the latest developments in the global scenario, increase awareness of the need for a quality education for a brighter future, and attract more individuals to build up the national talent pool.

Over the years, the University of Auckland has maintained its QS world ranking well within the top 100. The Engineering and Technology world rank was 59 in 2016. The University is the only New Zealand member of Universitas 21, the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, and the Worldwide Universities Network – three international consortia – and encourages international collaborations for high-quality research and education. Not only the university but the city of Auckland is also attractive for the international students. According to the 2016 Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Auckland was the world’s third best city to live in.

6. Many engineers, especially in India, go on to do an MBA. With expertise such as yours, you could be working entirely in a corporate setting. What compelled you to stay on in academia?

High-quality education drives socio-economic growth. I believe that in addition to gaining knowledge, we also have an important responsibility to transfer the knowledge to society, and specially to the younger generation. My passion for education, knowledge-transferring skills, and sharing corporate values with the next generation, inspiring them to move forward and ensure rapid economic growth, compelled me to stay on in academia.

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