Context: I am a Professor and James and Joanne Love Chair in Environmental Engineering. My journey into the academia has been a long ride of learnings and failings. My first seed of research was sown by my deceased grandfather, who was a farmer. Thus, it all started in the lush farmlands of Punjab in India, where I learned with him the values of environmental sustainability. I learnt that the tango between humans and the environment is key to our existence. He used simple means of biofertilizing the soils and working through the biodiversity of the ecosystems for ecologically sustainable farms. However, in our pursuit to become economically affluent, we have lost all the greatness of the environmental conservation, and now we are turning the wheel again to come back to environmental sustainability.
Journey: As I finished my high school, chemistry became my subject of choice since I could see what is happening, as was instilled by my grandfather. As time progressed, I ended up taking organic chemistry (interacting with many best chemists at National Chemical Laboratory, Pune), again by virtue of the reaction mechanisms which can be logically explained and understood. Meanwhile, the research in organic chemistry stimulated me to study environmental engineering and I moved to IIT, Bombay. This transition brought together the understanding of the environmental effects of the various daily activities that we are involved in through direct and indirect implications. The academic trajectory so far led to the professional career in a defence research laboratory in India as a scientist, exploring the needs of phytoremediation to sustainably restore explosive contaminated sites. During this sojourn, I had an itching to learn something more about microorganisms and their amazing capacity and aptitude. Hence, Ph.D. in biochemical engineering field was what I was looking for, which led to the production of biopesticides using the wastewater sludge as substrate, hence, my academic loop went into a circular learning.
Mission: I will work on the intersecting areas of environmental engineering and its impact on the overall wellbeing of the global community. My role is to enrich faculty and student research, broaden and enliven the research and teaching endeavor, and inspire a deep sense of environmental stewardship in graduates.
- Bioprocesses and the valorization of residues (agricultural; agro-industrial; industrial and municipal) into high value-bioproducts, such as enzymes, organic acids, platform chemicals, biocontrol agents, biopesticides, butanol and biohydrogen, among others;
- Green chemistry to find ecological alternatives to chemical antibiotics; plastics, among others
- Industrial microbiology;
- Environmental chemistry;
- Emerging contaminants: monitoring, lean and green treatment technologies, transformation products, ecosystem safety