Indian-American chemist Sumita Mitra was recently nominated as a finalist in the “Non-EPO countries” category of the European Inventor Award 2021 for applying nanotechnology to the production of dental materials, leading to the creation of a new composite to repair teeth which has many advantages over conventional materials. In an interaction with CIO AXIS, she exhorts students to pursue training in science and technology areas since opportunities abound in these areas.
How did you start your journey as a Chemical Scientist? What have been the key milestones in your journey so far?
Even as I was child I was always interested in materials. Soon I came to realize that the secret is in the molecular makeup if materials – it is chemistry that makes one material different from another. Thus started my love affair for chemistry. My father was a chemist and I had the privilege of seeing him work in his lab and in the manufacturing plant. These were my first lessons in seeing science being transformed into something useful for people. I also had a very good chemistry teacher in school who encouraged my interest in chemistry. After high school I studied chemistry honors at Presidency College in Kolkata (now Presidency University) and later at the Science College of Kolkata University. After my M.Sc. degree I came to the US to study and pursue my Ph.D. in organic/polymer chemistry followed by a post doc in Macromolecular Science. I was always interested in the application of chemistry for the health care sector, so the emphasis of my research has been in biological materials. My Ph.D. was in determining the three-dimensional structure of ribonuclease using chemical agents. After I joined 3M Company my initial work was in controlled release drug delivery systems. Later I joined the Health Care business of 3M Company in the Dental Products laboratory and worked in developing several new technology platforms that were subsequently translated into products for dental restoration and preservation. I became interested in the emerging nanotechnology and saw the opportunity to use it to make novel dental nanocomposites with unique and useful properties.
How do you see India as nation for Science Education and overall progress of science, and its future?
India has some of the best educational institutions in the world that excel in science. I am grateful for the solid background and training I received while in India. I would encourage students to pursue training in science and technology areas since opportunities abound in these field. Some of the publications I see coming from Indian scientists are of world-class quality.
Where does India’s position lie when it comes to the infrastructure and developments in Nano Science?
Judging from some of the publications coming from India it appears as though emphasis is being placed in this area. I am happy to see work being done in this rapidly developing field.
Any other specific treatment area where nanotechnology can play a huge role?
Nanoparticles are extremely useful for targeting the delivery of therapeutic agents to tumor sites. The use of lipid nanoparticles of course has been a huge boon in delivering vaccines (mRNA vaccines for COVID-19). Other uses are for medical imaging and for nanosensors.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
At this time I serve as an independent consultant. Most of my time and efforts these days goes into encouraging students in pursuing STEM education. I participate in multiple programs geared towards working with students all the way from elementary school to university level. Our children are the future of the world and so it is essential to train as many students as possible in science related fields.