Decoding the world to the smallest unit to prevent global catastrophes is the passion of Navjeet Kaur, one of the India finalists of the British Council FameLab Climate Change Communicators 2021.
Navjeet is an assistant professor and PhD scholar at the National Centre of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, University of Mumbai. She was part of a cohort of international students who came together in this special edition of the Famelab science communication competition with ideas to combat climate change.
In a Zoom chat with Edugraph, Navjeet shares her experience at the competition and how she plans to contribute with her expertise in Nanotechnology.
Edugraph: Congratulations on being a finalist at the FameLab Climate Change Communicators 2021 conducted by the British Council. What did you do at the competition?
Navjeet Kaur: We were required to present something about our work or some scientific idea to an audience. It was more or less like pitching a product, with the aim being to simplify and explain scientific jargon to the audience. Though my professional background isn’t related to climate change, I loved doing my bit. The programme helped me think about how nanotechnology could contribute to climate action.
How did you get involved in the programme?
Navjeet: I actually came to know about FameLab Climate Change Communicators through a networking group. As part of the COP26 events conducted by the United Nations, the programme was a science communication competition related to science action. That’s something very close to me and inspired me to take part. My agenda was to gain experience and meet people with similar ideologies.
Your area of research is Nanotechnology. Can you explain the subject a bit and touch upon some of its applications in your work?
Navjeet: Well, Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary science. We have recently learnt to explore this area by exploring certain materials. For instance, it’s now common to check how the properties of certain materials would change if the particle size is dramatically reduced to a nanoscale.
My work is all about drug delivery through the use of Nanotechnology. We make use of nanoparticles that are biocompatible in nature — it means that biological particles, just like a living cell, would readily accept or not have an adverse reaction upon interacting or facing a nanoparticle. These particles, then, could be used as vehicles to carry drugs. Apart from that, nanoparticles can also have some intrinsic therapeutic value. Some particles act as antibacterial or antiviral agents. You might have seen some commercials where they make use of silver nanoparticles in bandages or sprays to combat the spread of bacterial infection.
I explore these particles in different combinations and sizes, observe the changing parameters and try to figure out how we can use them for delivering drugs and how to evaluate their intrinsic therapeutic value as diagnostic tools.
How do you think Nanotechnology can help resolve certain aspects of the climate crisis?
Navjeet: There are certain agricultural practices and issues that we face while restoring barren lands. Some natural and chemically synthesised solutions are already available to resolve some of these problems. But all these substances might react upon each other as fertilisers, moisture-retaining agents, insecticides, pesticides are required in bulk quantities. Moreover, most of them will get washed off because the soil doesn’t require that much chemical. What Nanotechnology can do is act in a similar way, if not better, in extremely small quantities. This is not only going to reduce waste in the production and manufacturing process but will also heavily reduce the amount of washed-off solutions, which act as pollutants, toxins or a complete waste.
What’s the pathway to pursue Nanotechnology after the Class XII board exams?
Navjeet: Dedicated graduation courses in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology are very few in this specific field. But there are quite a few master’s courses where you can specialise in these topics.
However, people from different scientific backgrounds can work in this field. For instance, I have come from the Biotechnology field, and my PhD work is related to Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. The National Centre of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, University of Mumbai, conducts an annual entrance exam for admission to a master’s course in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology where we have at least four sections dedicated to Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths.
Can you tell us something about the scope of research in this field?
Navjeet: Students from all scientific domains come in to study Nanotechnology. There are a lot of research opportunities in this field. In fact, these opportunities are going to increase in the future as a lot of commercial products will emerge under Nanotechnology through research in different domains, such as medical, aviation, food and agriculture. We’ll soon witness growth in the application of nano-based products.
What skills are required by a student to pursue a career in this field?
Navjeet: Some understanding and experience of working in a laboratory will definitely be beneficial. The skills required will depend on the niche domain you’re interested in while exploring the field of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. However, more than any skills, you’ll need a lot of patience, dedication and analytical ability as you need to see beyond what’s captured by the microscope.
Are there any internship opportunities at your centre?
Navjeet: I think students can start working in their present laboratories with their teachers, or they can connect with our centre. Their work doesn’t require a specialised laboratory.
The National Centre of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology is an open platform that encourages students to come in and exchange ideas. We have many students coming in from different colleges who work at our centre to complete their dissertations or internships.
Can you tell us about some job prospects related to Nanotechnology?
Navjeet: Some of our students have joined companies working on analytical instruments, while others have joined the pharmaceutical industry. There are still others who have gone overseas to pursue doctoral or postdoctoral research. Everything depends on how you want to go ahead in your career; you can be a researcher or an academic. You can also go into scientific writing. Of course, the best career would be the one that matches your personality and work.