Welcome back to this special segment of Ionizer where we talk to amazing Women In STEM and learn about their success stories via a short interview. These stories are aimed to inspire aspiring women in STEM fields and everyone else in general, in order to demolish the social stigma of women being [considered] inferior [in many parts of the world].
Say hello to Dr. Inderpreet Kaur, who will raise your ionization potential to the next level with her intellect!
Dr. Inderpreet Kaur is a Ph.D. in Physics and the Senior Scientist at CSIO (Central Scientific Instruments Organisation), Chandigarh. She has significantly contributed to over 69 research papers on multifarious domains such as Nanoscience, Biomolecules, Bioelectronics, Optoelectronics, Superconductors and Material Sciences.
Apart from research, she loves interacting with children and has been organizing science workshops for them for a few years now. She encourages students to question their surroundings and then carry out experiments to find answers, under professional supervision. This is a part of her effort to develop scientific temperament in the society. You can learn more about it at MetaSchool.
She has an inexplicable scientific temperament herself that has transcended into her extraordinary contributions to the scientific community.
This is the first time I am interacting with a scientist with such vibrant persona.
Let’s see what she has to say!
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your career.
Hello, my name is Inderpreet Kaur, and basically, I am a physicist.
I belong to the little town of Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, from where I received my secondary education and also my bachelor’s degree in Science.
About a year later, I was fortunate enough to receive a research fellowship with CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), and so, I shifted to the CSIR labs. Being a CSIR fellow gave me the opportunity to work with CSIO in collaboration with Punjab University for my interdisciplinary project on Charge Transfer in DNA.
Currently, I am working as the Senior Scientist at CSIO, Chandigarh. I aid budding Ph.D. students in various research fields such as Superconductivity and Nanotech. My own focus is on the physics of nanomaterials.
Could you tell us more about your field of research and its importance in the present science scenario?
My field of research revolves around Biological Systems and Nanomaterials, or you can say it is the merger of both fields.
My doctoral project, as I told you earlier was about Charge Transfer in DNA, that finds applications in DNA repair and also in developing nano-sized electronic devices using DNA. Both biology and physics are involved, as you can tell.
One of the widely recognized research by my group here at CSIO is about the detection of Cardiac Troponin I (cTnI), which is a cardiac biomarker – a protein found in the heart that indicates the chances of a heart attack in patients.
As of now, cTnI detection takes several hours at a stretch and is still not very accurate. The sensing methodology developed by my group brought the detection time down from hours to a few seconds and also took the accuracy level from nanogram per liter to picogram per liter, adding a major breakthrough to this domain of research.
|This research later went on to be published in Nature India.
Essentially, this research can help in the early detection of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and save millions of lives when perfected. CVD is the number 1 cause of death worldwide that accounted for 17.7 million deaths in 2015 around the globe with 192 billion Euros worth financial burden on clinical resources. [sourced from Dr. Inderpreet Kaur’s research paper]
Why did you choose to pursue nanoscience as your major?
My primary interest is in scratching the fundamental properties of matter at the microscopic level and know more about their correlation with the macroscopic world.
Matter is pretty different when observed under a microscope and when looked at with the naked eye.
We often casually say that an atom is nearly empty and yet these empty atoms make up everything in the universe. They make you and they make me. My question is, why?
My endeavor is to unfurl this drastic mystery operating between the constituent and the bulk, for which nanoscience serves as a great tool!
Was there a point in time where you felt that you’ve chosen the wrong field of research? If so, how did you pull yourself through it?
We researchers usually get anxious when we aren’t able to produce significant results with our experiments; but whenever I face such a situation, I feel that a deeper science is there, which I really need to find out.
At such points in time, I try to take the help of my imagination. It could be that there are other possibilities that I haven’t explored yet and my imagination really helps me get to them.
Sometimes, I do feel demotivated, but then I take a break. For one or two days, I don’t touch that topic, and after that, I gear up for it again. Sometimes, my mind goes into a single direction and I really want it to have a wider view, so, I take a break. It helps me get fresh again.
Did you ever feel that being a woman in this field which is presumably male-dominated, has posed a separate challenge in making things work out?
Being a woman, a separate challenge? No! I believe I have been at benefit due to the fact! That is because sometimes I get excused for my time management that this field requires. Haha!
Being a woman in STEM gets me a better corner, I believe.
But see, it’s not as much about being a male or female as it’s about being convinced about your own work. If you have the potential, I don’t think anyone can stop you. If you have the spark, you will definitely win!
I believe being a woman in STEM or not, if you have taken up research or not, everyone is born special. And if you show enough dedication towards to your goal, you will get through to your ultimate aim, no matter what.
Pursuing a career in the field of research, would you say that your professional compensation was equally rewarding?
Yes, I would say I am pretty satisfied; but, for me, it doesn’t really matter that much.
See, when you lead a scholarly life with quality education, you do get a good job at the end, and money is the byproduct of that.
I agree that you need money to fulfill the basic necessities of life, but for me, the feeling of accomplishment that I get on a daily basis by researching, and exploring the unknown is what I believe to be my true reward.
And I don’t think money can replace that.
I have observed that a very few people in India pursue research as their career; what do you think could be the reason?
I feel we have somehow stopped inculcating the scientific temperament in kids. What I have observed is that, at the school level, their creativity, their curiosity is getting killed.
They are not allowed to ask queries, and they are being taught so much, without being triggered to be curious about the lessons. I feel kids should be allowed to relax a bit in the schools. Intentionally or not, they are being pushed to schools early in the morning, then tuitions in the evening; and their whole day just goes away like that.
By just being tied to their seats in the classroom and staring at the blackboard, they won’t learn anything new. Gradually, this develops into their life routine and no one apart from self-motivated individuals comes forward to pursue science as a career.
I can quote my daughter here. At a younger age, before she started with elementary school, she used to be an extremely curious child, but now, when I talk to her, I realize that she is afraid of asking questions. She says that her school teacher is not very open to the idea of questions due to which she doesn’t ask any.
So, yes, the problem is our education system.
A six-year-old child asks you if Santa Claus is real… What would you say?
I would say if you believe in it, then Santa is definitely real! If your belief is significant, you will definitely receive the present under the Christmas tree. (no matter who keeps it there *wink wink* )
What would your autobiography be called?
Unstoppable. Because that’s what I have been and I believe every woman is!
What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
I don’t think I have made any bad purchases in my life. Haha, but yes, I would say the best one so far is my scooter, I really enjoy my scooter, and also, I gifted my husband a car, which I think is one of the cherishable purchases I’ve made.
For you, what’s the closest thing to magic?
Magic for me would be the few instances when I imagine things happening in my mind and they actually turn out true on being researched. I have had quite a few such occasions when I imagined something and it became a part of my research paper. So, that’s nothing less than magic for me.
It was super fun interacting with Dr. Inderpreet Kaur, she is an extremely humble person with an abode of knowledge with her that she is constantly trying to share with the world. On my interview request for Ionizer, she invited me to her lab at CSIO and passionately showed me the elaborate scientific instruments used for research. I feel more ionized than ever after meeting her and I hope the same is the case with you!
You can read more about her research work here – Dr. Inderpreet Kaur, at ResearchGate.