Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights graduate students who are doing great work around the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Arani Biswas, who is a sixth year student in the Badding group, formerly led by the late Professor of Chemistry John Badding.
Arani’s research focuses on making novel carbon nanomaterials by compressing organic molecules to high pressures. These materials are called carbon nanothreads and are predicted to be the smallest rigid bodies with mechanical properties, rivaling that of the diamond. Arani uses high pressure as a driving force to induce polymerization reactions in an organic system without the need for any reagents or catalysts at all.
This week, we met virtually with Arani to discuss his life in and outside of the lab! Please enjoy our interview with Arani Biswas.
Question: How did you get interested in chemistry?
Answer: My mom’s a science teacher in a school, and I’ve always been inspired by her. What got me interested in chemistry is the fact that everything in the world is made up of atoms and molecules, and it’s fascinating how minute changes in chemistry have such huge effects on the behavior of materials as a whole.
Q: What inspires you as a scientist?
A: The fact that there’s something new to be learned every day, no matter how small it is, and that there are so many unanswered questions waiting to be solved, is what drives me as a scientist. Even in failure there can be so many things to learn!
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: I’m most proud of improving my public speaking skills during graduate school. I used to be very shy and panic-stricken when it came to public speaking, and I have worked on it a great deal during my graduate school tenure via teaching and presenting at various conferences and meetings. I have come out to be much more confident in speaking to large audiences.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in India in a small town called Chinsurah in the state of West Bengal. While most of India used to be a British colony between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, my town was actually a Dutch colony, and there is a lot of Dutch architecture and history that is otherwise not seen anywhere else nearby.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: My primary hobby is landscape and astrophotography, which goes hand in hand with my travel bug. I love traveling and exploring places, and visiting every state in the US is on my bucket list. I also love to cook new and interesting dishes from across the world and play video games, board games, and card games with friends in my free time.
Q: What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
A: If the weather is good outside, I like to go for a long drive and go explore somewhere nearby that I’ve never been to before.
Q: What’s your dream vacation?
A: I’ve always wanted to visit Morocco and Egypt. I’ve been fascinated by their history and culture since I was a kid and it’s always been a dream that hopefully gets fulfilled someday. Also, middle-Eastern cuisine is by far the best cuisine I’ve had (second only to home food of course!), and I would relish a chance to experience authentic food from the region.
Q: If you could have dinner with anybody (living or dead), who would it be and why? (And what would you eat?)
A: Julia Roberts! She’s my favorite actress and I love her dedication towards her profession and the raw talent she has. I would love some southern hot fried chicken, and I’m sure she’d enjoy it as well since she hails from the south herself!
Bonus Question: Do you have any fun science trivia to share?
A: The first total synthesis of vitamin B12 took twelve PhD students, ninety-one postdoctoral scholars and twelve years to complete, involving ninety-five steps. It is known as the toughest synthesis to date.
Thanks to Arani for these excellent and thoughtful answers! We hope you enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more graduate student highlights in the weeks to come!