Q&A on becoming chartered

Materials World magazine
2 Nov 2016

Natalie Daniels talks to Dr Siddharth Patwardhan about his research into creating greener nanomaterials and how becoming chartered has been professionally rewarding.

Tell us about your background.

I studied Petrochemical Engineering at the University of Pune, India. I then moved to the USA to complete my masters and PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. After a brief position at the University of Delaware, I worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Nottingham Trent University, UK in inorganic chemistry, then at the University of Strathclyde, UK as a lecturer in chemical engineering. I am now a Senior Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the University of Sheffield, UK. 

What inspired you to study and teach chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering has a lot of heritage to me – my brother, father and grandparents all have background in chemistry-related fields, so that was a huge influence. I knew I was interested in maths and physics and wanted to do an engineering-based subject. I enjoyed chemistry and the applications of using chemistry, physics and mathematics to solve problems. I initially started studying polymer engineering and, after a year, I realised that the subject wasn't for me – it was based on making the final articles and designing products of polymers, rather than making the actual polymers. I then switched to chemical engineering, learning how to make polymers and chemicals. 

What does your day-to-day work involve?

My role is like any other academic – to teach students following the appropriate curriculum. I supervise research projects involving school placements, undergraduates, PhDs and post-doctoral scientists. I also help with our outreach programme, taking part in science festivals, encouraging STEM subjects and presenting to the public the work we do within the university. Another part of my job involves working closely with industry on consultancy and technology transfer.

What does your work at the Green Nanomaterials Research Group focus on?

We work on making nanomaterials using a green approach. If you look at the specific properties, structure and function of biominerals from microorganisms – they are precisely made and quite beautiful. What we have done is taken inspiration from how these organisms and biological systems make inorganic materials, yet don't require harsh conditions and toxic chemicals. Some of these grow in drinking water and, to try to promote a greener approach, we are investigating the principles. I make the distinction between bioinspired and biomimetic – we are not trying to imitate biology and do exactly what it does, but we are learning and getting inspiration from it. 

What are you hoping to achieve with the research group?

The big step is translating all the biological and chemical knowledge into industry-facing applications. We are now developing applications that can be used for water treatment and converting crude oil into petrol or could be used in drug delivery systems, as they will be non-toxic, yet efficient. Alongside that, we work on the manufacturing of these nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are typically difficult to scale up and make into large quantities, and that is often why nanomaterials fall through, because they can't be commercialised. We have started demonstrating that our syntheses, because it is simple and green, can be scaled up and control the properties on a large scale. Last month we received an EPSRC award to take the research even further and potentially take these nanomaterials to kilogram scale. We hope that from this we can get industry interested and this will lead to full-fledged commercialisation. 

You became chartered in 2015. Why?

The reason were twofold. The first was a personal reason – because I didn't have a degree in chemistry, it sometimes became a problem that I would be referred to as only an engineer regardless of the fact most of my work is based on materials chemistry. Becoming chartered meant I was able to demonstrate that I was a chemist and engineer. Professionally, the chartership recognises well-developed skills in the field and also a high-level of professionalism. 

How did you find the process of becoming chartered?

I became chartered with the Royal Society of Chemistry. There are two options available – one is for a younger professional, who will need to document their process and take individual steps to approaching their targets. The other route, which I undertook, was to create a documentation or supporting evidence stating I had achieved the targets and provided the evidence alongside for review. In general, the process was simple, but the difficulty was to find matching evidence to suit the criteria. It wasn't that the evidence wasn't there – it was just making sure that it was correct.

Is becoming chartered something you encourage your students to do?

Yes, of course. It gives a professional a lot of recognition – it shows you have in-depth knowledge of your specific field, but also the broader field. It recognises that you are making a critical contribution to the success of your institution, which is really important to employers because of the external recognition by an independent body. They also look through your communications skills, looking at how you have demonstrated environmental health and safety aspects. It is an overall portfolio, not just specific to your field. I would always encourage anyone in the industry and academia to register for chartership.

To read more about Siddharth's research group at the University of Sheffield, visit www.svplab.com 

If you would like to be featured in the PD section, contact natalie.daniels@iom3.org