Vivek’s research took him to Europe, the USA and the Middle East before he returned to his home country, India.
Vivek was born in a small village with no continuous power or running water, in Maharashtra, India. Whilst his primary school had no buildings and most of his classes took place under trees, he remembers always having fantastic teachers.
“I was blessed with great teachers at every stage of my education.”
Doing well at school, he moved to a small nearby town to complete his education. He took a BSc in chemistry, physics and maths and this was when his interest in chemistry really began. Enjoying the subject so much, he studied for a Master’s degree at Amravati University, Maharashtra, and then for a PhD in Jiwaji University and the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), Gwalior, India.
Vivek says that one of the biggest challenges for him, during both his Master’s and PhD, was not having exposure to either the specialist equipment or the expertise that he wanted. Vivek was desperate to learn more advanced techniques, as well as to gain knowledge from experienced researchers. Determined to change things for himself, he moved to France to work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier.
World class researcher
Vivek’s research has taken him to Europe, the United States and the Middle East. During his time abroad he was awarded the prestigious Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Research Fellowship, to work at the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Always wanting to return to India, he came home after eight years to take a position at one of the country’s premier research establishments - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. Now, aged just 36, Vivek is reader in chemistry at TIFR. He has published nearly 80 articles, many in top scientific journals. He has also won several awards including the Asian Rising Stars award at the 15th Asian Chemical Congress in 2013, presented to him by Nobel laureate, Professor Ei-ichi Negishi.
Vivek’s research involves developing morphology controlled nanomaterials for catalysis, with the aim to capture carbon dioxide from the environment and convert it to fuel and fine chemicals. The world is struggling with a shortage of energy but simultaneously trying to protect the environment and Vivek hopes his research will solve both these problems. His proudest achievement is his breakthrough discovery of fibrous nanosilica (KCC-1), which is showing great promise as a unique high surface area support for catalysis, drug delivery and as a carbon dioxide sorbent.
For Vivek, doing challenging research and having the reward of publishing it in high-impact journals is what he enjoys most about his career. He recommends a career in chemistry to others because “you are able to design and create new things every single day”.
His advice to anyone thinking of pursuing a career in the chemical sciences is:
“Work hard. Think differently, irrespective of what is written in chemistry books or recent publications. At a personal level, do not get demoralised by criticism from anyone and use that criticism as positive energy to improve yourself; I am doing the same.”
Not forgetting his roots
“I feel proud and lucky that I made it: from remote village boy to working at some of the best research institutes in the world.”
Vivek has not forgotten where he came from and knows there is a lot more that can be done to support children who have no exposure to science or higher education. He feels that organisations like the Royal Society of Chemistry could help the situation in India by organising workshops for school children to raise the awareness of science. He also thinks that there should be a set number of spaces at every research institute reserved for village children and those who are underexposed to the modern sciences.
Vivek’s plans for the future are not only to continue his research but to contribute to the development of poor farming communities in India by helping to provide education for their children.
Words by Isobel Marr
Images courtesy of Vivek Polshettiwar
Published May 2015