PhD Candidate in Chemistry
Suyog Padgaonkar is PhD candidate in chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. His research seeks to understand how energy can be created and controlled within nanomaterials using light for making fuels, storing memory, and harvesting energy. Suyog currently serves as the president of the Science Policy Outreach Taskforce (SPOT) leadership team. Within SPOT, he started Science with Seniors, a science outreach program that brings together Northwestern researchers to talk about their research at local senior centers. Suyog hopes to provide a credible voice for science to make reliable voters aware of issues in science and policy.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
Nanomaterials, which are more than a million times smaller than a tennis ball, have been heavily studied for the past 20 years because they have the potential to solve a lot of our problems in energy, computation, and other areas. Part of the reason that nanomaterials haven’t solved these problems yet is that they have intrinsic flaws that prevent them from realizing this potential. I study how to overcome these flaws by combining different nanomaterials that are good at different things, such as absorbing light energy or conducting electricity. Once we understand these interactions at a fundamental level, we can use these combined nanomaterials for uses such as creating fuels (like hydrogen) from light or storing/transmitting information.
Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
Within chemistry, I admire Neil Garg, who manages to be a brilliant teacher, caring mentor, rigorous scientist, and creative science communicator in the most innovative ways. He’s inspired his organic chemistry students by assigning them to make music videos, created an online platform (and app) to help students learn organic chemistry, and even written a picture book with his kids. Outside of chemistry, I admire Donald Glover for his ability to reinvent himself and surround himself with talented people.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
Most of the time when you’re in the lab, you’re failing at something, so the rare times when something works or things go according to plan are incredibly special.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I go through phases where I get heavily invested in certain hobbies. Earlier this year, that was making pizza from scratch. Lately, I’ve been tending to my hydroponic garden and solving crosswords.
What books are on your bedside table?
Right now, I’m reading The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Take time to breathe. If you’re moving too fast, things get out of focus and you won’t be able to see the path ahead of you.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
Science with Seniors, a science outreach program I started that brings together Northwestern researchers to talk about their research at local senior centers, has recently switched to a Zoom format for the foreseeable future. I'm excited by the number of people who continue to be involved in this program, and I’m happy that we found a way to continue our efforts.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I mentor an undergraduate student who just finished his junior year. I’m floored by how much he has been able to learn and grow over the past 18 months we’ve been working together, and I’m excited to see what he does next.
Published: July 28, 2020
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