Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

Most of my time and efforts these days goes into encouraging students in pursuing STEM education: Sumita Mitra, renowned scientist

Sumita Mitra

Call it a brain drain or the dominance of Indians in foreign lands in the field of engineering, technology, health, and science, the number of Indian minds behind innovations and technological advancements in the global arena is increasing day by day. Adding further value to this saga, the European Patent Office has nominated US-based Indian-origin scientist Sumita Mitra among the finalists for European Inventor Award 2021 in the “Non-EPO countries” category.

Sumita Mitra was the first to apply nanotechnology to the production of dental materials, leading to the creation of a new composite to repair teeth which has many advantages over conventional materials.

Mitra’s material overcomes many of the limitations of previous dental composites, which were either too weak to be used on biting surfaces, or quickly lost their polish and became physically unattractive. In addition, her invention is more versatile than other composites, meaning it can be used in any area of the mouth, and simplifies the filling procedure for dentists. Commercialised as Filtek™ Supreme Universal Restorative since 2002 by 3M, the US multinational for whom Mitra worked for more than 30 years, the technology and the products developed from it are today used by dentists around the globe.

In an interview with BiznessByte, Sumita Mitra shares some interesting facts about herself and her views about science education in India and more.

Excerpts:

BB: Please let us know briefly about your early life in India and education.

Sumita Mitra: My early childhood was spent in Arunachal Pradesh in a place called Namsai. I was homeschooled by my mother instead of attending primary school. Namsai was a picturesque place and gave me the opportunity for exploration and imagination. Thereafter, I came to Kolkata and attended St. Teresa’s Secondary School. From a very early age I was fascinated by chemistry and was fortunate to receive encouragement from my parents (my father was a chemist) and teachers. I studied B.Sc. at Presidency College with chemistry honors followed by M.Sc. in organic chemistry at Science College, Kolkata University. Following that I came to the United States for further studies.

BB: With your new invention for dental filling, how many people can be benefited across the globe? How commercially viable is the material?

Sumita Mitra: The invention in nanoparticles/nanocomposites has been translated into several commercial products useful for dental restoration and preservation. The first of these is 3MTM FiltekTM Supreme Universal Restorative. According to 3M over one billion teeth restorations have been completed with Filtek materials and the generations of products following it.

BB: Do you think the same material can be used in any other areas of healthcare or cosmetic surgery?

Sumita Mitra: Yes, with appropriate modifications.

BB: What are the upcoming projects you are working upon?

Sumita Mitra: At present, I serve as an independent consultant. Most of my time and efforts these days goes into encouraging students in pursuing STEM education. I participate in multiple programs geared towards working with students all the way from elementary school to university level. Children are the future of our society and so it is essential to train as many students as possible in science-related fields.

BB: We see many Indian scientists and engineers doing exceptionally well abroad. What can be done to create a suitable environment for them in India itself?

Sumita Mitra:

– Provide sustained and consistent funding in R&D at the national level.

– Provide an environment for open discussion of ideas and findings of scientists without early criticism but constructive feedback.

– Promote collaboration and team endeavors involving people from different disciplines and with diverse backgrounds

– Allow for sharing of research results in the scientific community through presentations, attendance of conferences and publications in refereed journals.

(The winners of the 2021 edition of the EPO’s annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony starting at 19:00 CEST on 17 June which has this year been reimagined as a digital event for a global audience.)

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