Student / Alum Spotlight: Soumitra Mokashi Punekar

Department of Chemistry

Interviewed as Fifth Year Student

Soumitra Mokashi Punekar, a fifth-year graduate student in the department of chemistry, smiles and stands in the labHow would you explain your area/s of research?

I work on designing and constructing gold nanoparticle assemblies using biological molecules called peptides. The properties and function of these materials are highly dependent on their structural parameters. My project is based on systematically controlling their structure and properties by fine-tuning the peptide molecular structure.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

From the Taj Mahal to NFL stadiums, we are highly skilled at constructing unique architectures that we can see. What about controlling the structure of something you cannot see with your own eyes? Controlling the structure of nanoscale architectures is not only a challenging task but also has many practical applications. My advisor, Prof. Nat Rosi, and my group members were instrumental in providing that initial spark that peaked my interest in this field of research.

What is the significance of your research?

By carefully controlling the structural parameters of nanoparticle assemblies, we can fine-tune the optical and electronic properties of these materials. Ultimately, these optimized materials can be used as sensors, components of opto-electronic devices, or even drug delivery vehicles.

What has most influenced you as a scholar?

My parents are professors at IIT Guwahati (an Indian university), and their dedication to teaching, research, and scholarship has had a huge impact on my life. I have also been lucky to have very inspiring professors and peers who instilled in me the joy of science.

Why did you choose Pitt to pursue your graduate degree?

Pitt has excellent facilities and many multi-disciplinary research groups. I knew that regardless of which research group I joined, I would get an excellent opportunity to engage in interesting projects and learn some really cool science along the way.

What are your plans after graduation?

My long-term goal is to pursue an academic position at a university. I find it very rewarding to teach and mentor undergraduates. My short-term goal is to find a post-doc position to broaden my skill set and work on new scientific research challenges.