A Triumph to Remember: Supriya Kumari
Nov 14, 2016 | Yasmin Kukul
NIT Rourkela has since time immemorial, been known to bring out the best in every student who has ever stepped into its premises. An example for the same, someone worth mentioning would be Supriya Kumari, a Ph. D scholar in her final year of study, who was one of the select few to have attended the 1st ever International Conference on Bioresource Technology for Bioenergy, Bioproducts & Environmental Sustainability, held at Barcelona, Spain, and to have emerged as the winner of the Outstanding Poster Award in one of the categories.
With the words, "When I joined, I literally didn't know anything," this humble young lady began to chronicle a journey which ultimately proved otherwise.
This conference from 23rd-26th October and organized in association with Elsevier’s premier journal “Bioresource Technology”, was mainly for students pursuing a Ph.D. and faculties, to gauge the present scenario on the aforesaid arenas and share ideas that could set things to heal in good motion. Along with about 300 posters that were presented, there also were about a 100 oral presentations.
Supriya Kumari: I had presented a poster. You see, it could be industrial waste or the waste generated by us human beings. My aim, which also was the aim of a lot of other people there, was to try and find newer ways for the effective treatment of this waste using bio-resources so that there won't be any new kind of waste and pollution generated. With industrial or chemical methods, some other kinds of wastes are also generated. By using biological methods, the waste can be cleaned largely and quite completely.
People from all around the world including Spain, China, European countries, the USA, India and other Asian students, amounting to around 300 delegates had come to attend. The intellectual masses present there actively discussed subjects like bio-fuels, bio-refineries, and bio-resources over tea.
SK: My poster was based on lead toxicity. In the Odisha base, there are so many industries and all of them dump their effluents directly into the marine sea water, like the Bay of Bengal and Paradip Sea Port. So, the bacteria that grow here are more resistant to these toxins. Now, since, they have enhanced properties of growing in the heavy metal-containing environment, that property is exploited to treat the metal-containing environment itself. So, I isolated my bacteria called Pseudomonas psuedoalcaligenes from Paradip, grew it in various media and checked whether they had metal binding or metal sequestering properties, with the help of techniques like FESEM, XRD, FTIR and Fluorescence Microscopy.
The participants had to explain the posters and the ideas behind it to whoever visited since the system there had blocked the participants from knowing who the judges are.
SK: It's actually a fun process because when you're standing there and you look around, you see so many other posters around you, so many new ideas, you get feedback from other people, like what could be done to enhance your work and it is a great learning process.
While the making of the poster took about 3-4 days, the background work behind it took up about one and a half years of rigorous tests and experiments.
SK: If you start getting results at the beginnings, it is okay, but when you have to optimize so many parameters it definitely takes up a lot of time.
However, what made it worth it, was the fact that, from around 85 posters, which were presented on this theme, Supriya's poster was adjudged the best, and she received a Certificate of Merit. She was the only one representing NIT Rourkela, with the other students from India being from NIT Calicut, Kerala University and IIT Kharagpur. In total, there were just 5-6 Indians present.
For Supriya who is working on, Bacterial Biofilm Mediated Bioremediation of Heavy Metals and Para-aromatic Hydrocarbons, the project was a part of her Ph. D work.
SK: My whole lab is working on bio-remediation; few of them are also working on other aspects. This field of study interested me a lot because people are using so many organic contaminants or metal toxins these days. Suddenly, if there is an increase in any metal concentration, people will start suffering from many diseases, which is already happening in the form of asthma and skin cancer.
The travel expenses were borne by DST (Department of Science and Technology), with them sponsoring the entire onward and backward journey. Supriya also said that she didn't have to face any issues on a monetary basis.
SK: I also received a partial amount beforehand, from the institute, and I have submitted the other bills like for the in-travels and the registration, so probably they will be refunding me pretty soon.
Within India, Supriya has already attended two conferences, a workshop and some conferences at NIT itself, this being her first one outside India.
SK: I also went to so many other places; Barcelona is a beautiful city. Initially, since I went alone, it was a little difficult, but then all of us Indians grouped together and then it was fun.
When asked about who she would give credits for her success, Supriya was overcome with respect and reverence for her guide, Dr. Surajit Das appraising him as the most versatile man ever with a very thorough knowledge base on how to deal with bacterial resources to combat industrial and other kinds of pollution.
SK: I want to thank my guide, Dr. Surajit Das because he is the one who encourages and motivates us. He has been there for us at every step. We are around 7-8 people working under him and he handles all these 8 students at the same time very efficiently. Two years ago, I couldn't write or anything but at least now I can do my own things.
Supriya, who originally hails from Jharkhand completed her M. Sc. from NIT Rourkela as well. She is a beautiful example of humility combined with wit and diligence combined with a lot of luck.