Sabari Ghosh

SLAM Talk Title: Vitamins of Modern Industry

How did you originally get interested in science?

Until sixth grade I was really interested in studying geography and knowing about the earth and environment. In seventh grade I first entered a chemistry lab at my school and saw some seniors performing some experiments and each of them had test tubes containing different coloured solutions which changed as they added some other chemical. That fascinated me a lot and I wanted to study this colorful subject. So from there my love for chemistry and hence science started.

What is your favorite place at the Lab?

Molecular Foundry’s fifth floor lobby from where there is a whole view of the Bay.

Most memorable moment at the Lab?

I have been here only five months so I guess the most memorable one is yet to come but till now when I first entered the Foundry and had the million dollar view of the whole Bay from the top.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of the Lab?

I like to travel a lot. Cooking Indian delicacies, dancing.

Sabari's script - "Vitamins of Modern Industry"

What do you think is common between electric cars (lanthanum), the cellphone in your hand or pocket (lanthanum and neodymium), and MRI (gadolinium) used for medical diagnosis? Well, the answer is Rare Earth Elements aka the lanthanides or more commonly that bottom row of elements in our periodic table that often goes unnoticed. These elements are major ingredients in all modern day technologies and hence they are termed as the Vitamins of Modern Industry. Now, as the name suggests these elements are comparatively rare for usage due to various geochemical factors and geographically their abundance is far from here. So, it is important to find ways to reuse and recycle them.

But these rare earth Elements are like minions. They look alike, they behave alike, they react alike but they are very specific in their applications. So, the major challenge for using these elements is to selectively separate them from each other. This is where my research comes in. Current industrial separation techniques generate undesirable acidic waste along with non selective seperation. So, here in Berkeley lab we address two major problems related to their separation 1) using environment friendly separation techniques and 2) getting optimum selective separation. Who does a better job towards selectivity than the proteins in living organisms? The human body is made up of multitude of proteins, but each has very selective functionality. My research focuses on drawing inspiration from the building blocks of these proteins and to engineer them to develop bio-inspired materials, which are known as the peptoids, and use them to selectively bind these near similar elements. The usage of bio-inspired peptoids will also address our first major challenge - of not generating hazardous acidic waste. Furthermore, screening of different materials to get the best selective binding with these elements may take years, so I also aim towards developing a robotic screening technique where we can use libraries of different bioinspired materials, which can selectively bind these lanthanides in one individual experiment. Exciting? Right and with this technique we look forward to minimize the future deficit of these vita’minions’ in our modern industry.