Motivated by stories of shattered screens on phones and other electronic devices, Dr. Madhu Bhaskaran set out to make unbreakable glass. It turns out the technology she developed has a number of uses beyond what she originally intended, and for this she was awarded the 2018 APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE), announced last week at policy development meetings in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Dr. Bhaskaran’s work has practical, potentially life-saving applications that could help in the fight against skin cancer, detect dangerous gases in mines, and create “smart” contact lenses that can analyze tears for biomarkers, creating real impact on the future of healthcare.
An Associate Professor at RMIT University in Australia, Dr. Bhaskaran was selected from a group of 13 nominees, each nominated by one of the APEC member economies under the 2018 ASPIRE Prize theme, Smart Technologies for Healthy Societies. Nominees, all under 40 years of age, were considered based on their commitment to both excellence in scientific research as evidenced by scholarly publication and cooperation with scientists from other APEC economies.
“This is an exciting and fast-developing field of research which could have far-reaching implications in healthcare and enable people to age well and age productively,” said Dr. Bhaskaran.
Dr. Bhaskaran said it was fantastic to receive international recognition for her work and paid tribute to her team in the Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group.
“It is certainly not a one-woman show. All credit goes to my team of hardworking and highly motivated researchers who share my vision of translating groundbreaking research discoveries into devices which can be used to positively impact lives.”, she said.
US Ambassador to Papua New Guinea Catherine Ebert-Gray echoed the importance of collaboration in her remarks at the award ceremony, emphasizing that the reason ASPIRE exists goes beyond the academic achievements of individuals. “The science community knows that we are stronger together,” she said. “Cooperation, especially cooperation across APEC, allows for different perspectives on issues which spawn innovative solutions.”
Ambassador Ebert-Gray noted it is especially inspiring to see young female scientists nominated. “The women leading the next generation of science deserve a special shout-out for their leadership and accomplishments as we work together to encourage more women to enter the exciting world of science and technology.”
Dr. Bhaskaran said there are many challenges facing young researchers like herself. “You’re trying to do too many things at the same time. It’s a balancing act trying to establish career stability and dealing with family pressures. And especially as a woman, not only is there a career clock, there is also the biological clock.”
So what advice would she give young researchers? “Say yes to everything, so you’ll know what to say no to later.” Though, Dr Bhaskaran admits she still says yes more often than not.
She added that it is also important to understand industry partners, because they can help bring research out of labs and into the real world to the benefit of society. As evidence of this, she was contacted by private sector companies and government ministries after news of her research was released because they could see the possibilities of her discovery.
For her achievement, Dr. Bhaskaran was awarded a prize of US $25,000, co-sponsored by Wiley. Because her five-year-old son wants to be a zoologist (at the moment), and loves to travel, she is considering using some of the prize money to take him on a safari to Africa.
Established in 1989, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a forum for 21 Pacific Rim member economies that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The member economies are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, US, and Viet Nam.
Top photo: ASPIRE Prize winner Dr. Madhu Bhaskaran and Hon. Pila Niningi, Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology, Papua New Guinea
Bottom photo, from left:: Mr. Warren Hauck, Director, APEC Trade and Investment Section, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia, Ms. Catherine Ebert-Gray, US Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, Mr. Brad Fenwick, Elsevier, ASPIRE Sponsor, Dr. Madhu Bhaskaran, ASPIRE 2018 Winner,Ms. CJ Hwu, Wiley, ASPIRE Sponsor, Hon. Pila Niningi, Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology, Papua New Guinea
Photos credit: Elijah Diulo