Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, VA, USA
- B. Tech in Electronics and Electrical Communications Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India (1980)
- M. S. in Electrical Engineering, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL (1982)
- Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (1985)
Supriyo is involved in research, teaching and other professional services.
Advice to Students:
Think outside the box, be creative and keep an open mind.
Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Bandyopadhyay: When I was a Ph.D. student at Purdue University in the mid-1980s, I was first exposed to nanotechnology while working on my Ph.D. dissertation. From then on, my career path focused on nanotechnology and has not deviated from that since then. I continued in that path during my entire academic career spanning nearly three decades.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Bandyopadhyay: I work in spintronics and nanomagnetic computing. Spintronics is the science and technology of using the quantum mechanical spins of electrons or other particles for storing, processing and communicating information. It has recently become very popular in the context of quantum computing where electron or nuclear spins are used to encode quantum bits. Nanomagnets are nothing but bodies that have a large number of electrons whose spins are aligned more or less along the same direction. Nanomagnets of particular shapes can be magnetized in only one of two directions and these two directions encode the binary bits 0 and 1 used in classical digital computing. Switching the magnetization between these two directions is equivalent to switching between the bits 0 and 1. This switching consumes very little energy compared to electronic switches and that is why nanomagnets can become the platform for very low energy computing. The reason why we are interested in low energy computing is not for the sake of the environment (although that is an important consideration), nor for the cost of energy generation, but very simply, if we do not reduce the energy consumption in switching bits, our ability to pack more and more computing devices in a chip will be lost sooner or later. That would be a serious disaster.
Q: What's the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Bandyopadhyay: The endless possibilities and the excitement of working with something that promises immense benefit for mankind is perhaps the most rewarding experience.
Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you’ve worked on has positively impacted the world?
Bandyopadhyay: My lab was instrumental in developing some self-assembly nanosynthesis techniques (techniques for making nanostructures by exploiting natural chemical and physical processes) that are widely used. We hold patents on nanosynthesis, novel memory elements and have applied for patents in nanomagnetic computing and infrared photodetectors. All of these have immense technological applications in areas ranging from computing, sensing to communication and survey.
Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?
Bandyopadhyay: It is impossible to single out any one particular application. Numerous applications have been made possible by the unique properties of nanostructures – in fields as diverse as medicine, computing, defense, climate change and materials.
Q: Please give an example of what you envision nanotechnology applications leading to in the future.
Bandyopadhyay: My hope is that it will lead to energy-efficient computers that barely consume any energy to compute. This could lead, for example, to processors implanted in a patient that harvest energy from the patient’s body movements, without ever requiring any battery to operate.
Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Bandyopadhyay: I prefer to work in small teams of 2-3 individuals. Most groundbreaking research today is interdisciplinary and requires diverse expertise, knowledge and background. The days of giants like Newton and Einstein are gone. While individuals will continue to make seminal contributions, many scientific problems today are so daunting that they require a tem to solve. Of course, too many cooks can spoil the broth, which is why small teams are ideal.
Q: If you work more as a team, what are some of the other areas of expertise of your team members?
Bandyopadhyay: Materials, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, computer architecture. For example, I worked with electrochemists to develop nanosynthesis methods, with mechanical engineers to understand magnetostrictive material properties, and computer architects to design appropriate circuits for nanomagnet based computers.
Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
Bandyopadhyay: Yes. Not possible without it. Nanotechnology is not a discipline that evolved in vacuum. It is still very much based on basic physics, chemistry and mathematics. One learns the basic principles in college. Without a firm background in the fundamentals, there is little hope of making serious advances.
Q: Do you have a mentor? Did you in your college years?
Bandyopadhyay: I currently mentor others. I had a Masters and a Ph.D. adviser in college who certainly taught me a lot. One can do without a mentor, but having a mentor to guide and provide directions is immensely helpful for new entrants in the field.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Bandyopadhyay: Most probably, yes. I have not had serious second thoughts. This is probably partly due to my unfamiliarity with other fields, so I do not really know if some other field has something much better to offer. However, I have continued to find new problems and new solutions in nanotechnology.
Q: If a high school or college student was interested in nanotechnology, what advice would you give them to help prepare take on those roles?
Bandyopadhyay: I have advised many such students. I tell them to think outside the box, be creative and keep an open mind. I also tell them to read a lot and find something that will interest them. Those that actually visit my lab get a tour and a small lecture on what our vision is. I will definitely advise students to contact an individual whose research she or he finds interesting. If the conversation proceeds to the point where there is serious mutual interest, then a visit to the researcher’s lab or discussions with her/his students to get an understanding of what is involved, is definitely the next step.