Graduating with a doctorate in mechanical engineering and being swept up by the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, N.Y., before Commencement are enough accolades for one person.
But in his time at the University, India native Pramod Kulkarni, Ph.D., also helped develop a patented technology making our world safer; authored or co-authored 10 refereed publications; and presented research at 13 national and international conferences. And one of his favorite activities at the University was mentoring undergraduates.
Kulkarni came to WUSTL with his adviser, Pratim Biswas, Ph.D., the Stifel and Quinette Jens Professor of Environmental Engineering and director of the Environmental Engineering Science Program, from the University of Cincinnati in 2000.
Kulkarni’s research focus is nanoparticles, which have a diameter on the order of a billionth of a meter. Aerosols — nanoparticles suspended in air or gases — are of great concern because of their deleterious human health effects and impacts on air quality and global climate.
There are also “good” aerosols that enable environmentally benign technologies. The emergence of nanotechnology presents researchers like Kulkarni opportunities to develop “greener” technologies for air and water cleanup.
Biswas and Kulkarni developed and patented a technology to charge and capture nanometer-sized particles using soft-X-ray radiation in pollutant-capturing devices. The capture efficiency of nanoparticles smaller than 20 nanometers in diameter by conventional methods is about 30 percent to 40 percent of the particles.
|School of Engineering & Applied Science|
“With our new method, we can capture with efficiency often greater than 99 percent of these particles,” Kulkarni said. “Technologies like these have increasing importance in control and inactivation of airborne viruses and bioaerosols and related security technologies.” (Think anthrax and smallpox, unfortunately.)
The technology has drawn considerable interest from industry and government in our nation’s war on bioterrorism.
With Biswas, Kulkarni also developed a technique to improve efficiency of conventional water filters using electrical fields. Conventional filters have been shown to be ineffective in capturing biological particles such as Cryptosporidium parvum, a major public health concern, especially after the major 1992 Milwaukee outbreak of cryptosporidiosis.
“We developed a method to improve the filtration efficiency of Cryptosporidium parvum in water filters by applying external electric fields,” Kulkarni said. “The method improves the capture efficiency from 10 to 20 percent up to 95 percent.”
Kulkarni’s father, Srini, is a recently retired civil engineer; his mother, Hema, was a stay-at-home mom. They live in India.
Two younger sisters, Rohini and Ashwini, are engineers by training. His wife, Debjani, is a chemical engineer who just earned a master of business administration degree in finance from the University of Maryland.
Kulkarni earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Walchand Institute of Technology and a master’s in environmental engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay.
“I developed a great interest in aerosols and particles when I was studying at IIT,” Kulkarni said. “That is when I decided to pursue doctoral studies in aerosols. I started working with Dr. Biswas in the spring of 1999.
“Then the aerosol mafia — that’s what we call our research group — moved to Washington University.”
Kulkarni spent nearly three memorable years at the University.
“I love the Washington University campus; it’s just the right size, with all the ingredients to create an academic environment,” he said. “I definitely miss the campus and the Midwestern friendliness. I also miss the weekly wallyball sessions with the aerosol mafia — an activity that I always looked forward to.
“Working with Dr. Biswas has been a wonderful experience. He has an effusive sense of energy and optimism that is quite contagious. He is a great mentor, and I owe him a lot for my development as an engineering scientist.”
Biswas said: “Pramod was a very diligent student, a pleasure to work with. He had a very good sense of identifying scientific gaps in a specific area of research, and then developing a systematic plan to study it.
“He was a true team player, reaching out to collaborate with other faculty, and was an excellent mentor to junior students. He has a very bright future and will continue making contributions to the field of nanoparticle technology and aerosol science and engineering.”