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Nagarajan Wins Innovation Award

Grad Student Cited by Bausch & Lomb

Subha Nagarajan, center, with Jayant Kumar, left, and her brother, Ramaswamy Nagarajan, an assistant professor in the Plastics Engineering Department.

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Subhalakshmi (Subha) Nagarajan was one of 12 doctoral candidates recently chosen from across the country to receive Bausch & Lomb’s third annual Student Innovation Award for “outstanding innovative research accomplishments.”

Nagarajan, who earned her Ph.D. in chemistry this spring, won the award for her work in finding less toxic, more eco-friendly routes to synthesizing materials.

“My research involves developing environmentally friendly methods for synthesizing a wide range of materials, from therapeutics to semiconducting polymers and oligomers,” she says.

“I also had the opportunity to design and synthesize biomimetic catalysts, which mimic naturally occurring enzymes. These ‘green’ strategies can be used in a variety of applications, including the development of anti-cancer drugs, photovoltaic cells, organic light-emitting diodes and flame-retardant materials.”

The award from the global eye-health company consisted of $2,000 in cash and a certificate of recognition. Subha and her thesis adviser, Prof. Jayant Kumar of the Center for Advanced Materials, were also given an all-expense paid trip to Rochester, N.Y., to present Subha’s research, attend the awards ceremony and tour the Bausch & Lomb Optics Center.

“It was an excellent experience overall,” she says. “I enjoyed meeting and interacting with the Bausch & Lomb scientists as well as the other student awardees and their advisers. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the company’s researchers are also working on using enzymes for a variety of applications.”

In highlighting the collaborative nature of research, Nagarajan gives credit to other people who had helped her in her work. “I am hugely indebted to Prof. Kumar for his constant support and encouragement,” she says. “I also have to thank my brother, Prof. Ram Nagarajan, for being a great mentor.”

She also thanks Prof. Susan Braunhut, Donna McIntosh and other members of the Braunhut lab at the Biological Sciences Department, as well as Dr. Lynne Samuelson and Dr. Ferdinando Bruno at the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center for their support of her research.

In 2008 Subha was selected as the Outstanding Graduate Student in Polymer Science. Two years earlier she was a recipient of the Tripathy Memorial Graduate Fellowship and was awarded a travel grant by the Schering-Plough Research Institute. She was also part of the UMass Lowell team that won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 award in 2006 for its project on using green chemistry to derive promising anti-cancer compounds from a component of green tea.

Subha now works at the UMass Medical School in Worcester. “I had an opportunity to meet and be interviewed for a post-doc position by Prof. Craig Mello, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2006 for his pioneering work in the field of RNA interference,” she says. “I now work with one of his collaborators at the medical school, Prof. Gary Ostroff.”

Subha has been fascinated with the concept of RNA interference (RNAi) and its potential. “RNAi is anticipated to be effective in finding new therapies for diabetes, cancer and other diseases in the foreseeable future,” she says. “Along with a team of scientists, we are trying to develop a delivery system based on yeast-cell wall particles to orally deliver macromolecules and use RNAi for developing new vaccines and therapies.”

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