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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Breaking boundaries: Soapbox Science champions inclusive and diverse science in Bradford

Dr Arathyram Ramachandra Kurup Sasikala, Assistant Professor in Formulation Science at the University of Bradford

Dr Arathyram Ramachandra Kurup Sasikala

Dr Arathyram Ramachandra Kurup Sasikala is an assistant professor in formulation science at the University of Bradford. Having taken part in Soapbox Science in Nottingham as a speaker in 2022, she decided to organise the first ever Soapbox Science event in Bradford alongside her colleagues, Dr Afeesh Rajan Unnithan and Dr Maria Azmanova. The event will take place at 12pm-3pm on Saturday 8th June 2024 at Centenary Square in Bradford City Centre.

Dr Arathyram Ramachandra Kurup Sasikala
Dr Arathyram Ramachandra Kurup Sasikala

“Diversity is the foundation of STEM, driving innovation and enhancing the quality of research. By embracing and encouraging diverse perspectives, the scientific community can significantly elevate its effectiveness and influence. Inclusion promotes innovation, improves research perceptions, boosts quality, and enables effective approaches to solving global challenges.”

From a remote sensing scientist to brain tumour researcher

I began my academic journey in India; a country steeped in history and culture. I chose to become a science teacher because I come from a long line of teachers and have always enjoyed science. With my bachelor’s, master’s and education degrees in physics from the University of Kerala under my belt, I was qualified to enter the teaching profession as a high school teacher, but all I wanted to do at that time was learn more about climate change, which fascinated me.

I felt compelled to earn a Master of Philosophy degree (M.Phil) in Ecological Informatics from the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala (now known as Digital University Kerala). I took an internship at Hochschule for Technik Stuttgart, Germany, during which time I had the chance to delve into climate modelling, which greatly enhanced my expertise in this field. This experience led me to the National Remote Sensing Centre, India as a remote sensing scientist. However, my curiosity in this area was fleeting until I stumbled upon the transcript of Richard Feynman’s renowned lecture on nanotechnology, which inspired me to delve into this field and pursue my PhD.

I was fortunate enough to receive the prestigious Brain Korea 21 Plus Graduate Fellowship from the National Research Foundation of Korea to start my PhD at the Jeonbuk National University (JBNU), South Korea. My research primarily revolved around the development of small magnetic particles that carry drugs to selectively deliver heat and medication exclusively to cancer cells under the influence of a spinning magnetic field.

I found it incredibly intriguing, and during my PhD, I had the opportunity to publish numerous articles in academic journals. Shortly after completing my PhD, I was awarded a Young Investigator Grant to work on an exciting project at the JBNU. The goal was to create a cutting-edge stent (tiny tube that is placed to avoid blood clotting) that could detect changes in blood flow, thanks to a unique nanomaterial coating. The new material possesses the remarkable ability to generate electrical signals when subjected to gentle mechanical stimulation, like breathing or blood flow.

To further develop my career as an independent research leader in novel nanotherapeutics, I moved to the University of Birmingham as a Marie Curie Fellow, where I investigated a new method for the non-invasive modulation of the blood-brain barrier to overcome the unmet need of delivering therapeutics to the brain. (This meant means using methods that don’t involve surgery or other invasive techniques to temporarily open or alter the barrier that protects the brain. This is done to allow medicines to pass through and reach the brain, addressing the challenge of delivering treatments for brain diseases effectively.)

Upon finishing this project I embarked on my first independent academic position as assistant professor in formulation science at the University of Bradford. I am in the process of establishing my research group by receiving funding from EPSRC (the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), the Royal Society and internal funding such as from the university.

From lecture theatres to cancer cell incubators

I find great satisfaction in the diverse aspects of my job and the fact that each day brings something new. However, what I find most enjoyable is the constant sense of engagement and energy. I wake up at 4 AM without any alarm and then stagger downstairs and take a seat in front of my computer. I find that my brain is most active around this time, which I use to draft research papers and external funding bids, as well as prepare for the day’s lecture/work. After completing my morning routine, including a refreshing shower and a quick breakfast, I prepare my daughter for school, before my husband and drop her off and head to work.

At the University, I am fortunate to have the chance to both teach and participate in research. My main duties in teaching involve developing teaching materials, delivering lectures and workshops, and grading exams and assignments. I also serve as a personal academic tutor for a few students, so I check in on their overall well-being. Sometimes, students seek my guidance to discuss personal matters, learning support plans and various other concerns. What I find most enjoyable in my teaching role is the opportunity to engage with students.

Dr Arathyram Ramachandra Kurup SasikalaIn my research role, I primarily focus on designing and leading research projects. I also provide guidance and support to my team members to ensure that our outcomes are effectively managed and delivered. I also oversee PhD and master’s thesis projects and share research findings through publications, presentations, and community engagement. Occasionally, I also conduct experiments in the lab to cultivate miniature brains or brain tumours in a dish and evaluate the effectiveness of our innovative treatments on them. I find it incredibly thrilling that my research allows me to establish strong connections with patients and the general public, who display a genuine interest in learning about my work.

10% of my time is dedicated to serving as deputy director for the Interface of Chemistry, Biology, and Materials research theme. In this role, I regularly collaborate with colleagues to provide support for their grant applications, organise training sessions on grant writing, facilitate networking meetings for early career researchers, and deliver presentations at faculty research events and internal meetings.

Bypassing the barrier of the brain

As mentioned earlier, the article on Feynmann’s lectures provided me with valuable insights into the vast potential of nanotechnology. However, my current research has been shaped by the decade-long research experience that allowed me to identify critical research gaps in glioblastomas (an aggressive brain tumour) and develop innovative solutions to overcome the unmet needs.

My research findings have the potential to revolutionise not just brain tumour research, but also the treatment of various neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s. By addressing the challenge of delivering therapeutics to the brain, we can make significant strides in improving patient outcomes.

Making science accessible to all

Dr Arathyram Ramachandra Kurup Sasikala
Arathy presenting at Soapbox Science in Nottingham in 2022

I had the opportunity to participate in Nottingham’s Soapbox Science event in 2022 as a speaker. I had a great time at the event and really appreciated how the Soapbox Science events present the work of women scientists in an engaging and approachable manner.

I was deeply passionate about Soapbox’s mission to make science accessible to everyone, regardless of age, community, or background and this inspired me to take the initiative and organise the upcoming event in Bradford. However, I had to patiently wait until I secured a permanent position in a research institute or university before I could take on the role of lead organiser. It took me a year to get settled in the University of Bradford before I decided to organise the inaugural Soapbox Science event in Bradford. After much deliberation and a series of unexpected detours, a decision was finally reached. We are thrilled to introduce our incredible female scientists to the city centre and spread the message that science is accessible to all!

Diversity is the foundation of STEM, driving innovation and enhancing the quality of research. By embracing and encouraging diverse perspectives, the scientific community can significantly elevate its effectiveness and influence. Inclusion promotes innovation, improves research perceptions, boosts quality, and enables effective approaches to solving global problems challenges.

Bringing together proud female scientists in Bradford

Bradford faces significant social and economic challenges, which can create barriers for students from under-represented groups who are pursuing Higher Education (HE) in the area. I believe that the Soapbox Bradford will have a significant impact in raising awareness of science within these communities and inspiring a new generation of young minds.

I envision that following Soapbox Science Bradford 2024, a multitude of individuals will have the opportunity to discover and gain science knowledge, even if they hadn’t anticipated it. In addition, Soapbox Science Bradford will help to boost the representation and empowerment of women in STEMM by enhancing their visibility, offering inspiration and role models to aspiring young female scientists, and acknowledging the significant research conducted by women globally.

Dr Maria Azmanova
One of Arathy’s co-organisers, Dr Maria Azmanova

My wonderful colleagues, Dr Afeesh Rajan Unnithan and Dr Maria Azmanova, are helping me to organise this event, and I would never have made it this far without their tremendous support. Above all, organising Soapbox Bradford will bring me a profound sense of fulfilment as a proud female scientist.

Bradford is the UK’s City of Culture for 2025 too, so I’ll also be interested to explore how science and the arts have the potential to come together to reach even more people.

Join in!

The Womanthology community is encouraged to engage with our event in a variety of ways. They can offer their time as volunteers or attend the event to build connections and foster collaboration with our attendees. Organisations who may wish to sponsor have the opportunity to showcase their mission and vision to a wider audience by setting up a stall. We will also utilise this platform to enhance the visibility of our event through social media shoutouts, features in newsletters, and blog posts. We would also work together on publications before and after the event to showcase the event’s objectives and themes, enhancing its visibility, generating interest, and making a lasting impression.

Currently in research, patient and public involvement is of utmost importance. Members of the Womanthology community can be invited to participate in research focus groups, take part in surveys, or contribute to creating a simplified summary of the project. Members can also contribute as advisory board members for the research project, providing a diverse perspective throughout its design, implementation, and dissemination. People can stay connected with the community for an extended time to share and celebrate our research and accomplishments.

Coming up next

I am excited about the numerous opportunities presented by my current role, which include influencing future generations, contributing to scientific knowledge, addressing real-world issues, and creating a significant impact. The potential to promote science and its applications in various ways, such as through innovative research, teaching, science communication, mentorship, and policy advocacy, is highly motivating and inspiring.

I am eagerly looking forward to the launch of the GlioPrevent network in 2025. This is an international networking community that aims to bring together brain tumour researchers and leaders from around the world. The primary goal of this network is to promote brain tumour research by conducting outreach activities that inform the public about recent advancements in brain tumour care.

Additionally, the network aims to engage stakeholders to foster increased research, capacity building, and training in the field of brain tumours. After the network’s successful launch, I have high hopes of organising an annual GlioPrevent virtual conference. This will help us broaden our network, foster ongoing collaboration, and establish new partnerships.

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