Chemistry of the Future for Electronics: a PhD from India Develops Carbon-based Materials of the New Generation at SUSU

At South Ural State University, within the frameworks of Project 5-100 Competitiveness Enhancement Program, young postdoc scientists from different universities of the world are performing research studies. Our interview is about one of such scientists, a highly qualified specialist and senior research fellow of Nanotechnologies Research and Education Center, PhD Sakthi Dharan, C.P.

We talked about attracting scientists with international experience to the postdoc vacancies at our university, and about producing innovative carbon-based crystalline materials for accumulators of the new generation with PhD Sakthi Dharan; his curator – research engineer of Nanotechnologies REC, Candidate of Sciences (Chemistry) Dmitry Zherebtsov; and the Head of the International Relations Department, Candidate of Sciences (Pedagogy) Tatiana Subbotina.

Postdoc (senior research fellow) of the SUSU’s Nanotechnologies Research and Education Center, PhD Sakthi Dharan, C.P.

– Where did your path in science start from?

– I obtained my first higher education at the Faculty of Chemistry of Anna University Chennai in India. After that, as an expert in organic chemistry, I was invited to Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, where I was awarded an individual grant from the Government of Canada and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to work specifically in that university.

Carleton University is famous for its research studies on the field of natural sciences, engineering, and computer education, and is listed among the top ten universities of Canada. Here I continued my research on organic synthesis, which I handled at Anna University in India.

– Why did you choose SUSU after that?

– My colleagues, who obtained their PhD in universities of India, mostly continued with their careers in universities of South Korea, Japan and America. But I wished to choose a different way.  

Once I obtained by PhD, I decided to continue my work in a different country. I was choosing between universities in Russia, Sweden and Great Britain, and in the end decided to continue my work in your country since I had heard a lot about it and I wanted to get experience of working in one of Russian universities.

I found a postdoc vacancy by South Ural State University on the Internet. The suggested topic was close to the research that I was performing back then, I was very much interested in it, so I sent my CV to SUSU and soon was invited to work at your university. And here I am! (smiles – editor’s note).

– Did the topic suggested in the SUSU’s postdoc program relate to the research you did earlier?

– I feel related to the essence of it. It covers synthesis of aromatic and aliphatic compounds, preparation of composites, studying of hybrid organic and inorganic nanoporous materials.

Over ten years of working in the field of organic synthesis I have developed nanocomposites called Carbon Nano Tubes, and glass-fiber reinforced composites with various thermosetting materials. I also developed three different liquid crystals. These experiments help me in working on covalent organic matrix materials.

– What is the theme of your research at Nanotechnologies REC?

– In South Ural State University I keep studying covalent organic frameworks. In SUSU I am doing research in the field of creating a new type of carbonic materials jointly with Dmitry Anatolyevich Zherebtsov.

– Why would you recommend SUSU to your colleagues? What advantages for young scientists’ development do you see here?

– At SUSU I learned about a new field of research, which I can partake in. I started working with new equipment, one of a higher level, which I have never used before, as well as with new instruments. And this is a big advantage for me here, at the university.

Organisational issues are solved quite promptly. The staff of the International Relations Department of the SUSU International Affairs Division always quickly help us with that.

The are certain difficulties as well. For instance, it is hard to get used to Russian winter. Though, I have noticed that winter in Chelyabinsk is very similar to winter in Ottawa. It is difficult to be away from my nearest and dearest ones. But I can get over it when my studies inspire me and give results.











(In this picture Elena Korina and Sakthi Dharan hold experiments in the box –editor’s note)

– Please tell us more about the advantages of the new equipment at Nanotechnologies REC? For instance, what a glass box is used for?

Dmitry Zherebtsov: The glass box at Nanotechnologies REC is equipped with special rubber “gloves” and is needed to work with air-sensitive materials, like lithium metal for example. Inside the box is filled with argon, inert gas which is non-reactive. If a human being gets into such box without special means of protection, s/he will be dried out like a mummy.

For instance, it is possible to grow single crystals of gallium nitride in this installation for light-emitting diodes, which can be used in energy-efficient lamps, as well as in radars for early detection of flying objects – missiles, planes, UAVs – at the distance of 400 km.

– How do you see your future in science?

Sakthi Dharan: I believe we will certainly succeed in our research which we are currently doing at the SUSU’s Nanotechnologies REC. We are pioneers in this field of research, and it is very promising. We have set ourselves a goal, and will surely reach it in the field we are working on – covalent organic framework research.

Dmitry Zherebtsov: Sakthi Dharan working as postdoc at Nanotechnologies REC has an advantage of choosing a new hot topic of contemporary chemistry. This is a promising and quickly evolving theme in organic chemistry.

The theme being developed by Sakthi Dharan is related to such a breakthrough field of the present-day chemistry as production of new crystalline carbon materials which could be used in electrochemical devices: accumulators, fuel cells, condensers, sensors; and it also important for fundamental science. Upon the results of work in this field we are planning that Candidate’s and doctor’s theses will be defended.

Moreover, Sakthi Dharan has a wide network of scientific connections in universities of India and Canada. He received positive recommendations by Associate Professor of Anna University, PhD M. Sarojadevi; Professor of Carleton University, PhD P.R. Sundararajana; Associate Professor of the Department of Physical Sciences at Bannari Amman Institute of Technology, PhD P. Pachamutkhu; Associate Professor of the Department of Technology of Food Processing at Indian Institute of Technology (India) PhD K. Radkhakrishnan. The Sakthi Dharan’s connections with these scientists will allow the university to develop scientific collaborations in covalent organic framework research in the future.

– One of the important aspects of a postdoc’s work is publication activity. What is the situation with publications?

Dmitry Zherebtsov: I would like to note that as of today Sakthi Dharan published ten scientific papers indexed in Scopus and Web of Science databases, what confirms his high qualification and potential as a scientist. We hope that jointly with this promising scientist from India we will be able to publish no less than four or six top ranking works in Top 25 journals, and thus will increase the SUSU’s publication activity.

– What is practical use of the carbonic material you are developing?

Sakthi Dharan: One of the possible uses is in creation of hydrogen storage. Another field of use is nanoelectronics, which is based on the properties of carbon network. The material under development may be considered as highly-porous graphene. Graphene itself is known as a nanoobject for electronics. We are planning that our material will also feature mechanical strength, and high thermal and electrical conductivity. The innovative materials that we are producing may find application in organic electronics.

Moreover, our research is aiming at the future possibility of creating a new type of carbonic materials (nanomaterials), which will be of interest with regard to further use in industry (and namely in production processes in organic synthesis, treatment of liquids and gases, creation of membranes, use of membranes for gas separation).

Head of the International Relations Department Tatiana Subbotina:

– The strategic task of SUSU as a National Research University comprises generation of new knowledge, development of front-line scientific research, which ensure enhancement of the university competitiveness.

One of the ways of solving this task is attracting young scientists to the university who have experience in working in the scientific-and-research and educational fields in the leading foreign and Russian universities and scientific organisations. This is what our Department deals with.

Inviting postdocs allows the university to be in the streamline of developing tendencies in contemporary science. For the university’s science development it is of crucial importance that young scientists, who have earlier worked in other laboratories around the world, come to us. They will be able to share their scientific experience, skills and ideas with our scientists.

Here is to remind you that inviting postdocs to our university is being fulfilled within the frameworks of Roadmap Project under Project 5-100 Competitiveness Enhancement Program, М.2.2.1. “Developing the System of Attracting Young Scientists, Including by Means of Implementing the System of International Open Contests, Grants…”.

Yuliya Rudneva; photo by Oleg Igoshin
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