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Student Spotlight: Sindhu Nathan

Ph.D. Candidate of Chemical Engineering

My eventual career goal is to be a policy advisor in the government or a government-adjacent agency – probably on energy and climate, but perhaps covering science topics more broadly as well.

I want to use the analytical and research skills I’m developing in graduate school to bridge the space between academic researchers, private sector stakeholders, and the government and ensure equitable access to affordable clean energy solutions for everyone. But this passion is a relatively new path for me. Climate justice and clean energy had always interested me, like in middle school when I had to watch Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in class or in high school when I somehow ended up at a research talk about engineering algae to produce renewable biofuels. I got hooked on the idea that I could apply what I learned in my favorite class (chemistry) to address global climate and energy challenges. This led me to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate, and also inspired my interest in clean energy research.

At that time, I felt pretty confident that I wanted to address energy challenges through an academic research career, which is what led me to Stanford! Here, I design and characterize materials that convert carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide to valuable fuels and chemicals, an important part of the carbon capture and utilization cycle. My studies take advantage of atomic layer deposition, a technique that enables the precise modification of catalytic materials. I study catalysts to explain how making small changes to the reactive surface can significantly alter the chemical reactivity observed. What I value most about my graduate experience are the wonderful mentors and friends within the Bent group and department with whom I talk about science (and other things). Getting to engage with people in academia and the broader community throughout my academic experiences really cemented my desire to incorporate science communication into my professional career.

Getting into science policy was a fortuitous accident – I just always happened to like science, history, and government, and there’s a career out there that branches all of that! In light of the power shutoffs, wildfires, and other climate disasters we’re experiencing right now, this work is needed more than ever. I got to take an awesome Engineering Energy Policy Class last year, where I had my first experience writing a memo (concrete, concise policy recommendations written in plain language for a federal legislator) and then attend a workshop in Washington, D.C. to explore how Ph.D. researchers contribute to the policy space. It all kind of snowballed from there; I’m now involved with several organizations that offer professional development opportunities in science policy (beyond ChemE GSAC, I’ve been involved with the National Science Policy Network, Stanford Science Policy Group, & Energy Club) and doing a lot of (hopefully) meaningful advocacy during my time with those groups! Recently, I completed a Shultz Energy Fellowship in Commissioner Patty Monahan’s office working on issues making transportation electrification most beneficial and equitable for Californians – including those who suffer the worst effects of pollution or come from the lowest-income households. Some of the work I did there is what I am most proud of accomplishing over the past few years because I got to really focus on energy solutions for real people in my community. A lot of the work was pretty familiar-looking with the literature and analyzing data to draw conclusions and make informed policy decisions. The intersection between the research I do now and policymaking is stronger than I even expected, and I’m so excited to continue developing my research skills and applying them as I finish up my graduate career and continue beyond.

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