By Edward Deacon, SciTech Digital Editor
Diversity in STEM seeks to highlight the experiences, research and sucesses of people belonging to the BAME community at the University of Bristol. In this interview I spoke to Ridhi Bansal, a second year Indian PhD student who is researching robotics. Before coming to the University of Bristol, Ridhi did an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nottingham.
When did you first become interested in pursuing engineering at university?
As a carefree teenager my conscience was jolted when I heard startling news of sewer cleaner's death because of asphyxiation by poisonous gases. The lack of safety gear extinguished a precious life and being a teenager with a naive, mellow, and sensitive mind, I was inspired to invent a gadget to help people in risky jobs. This accident moulded my future. I also came across a science journal on AI powered robots that gave me a direction to follow with my aim to invent.
At the University of Nottingham, I automated the process of cutting of dried human amniotic membranes which are used to hasten eye wound healing. I did this project in collaboration with NuVision which is a company that is developing regenerative medical therapies for eyes.
Compared to your undergraduate degree, have you noticed a difference in the level of diversity of students whilst doing your PhD? What have your experiences been like at Bristol as a BAME student?
I feel there is less representation of BAME students in STEM and BAME students were better represented at undergraduate level than at PhD level now.
At both Bristol and Nottingham there are lecturers of different ethnicities and cultures and I haven’t felt that there has been any bias against BAME students. The atmosphere at University of Bristol is very supportive irrespective of ethnic background and nationality.
Outside of doing my PhD, I try to involve myself in various co-curricular activities to promote robotics to younger generations. I serve as STEM ambassador, cohort representative, and EDI (Equality, diversity, and inclusion) representative. Being a BAME student motivates me to make a positive difference; I try to engage as many people as possible and deliver a positive message of racial equality and to support minority ethnic students.
What have you been researching in your Robotics PhD? Have there been any highlights in your experience so far?
At Bristol, I feel privileged to work in one of the world's best robotics lab. I am working on a swarm of soft cellular robots which combine into the most advantageous shape to move across different terrains. These are specially designed to be used for the exploration of Mars. These cell-bots can access small, dingy, and hard to reach areas and hence can also be used in other hazardous and dangerous environments like nuclear power plants and places affected by natural calamities.
I am also working on a different project to build artificial muscles to support independence of elderly and physically challenged people. I have 4 publications to my credit, and I got the opportunity to speak about my research at International Conference on Automation and Computing (ICAC).
In future, I hope to work on more projects to uplift of mankind.
What are your aspirations for the future? Do you plan to continue being a researcher of new technologies?
Doing a PhD in Robotics will step up my ability to conquer my goal of repaying society by designing and programming robots to substitute humans in life-threatening jobs.
My life goal is to program and design robots to support humans in risky work areas such as space, biomaterial, nuclear power plants and chemical zones. I plan to either work in research and development or create a start-up company.
Featured Image: Epigram / Ridhi Bansal
Are you a BAME PhD student or researcher in a STEM field? Reach out to the SciTech team to share your experiences: firstname.lastname@example.org