Surya Mallapragada

Current Position: Professor at Iowa State University
Surya Mallapragada
Highlight My long-term goals are to be recognized as a leader in my research field and to help percolate the research to the graduate and undergraduate teaching that I do.
August 3, 2007Her job: Professor, Iowa State University
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I teach chemical engineering undergraduate and graduate students and I do research in the area of polymeric materials for medical applications
Why did you choose engineering? I was interested in math and chemistry, so chemical engineering seemed a great choice for me.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? B.Tech, Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India Ph.D. Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work? In addition to my normal teaching activities (one or two chemical engineering classes a semester), the rest of my time is usually spent on research activities. I direct a group of undergraduate and graduate students on various research projects. The general theme of my research has been to make new polymeric materials or to modify existing polymeric materials to make them suitable for controlled drug release or for tissue engineering applications. So these involve projects like developing patterned biodegradable polymers to help nerve regeneration and to make new environmentally sensitive smart polymers for drug release. I am also a Program Director of the Materials Chemistry and Biomolecular Materials program at Ames Laboratory, a Department of Energy Laboratory in Ames, IA. So part of my time is spent in administration.
What do you like best about being an engineer? Engineering involves a lot of problem-solving. So that is the fun and challenge of being an engineer.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of? My research work in drug delivery and tissue engineering, and the work would not have been possible without my talented students.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career? I was lucky in the fact that I picked chemical engineering and it turned out to be the right choice for me. However, my first semester at college was a rude shock - being away from home for the first time, being in a relatively male-dominated field (at least when I went to school), etc. But things are improving now, at least in chemical engineering. There are a lot more female chemical engineers than there were in the past. We are still not at the 50 percent mark yet.
Please tell us a little about your family. I have a very close relationship with my parents and they have been extremely supportive and encouraging all my life and made me into the person I am. My husband also has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering (we met in graduate school) and he teaches in the same department at Iowa State. So we are colleagues at home and at work. It is great to have a spouse who understands what you do and who you can communicate with about your work. My work is certainly a huge part of my life, so it is important to me to have a life partner who can understand what I am talking about.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals? My short-term goals are to establish myself as a strong researcher in the biomaterials area. My long-term goals are to be recognized as a leader in my research field and to help percolate the research to the graduate and undergraduate teaching that I do. I also have lots of undergraduate (and even a few high school students) involved in my research.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices? My parents - especially my father. He always encouraged my early interest in chemistry and has been very supportive throughout.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? Believe in yourself.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. I love reading, painting etc.