Sunita Satyapal
Dr. Sunita Satyapal
Chemical Engineer, United Technologies Research Center
CT
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Biography

Greetings! I am a Group Leader at United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) in Connecticut, where I am the manager of a group of 15-20 scientists, engineers, technicians, and student interns. During the 5 years that I've been here, I've worked on exciting projects ranging from fuel cells and hydrogen storage, to CO2 removal for space suits, destruction of refrigerants, and biotechnology. Most recently, I've worked on developing methods to reduce pollutants to improve indoor air quality, and my current passion is to develop and apply 'biotechnologies' outside their conventional realm - for example- imagine 'self-repairing' materials that would heal themselves if they were torn or broken! UTRC is the central R&D organization for all of United Technologies Corporation (140,000 employees and over $25 billion), and we get to work on numerous different projects in various industries. What I enjoy most is working with all the talented people at the research center and in my group. I also enjoy coming up with ideas and have been fortunate enough to have over 30 publications so far, 5 patents issued, and over 20 patent disclosures. I have to thank my advisors and mentors all along the way for the inspiration that they may not even know they gave me. I received my B.A. in chemistry from Bryn Mawr College in 1985 and Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1990. For my Ph.D., I worked on laser diagnostics in chemistry- blowing up molecules with lasers and looking at the atomic and molecular products with other lasers. I then decided to become a professor and was a visiting prof at Vassar college for 2 years. I taught 10 courses in 4 semesters, including general chemistry, quantum, thermodynamics, analytical chemistry, instrumental methods, spectroscopy lab, and more! It was fun and I enjoyed teaching but I wanted to do more research than is possible at a small school like Vassar so I became a postdoc at Cornell at the Applied & Engineering Physics department, where I worked on laser diagnostics in combustion. I got to work on destroying chemical warfare agent simulants and to look at the products inside the flame itself using laser ionization- time-of-flight mass spectrometry. With over 25,000 tons (unfortunately!) of chemical weapons stockpiled in the U.S., there is an urgent need to develop safe ways to destroy and monitor these chemical weapons. I've also been a visiting scientist at Cornell and Columbia universities, and at Hokkaido University at the Institute of Applied Electrical Engineering in Japan (thanks to Prof. Bersohn at Columbia, who is one of my most valued mentors). That was true science- I didn't know Japanese, the other researchers didn't know English, the laser manuals were in German- but we all spoke the language of science perfectly together! I owe everything to my parents' support- my father has a Ph.D. in agriculture and soil chemistry from Michigan State University, and my mother has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. Because my mother is a physics professor, she helped me and my sisters with our science homework in school, and she was the main reason all three of us turned out to be scientists/engineers. I was also fortunate enough to go to the United Nations International School in New York City, which had an advanced program that allowed us to go through college in 3 years. I'm extremely proud of my two sisters- one is an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard and just won a PYI (Presidential Young Investigator) award, and the youngest is an engineer with a background in ocean engineering, now working on ground-based satellite control! She recently traveled to France and a remote village in Malaysia to set up satellite control systems for customers. I also enjoy business travel. I got to go to one of our manufacturing plants in Italy three times to help them solve a technical problem on the factory floor (the Italian I learned came in handy!). Last year, I gave a talk in Switzerland at a conference to about 300 people and also went to Sweden and Germany to visit manufacturing plants. My main advice is to take as much math (first) and science (second) as you can at an early age (and at any age!)- and get 'hands on' experience through science projects and hobbies. Get as much summer work experience as possible. Do as many different things as you can. If you end up not being an engineer, that's ok too- all the courses will only be a plus when it comes to changing fields. More advice- keep asking questions and don't worry about whether they are good questions. If you're hesitant then use this rule: If you cannot think of the answer yourself in less than a minute, then go ahead and ask the question. Even if you don't have any questions, practice making them up. You'll finally get to a question you cannot answer yourself and then go ahead and ask it. You learn so much more by asking questions. You'll also find out what you're really interested in by the kinds of questions you come up with and by how quickly you come up with them! In terms of hobbies- I have many and one of my main challenges is finding time for them. I like reading, hiking, landscaping for wildlife, bird watching, gardening, learning languages (French, Italian, and Russian to start with), traveling, spending time with my family and our 'kids' (two big dogs and a cat), volunteer work, animal care, kite flying, painting, and writing fiction- just to name a few. One of my dreams was to live in a cabin like Henry David Thoreau. After saving for several years I was finally able to do it for 3 months after I finished school at Columbia. I lived alone in a relatively isolated cabin with 17,000 acres of state land and mountains on one side and 10,000 acres of private land on the other. I got to hike all day, paint landscapes, read, write, and think- no TV or radio or newspaper for 3 whole months! Even the snake in my kitchen sink and the 15 mice I had to trap (in 'have-a-heart' traps of course) and the porcupines eating the outside of the cabin were a good experience (I can say now that there are no snakes in my kitchen!). My overall advice is: if you have a dream- you have to try hard to make it happen and you have to take risks. "To live is to risk dying. To believe is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing". (An excerpt from the 'President's Newsletter' from Phi Delta Kappa (November 1982)) Good luck! Feel free to email me with questions. UTC website: www.utc.com/

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Latest Questions
  • Amy, Kansas City asked Sunita Satyapal, United Technologies Research Center

    Added Friday, August 26, 2016 at 3:23 PM

    I have a question about your job. So what is the most important part of your job and how much time do you get to be with your family? I think it may be very hard to keep up please answer me back thank you
    Related to Internships & Jobs, Unique Challenges
    Answers 1
    Sunita Satyapal, United Technologies Research Center
    Answered Friday, August 26, 2016 at 3:23 PM

    Hi,

    The most important and rewarding part of my job is the ability to have an impact by setting the strategy and direction of our research and development program. Enabling world class scientists and engineers to solve the energy challenges of our ...

    Read More
  • Tanya, India

    Added Friday, May 27, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    I am pursuing chemical engineering right now. I am really interested in drafting and I love the subject of chemical reaction engineering. I know chemical engineers can enter a variety of fields. But can you suggest me what job prospect, with the subjects I like, would be suitable for me ?
    Answers 1
    Sunita Satyapal, United Technologies Research Center
    Answered Friday, May 27, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    Hi Tanya,

    While “drafting” alone may not be the most applicable, the fact that you love the subject of chemical reaction engineering is great. There are lots of areas you can work in. Examples include managing plant processes and designing ...

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  • Kikuye, Fairfield, California

    Added Friday, March 27, 2015 at 7:48 PM

    As of recent I've been looking into engineering as a possible career for me. I was really looking at chemical engineering. My only concern is getting bored or being stuck behind a desk. I'm one of those people who gets easily bored on a daily. one of my biggest fears is being stuck behind a desk for the rest of my life. So here's my real question, as an engineer do you sit behind a desk all day or do you actually get to go into a lab? What do you really do as an engineer?
    Answers 1
    Sunita Satyapal, United Technologies Research Center
    Answered Friday, March 27, 2015 at 7:48 PM

    Hi Kikuye,

    It’s great to hear your enthusiasm. You certainly don’t have to be stuck behind a desk all the time if you choose a career in chemical engineering. Though most people spend at least some time at their desks (i.e. computers), I ...

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