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Young Women in STEAM Grant Recipient – Aruna Sherma

Physicist | Student | Medical Innovator

Meet 20-year-old Aruna Sherma from Germany, who is focused on developing an alternative contrasting agent for MRIs to replace the conventional agent gadolinium, which is toxic and deposits itself in patients’ central nervous system and tissue. Her work in 4 different labs helped develop her contrast agent and nano particles have played a big part in its development. Through a series of tests conducted by University of Hamburg, her contrast agent has shown to be biocompatible with a stronger effect in the MRI at a lower dosage than the conventional contrasting agent currently used. She hopes to further develop her contrast agent in the future to specifically target the location that is being examined during an MRI.

2022 Young Women in STEAM grant recipient, Aruna Sherma

Describe your STEAM projects/interests.

It is known that the conventional gadolinium-containing contrast agent are toxic because the gadolinium is deposited in the central nervous system and tissues. I have been working on my project for 4 years, where I am working on an alternative contrast agent. I have worked in different laboratories and developed a contrast agent based on nanoparticles. I have produced superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles and stabilized and characterized them. The stabilization consists of a di-block polymer matrix. In addition, a novel UV-EP technique of the University of Hamburg was used. The produced contrast agent was investigated by different spectroscopic methods, furthermore the toxicity was investigated by embryonic cells. In the measurements it could be shown that my contrast agent has a stronger effect in the MRI at a lower dosage than normal contrast agent, furthermore it could be shown in the tests that my contrast agent is biocompatible. In the future, I would like to develop my contrast agent further so that it is specific, i.e. not like the normal ones and distributed throughout the body, but depending on which location is being examined.

What/Who inspired you to get into STEAM?

As a child I read a lot of popular science books about quantum physics by Brian Green, which was a motivation for me to study astrophysics and especially quantum physics. Later, physicists like Werner Heisenberg, Marie Curie and Emmy Noether were role models for me, because they embodied what I imagine a good physicist to be. They were incredibly curious, creative and created incredible things. Especially Curie and Noether, the same goes for Lise Meitner. Noether is the founder of modern algebra and changed physics profoundly with her theorems. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle fascinated me as a child and all these stories and more had inspired me at that time to deal with physics.

What are some advantages you think being a female brings to the STEAM field?

Diversity is important not only in science but in all fields. STEAM professions are some of the better paying jobs. Especially in today’s world, where everything is digitalized, professions from this field have an impact on our time and development. STEAM professions offer high stability and security. It is important that this field does not only employ men, but that women can also take advantage of this field. There are not only men living in this world, therefore women must and should also have an influence on the development of our future. It allows women to actively participate and shape our future, technologies and research.

What would you tell young girls who are interested in STEAM, but too intimidated or discouraged to pursue it?

I would advise everyone to stay tuned and pursue their interests. Many things can seem daunting, but if you are really interested in something, then you can really overcome any hurdle and the most important thing is not to give up so quickly when things get difficult in your studies, because the beginning is always difficult, but it’s worth it.

What do you think is most exciting about the future of STEAM, and is there a specific advancement you’d like to see happen?

We are facing huge problems right now and I am very excited about how problems like climate change are being handled. What interests me most is the development of our modern medicine and medical technology. There is a lot of work going on in cancer research, quantum dots or modern drug delivery systems. Also an area where I am very curious is the basic research in physics. Only some time ago a picture was taken of the first black hole, which is a big step. There are still existential questions being asked about the universe that sound simple but are incredibly complex and far reaching, like what shape is the universe? what is dark energy?, the horizon problem, or what is the future of the universe? But what I am most looking forward to and excited about is the problem of the incompatibility of quantum physics and relativity. So there are still many problems that need to be solved.

Who’s your favorite female icon and why?

My female role model is Emmy Noether. Noether was the second woman in Germany to earn a doctorate in mathematics. She lived in an age where women were not allowed to teach or study at universities. She had to assert herself with all the men in order to be taken seriously as a mathematician. She had to flee from the Nazis and then taught at a university in the United States. Her theorem, the Noether theorem, is one of the most important discoveries in theoretical physics, because it allows us to look at
conservation variables in a completely different way. She is my role model because she had to assert herself as a woman in a very difficult time and received recognition for her skills from important mathematicians such as Hilbert. I admire her perseverance and passion for her subject.

2022 Young Women in STEAM grant recipient, Aruna Sherma