Polymer Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Vasav Sahni


sahniDr. Vasav Sahni, Advanced Research Specialist at the 3M Company, discusses his career path since graduating from our School and how the Polymer Science program has contributed to his success.

How has the School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering (SPSPE) influenced your career choice?

SPSPE provided a foundation in Polymer Science, Soft-Matter Physics, Material Characterization etc. The faculty at SPSPE comprises of some of the best Scientists/Engineers/Researchers/Technical minds that I have ever come across. Learning from them and working with them has provided me insights and experience that are invaluable. In addition, my research at SPSPE introduced me to the wonderful area of Biomimicry - Getting inspiration from Nature to develop Technology, Products, Processes. As someone who has grown up in a big city and afraid of all animals (even dogs!), I cannot overemphasize how transformational that experience has been for me, personally and professionally.

The Biomimicry research I did in SPSPE resulted in publications in many globally leading peer-reviewed journals, e.g. Nature Publishing Group, which helped me secure a position as a Scientist at the 3M Company almost a year before I graduated from SPSPE.

How has SPSPE prepared you for your career?

The time I spent in the Department of Polymer Science was the beginning of my never-ending love affair with Science, Research, and problem-solving. The best experiences came through the research I did working with Prof. Ali Dhinojwala. My research was in an area completely new to me, Ali, and also the SPSPE - Spider Silk adhesives. Although unnerving, this afforded me the opportunity to learn how to navigate in a new, open-ended area without a fixed goal.

Instead of focusing on a conventional bottom-up approach - "what" can we do, we focused on a top-down approach - "why" are we doing this? This approach helped me eliminate the boundaries that we tend to perceive/imagine within the confines of a certain discipline and address this problem from multiple perspectives - Physics, Biology, Evolution, Materials, Engineering, Real-life applications, Cost, and Accessibility. I describe this in detail in my 2019 TEDx talk - "How I became Spider-Man".

I adopt this approach everyday not only for my work as a Scientist at 3M but also outside of that.

What has your journey been like since graduating from SPSPE?

Unreal! I joined 3M the very next day after I moved out of Akron; that is how much I enjoy my work.

I work in Corporate Research at 3M, where I get to develop a broad range of technology platforms for applications across multiple industries and end-use markets. My work at 3M is, in many ways, a continuation of my research at SPSPE - Biomimicry to develop Technologies and Products. Biomimicry has typically been unrealistic at an Industrial scale; however, due to my learnings and experience at SPSPE, I have achieved significant success in developing and introducing Biomimicry-based products and technologies at a large scale.

What is your career path now?

In addition to conducting Scientific Research and developing new technologies and products to help companies, homes, and people, I have realized the importance of advocating Science and careers in Scientific Research. One of my sincere desires is for everyone to understand and appreciate the importance of Science in their day-to-day lives; a lack of which results in an dismissive/aversive attitude towards Science and Scientists. Since 2016, I have collaborated with Discovery Education for mentoring Middle and High School Students and encouraging them to consider a career in Scientific Research.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your family?

In the last few years, I have taken a keen interest in learning/using different forms of communication. I believe that Scientists/Engineers need to learn how to effectively communicate technical information to a broader "non-technical" audience. It is critical in securing public engagement and developing sound policies based on Scientific facts. An unconventional way to become a better communicator is to learn Performance arts. In the last few years, I have been exposed to different forms of dance, acting, and stage performances. I believe this has helped me manage my fear of public speaking and become a better communicator; not to mention that it is incredibly fun!