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New Faculty Member Exploring How Polymer Science Can Improve Your Well-Being

Dr. Januka Budhathoki-Uprety in lab

Written by Nicholas Wommack, Supply Chain Management, Poole College of Management

The Wilson College of Textiles would like to introduce Dr. Januka Budhathoki-Uprety – one of its newest faculty members. With a career forged from nature and polymer science, Budhathoki-Uprety is analyzing how the utilization of textiles can make a dent in the healthcare industry. With her previous experiences in polymer science and nanotechnology fields while at NC State University as well as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), Budhathoki-Uprety is no stranger in her areas of research.

With a natural-born sense of wonder, an abundance of knowledge and a willingness to share discoveries with the world, Budhathoki-Uprety is a welcome addition to NC State. To gain a better understanding of her, we reached out to the new assistant professor and asked a few questions:

You have a strong interest in biomedical polymers, nanomaterials, and medical textiles development. What made you want to begin your expertise in this area as opposed to others?
Polymers and nanomaterials have huge potential in modern technologies in healthcare, environment and other areas of societal needs. A fundamental understanding of chemistry of those classes of materials is instrumental in developing novel materials that can be employed to improve the quality of life. To begin with, I joined the graduate program here in the Chemistry Department at NC State where I gained my expertise in polymer chemistry. In my postdoctoral research, I focused on nanomaterials synthesis and their applications towards disease diagnosis, monitoring and therapy. The fundamental knowledge that I gained from those experiences can be utilized to biomedical textiles research. My research is multidisciplinary and spans in various fields such as chemistry, polymer science, nanotechnology and biology.

What made you want to work for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center after receiving your Ph.D. from NC State?
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cener (MSKCC) is the world’s most renowned place for cancer treatment and research. The resources at MSKCC are incredible for conducting research that makes an important impact on human health. I had research interest in chemistry, biology, and material-bio interface.

…I became more interested in the textiles area as I found that it is one of the fastest growing fields…

After my graduate training in the areas of organic synthesis and polymer chemistry, I wanted to be involved in a research project to find applications of novel synthetic materials for biomedical applications. I was looking for such an opportunity for my postdoctoral training, and I found Dr. Daniel Heller’s bio-nano engineering laboratory at MSKCC, a suitable place. I feel very fortunate to get my postdoctoral training at MSKCC.

When did you begin to develop an interest in textile research? What drew you to it?
My graduate research was focused on polymer chemistry and I worked in the areas of nano-biomaterials in my postdoctoral training. Since polymers and nanomaterials are versatile and find a wide range of applications in many areas including textiles, I had some interest in this field during my time in graduate school. Later, when I started searching for applications of macromolecules in diverse fields, I became more interested in the textiles area as I found that it is one of the fastest growing fields with utilization ranging from simple clothing and household supplies (e.g; bed linen, carpets, blankets, towels, etc.) to smart materials for energy harvest and biomedical uses like implantable devices, substrates for tissue regeneration, therapeutic materials, protective clothing / apparel for first responders and individuals under extreme environmental conditions (such as high dust, infectious disease (e.g.; influenza / flu), etc. ), wearables for disease diagnosis and health monitoring, etc. Polymers and fibers are used as key materials in almost all of these aforementioned products. Given my expertise in polymer science and nanotechnology, and interest in interdisciplinary research, I regard this as an excellent opportunity.

What advice do you have for those wanting to begin a career in textiles (or follow in your footsteps)?
Textiles are regarded as one of the key indicators of progress to civilization. Although the major use of textiles in the past was to provide protection and comfort for the human body, these days the ever growing field is embracing a fascinating step in evolution. Modern textiles utilize cutting-edge science, engineering, technology and state of the art instrumentation. Textile science is highly interdisciplinary and requires expertise from many disciplines such as chemistry, material science, biology, engineering and physics to name just a few in order to achieve novel and high-impact progress. It takes a village from design to develop products and reach consumers. Together with diverse expertise, we can have a greater understanding to address societal needs. Young scientists, technologists and engineers all have opportunities in this field to grow professionally and impart positive impact.

Together with diverse expertise, we can have a greater understanding to address societal needs.

How does it feel to know that you’ve published academic journals that have been cited by hundreds across the nation?
Publications in academic journals show recognition of someone’s work by their peers and is considered an important asset within the academic community. It also aids us in scientific networking to refine new ideas and establish new collaborations. However, publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals is becoming a challenge. It requires a lot of efforts and resources; novel findings in the fields, the valid methods and technologies that strongly support science through various results, and a well-communicated format of research presentation. It is a moment of pride for researchers when their articles get published and cited. I feel honored that my work is gaining more recognition from fellow scientists.

With your knowledge, skills and expertise, why choose NC State over any university in the world?
NC State University has an outstanding record for teaching and research. As a graduate from the Department of Chemistry, I had an excellent experience at NC State. The atmosphere of interdisciplinary research excites me and I am looking forward to working with many of the great individuals on campus and across the triangle area to Think and Do the Extraordinary.

What drew you to the Wilson College of Textiles to teach?
The Wilson College of Textiles has quality academic programs with a dedicated team of staff and interdisciplinary faculty engaged in multi-disciplinary, collaborative scientific research that is directed towards solving real-world problems with research and industry partnerships. This allows me to have fruitful interaction and establish collaboration in my key research projects with my colleagues who have diverse expertise. I am also very passionate about teaching. At Kathmandu Model College, Nepal, I was a teacher and academic program coordinator and thoroughly enjoyed my job. The teaching / learning environment at the Wilson College of Textiles is such that its students get all the opportunities and resources that a well-known large university has to offer; and at the same time they also get close mentorship and support. I believe this is the kind of environment that helps students to explore their potential the most. My colleagues here at the Wilson College of Textiles have worked tirelessly to make this happen and I am excited to join the team to mentor, inspire and support our students to equip them with the knowledge and crucial skill sets that are necessary to lead the diverse world.

I believe this is the kind of environment that helps students to explore their potential the most.

What are your plans for the future regarding your career?
To be an excellent mentor, inspiring teacher and a leader in my field of research.

What is your vision for creating a research program capable of making new advances in polymer science and bio-medicine here?
NC State has a graduate (Ph.D.) program in Fiber and Polymer Science (FPS) in the Wilson College of Textiles. A number of renowned faculties are involved in cutting-edge research in biomedical areas such as biomedical textiles, polymers and wearable sensors for health monitoring, from computation to material development and testing. Since polymers are one of the most widely used materials in daily life –  fulfilling our basic needs to assist ultra-modern technologies including, but not limited to: smart materials, wearable devices, artificial organs, self-powered vehicles, etc., our FPS program is becoming even more valuable than ever. If we look at the healthcare sector alone, there is an immediate need of bio-friendly polymers for implantable devices in tissue regeneration, artificial organs, drug delivery and biosensors; and NC State has displayed such potential to lead. With our location in the academic hub surrounded by industrial research facilities including RTP, we have a unique opportunity to further develop our program and be a leader in polymer science and biomedicine.