Dr. Nikunj Dudani

Can you say a few words about yourself?

I grew up in Kolkata, India and did my studies in Chemical and Mechanical Engineering in Hyderabad, India, during which I did a research project in biological micro-technology device development in Göttingen, Germany for around 1.5 years, and I worked in fine chemical industry for around 8 months in Hyderabad, India. With all the experience in designing and chemical engineering, I joined my family business in lubricant manufacturing to develop a new thermally stable lubricant, test production in a pilot scale plant and thereafter scale it up for large scale production. Finally, I moved for a PhD in aerosol technology here in Lausanne, Switzerland.


Did you choose your profession or did it choose you?

I definitely wanted to work towards new designs and technology in medical or environmental fields. Hence, working in aerosol technology is quite opportune. As an engineer, designing and making new devices for various applications has been quite intriguing. After finishing work on new product development in my family business, I was sure that, currently, I would want to continue in technology more than management side of things.


What does LAPI represent?

LAPI brings together atmospheric physics and chemistry using a mix of experiments, theory and modelling. The group’s expertise in the vast variation of atmospheric processes is admirable. LAPI’s unique expertise and history in new instrumentation measurement analysis with an excellent foundation in measurement analysis and its integration into large scale models presents an excellent opportunity.


Can you speak about the projects you are currently working on and other ones in the past?

My current project is towards developing a new aerosol sampling device for spectroscopy analysis. It is mainly towards designing and fabrication and needs consideration of various subjects, such as fluid mechanics, aerosol chemistry, spectroscopy and mechanical engineering. This fits well with my previous experience of device design for cryoimmersion light microscopy. Moreover, my work on thermally-stable lubricant development and scale-up helps with managing the multi-faceted aspect of the current device development.


What have been some of your biggest challenges?

In almost all my projects, I always feel that the part that needs most of my attention is understanding the question I am trying to address. Often, that involves asking more questions till I am able to reframe the starting question. Mainly, being able to look away and avoid tunnel vision, and seeing where the project fits in a larger picture is challenging and thus, demands the most attention.


What have been some of your biggest successes?

Straight out of my university, when faced with scaling up a manufacturing from pilot to large scale, I was apprehensive. Ultimately, using all my understanding of dimensionless numbers, reactor mechanics, I proposed a set of five changes to an existing reactor, new motors, new mixer blade design, new baffles, new heating channel and a new product mixing order. Overseeing this development and having the first successful production, was one of the most rewarding moments.


You split your time between teaching and research. How do you view these two roles?

I see research as a quest and teaching as a facilitator in this quest. Richard Feynman said that “… I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.” This idea of communicating my understanding clearly precipitates not only in whatever teaching I do for university/ personally, but also in my scientific presentations.


What do you enjoy to do, outside of science and research?

I feel healthy balance in life is important and I regularly participate in music, theater and learning, outside my work. I play the guitar, compose songs and sing since a long time now and am part of a band here at EPFL. For theater, I was involved in acting and directing in India and I have been with the “English Theater Company (ETCetera)”, here at EPFL-UNIL in capacity of an actor since the year of its inception. Largely, I spend a lot of time learning varied topics in physics, psychology, mathematics and biology, and exploring even very academically distant topics of visual effects, marketing, communication and paleontology. In the end, knowledge is expansive and I like grasping as large a chunk as healthily possible.


A free thought for the end?

Brain is an organ, and much like other organs in our body, has a defined process of operation. The only difference is that instead of acting on stimuli and producing externally observable motion/ reactions, it acts on mindset and mostly produces internally observable thoughts. Mindset is not “set” though and can be molded. Molded towards achieving a certain goal, using knowledge.