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Alumni Spotlight Q&A: Sampriti Bhattacharyya

Sampriti BhattacharyyaSampriti BhattacharyyaNamed to the Forbes 30 under 30 Class of 2016, Sampriti Bhattacharyya (’12 MS, Aerospace Engineering) and her startup, Hydroswarm, are gaining the attention of manufacturing leaders across the nation. Launched in Boston, Hydroswarm is commercializing the football-sized autonomous underwater drones that Bhattacharyya developed during her time as a PhD student at MIT. Her egg-shaped robots are capable of working alone or in tandem to map the ocean floor, inspect underwater nuclear reactors, search for lost planes and complete virtually any underwater surveillance task. Her startup has captured worldwide attention with its innovative and relatively inexpensive robot design.

This summer, Bhattacharyya graduated from MIT with a PhD in mechanical engineering and a minor in business. Today, she runs Hydroswarm full-time and is taking her technology out of the lab and into the ocean.

In addition to Hydroswarm, she co-founded the Lab-X Foundation - alongside two Buckeye engineering graduates - in an effort to help future scholars break down the barriers they face when coming to the United States from smaller engineering schools in developing nations.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an aerospace engineer?

When I lived in India, we had access to a couple hours of the Discovery Channel; I was fascinated by the show on the Mars mission. I always wanted to be an astrophysicist, but there were very limited options. After [sending] over 500 emails, I landed an internship in Fermilab, America’s premier particle physics laboratory. That was my first hands-on experience in cutting-edge engineering. I knew there was no going back.

Q: So after that internship ignited your passion for engineering, what made you choose to pursue your master’s degree at Ohio State?  

I knew Ohio State’s aerospace and mechanical engineering program was world class and well respected. I realized that would really open up the power of connections for me and give me a very new direction in life. Ohio State is very research-oriented, has lots of students, and I found it very appealing and wanted to experience that life.

Q: For your master’s research, you worked alongside Professor Rama Yedavalli. What did you work on?  

We used a particle accelerator beam to produce energy from nuclear waste. That process also made the waste less radioactive. Looking back, I did a pretty intense master’s project. I really enjoyed it. I was working full-time at the lab on the feasibility analysis and beam control.
My original plan for my doctoral research at MIT was to build the model system I had designed at Ohio State, but I soon realized the regulatory issues involved would be beyond the scope of this project. So, instead, I started working with Ford Professor of Engineering Harry Asada on a robot designed to look for cracks in a nuclear reactor’s water tanks.

Q: And is that how Hydroswarm got its start?   

I was an aerospace engineer before and even worked at NASA on flight controls while I was a student at Ohio State. It was only after the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight got lost that I realized how little we knew about the oceans. What excited me, in so many ways, was the fact that the challenges in deep water exploration are so much more than in space. I suspected our little robots might be able to work together to map larger areas.

Q: How does your nonprofit, the Lab-X Foundation, tie into your STEM and engineering interests?

Lab-X Foundation aims to provide hands-on opportunities and global exposure to students in developing countries. For the future engineers who want to break barriers of your own, believe in yourself, don’t be afraid to try new things and do something you truly enjoy.

- Excerpt reprinted with permission from Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering.