Raman honored as Outstanding Young Alumna
The MechSE Outstanding Young Alumni Award is given to recent alumni who have achieved great things early in their careers. Ritu Raman (MSME ’13, PhDME ’16) was one of this year’s recipients.
Raman worked with MechSE Professor Taher Saif and Bioengineering Professor Rashid Bashir (now dean of The Grainger College of Engineering) to study the use of biological materials in mechanical machines. These types of materials give biological robots (“bio-bots”) abilities that synthetic robots don’t have, such as the capacity to regenerate following damage and exercise to get stronger.
“Biological materials sense and adapt to their environments in real-time, which means they are capable of complex behaviors such as self-assembly and self-healing. Incorporating these functionalities into mechanical machines is really exciting,” said Raman.
While at Illinois, Raman worked on a variety of efforts to promote underrepresented minorities in STEM. One such effort was developing the Young Engineers Initiative, a program designed to expose young children in Kenya to STEM topics, as well as teach them valuable problem-solving skills. Her work on this project was inspired by her international background and desire to give all children the opportunity for a good education, regardless of factors that are beyond their control.
She is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT, where she is studying how to incorporate responsive functionalities into implantable devices so that they can sense and respond to individualized patient needs. She hopes to continue this research in her own lab.
Concurrently, Raman is working on a book about building with biology targeted at an audience without a STEM background. Through this book, she said she hopes to share “the exciting science going on in the world in an engaging manner, so people know why scientists do what they do.”
In the few short years since completing her PhD at Illinois, Raman has been named a L’Oreal Women in Science Fellow, earned a spot on Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30” list, and last year was recognized as a top 35 global innovator on the MIT Technology Review’s 35 Under 35 list.
As a final word of advice to current Illinois students, she said: “Be proud of your Illini heritage, and tell people where you went to school. I think there is a tendency for people around the country to undervalue the high quality of education at a fantastic public university like Illinois, and it does us all a tremendous disservice… Say it loud, say it proud: ILL-INI!”