Dr Purnendu (Sandy) Dasgupta
Hamish Small Chair in Ion Analysis in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
University of Texas at Arlington
Dr Purnendu Dasgupta was raised in India, where his father provided a strong STEM influence. The senior Dasgupta was a Physician by training and a Professor of Pharmacology. As a high school student, Sandy saved his weekly allowances to fund his personal electrochemistry projects. He received his Bachelor’s degree with Honors in Chemistry from the University of Burdwan, being recognized as a National Science Talent Search Scholar. He continued his studies at Burdwan, earning a MSc degree in Inorganic Chemistry. He then attended the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Sciences (IACS) in Calcutta as a research scholar with Professor Santi R. Palit in Physical Chemistry. Sandy described this as a “wonderful opportunity” where his research interests included electrochemistry and he was part of Professor Palit’s discovery that Farday’s Laws of Electrolysis are likely only limiting laws.
Sandy joined the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University as a doctoral student in 1973, hoping and assuming that he would be a student of Professor Paul Delahay, a renowned electrochemist. Upon arrival in Baton Rouge, however, he learned that Delahay had already left for NY. He joined another group, but the research he was engaged in did not indulge his personal interests that he had originally discussed with his advisor. “The relationship between my new supervisor and me was uncertain … and deteriorated with time. By mid-1975, I was in a state of utter depression. I did not see either much meaning or purpose in the work I was doing and I found it increasingly difficult to get along with my mentor. It finally got to a point that I decided to quit altogether and discussed the possibilities of finishing with a master’s degree with the departmental graduate advisor.”
Instead, Sandy found a savior in Professor Philip W. West, with whom he completed his PhD. Although there was not much electrochemistry in the research, Sandy had enjoyed and excelled in Professor West’s class and felt motivated to continue in a new environment. “I was entrusted with a challenging task: the specific determination of airborne sulfates and aerosol sulfuric acid. Considerable concern existed at the time in much of the United States on the aftermath of the mandatory installation of oxidative afterburners (referred to as "catalytic converters") in all new automobiles. Specifically the issue was that the sulfur present in the fuel, and thus in the exhaust gas as sulfur dioxide, will be efficiently oxidized to sulfur trioxide. Submicron size aerosol sulfuric acid is generated instantly as sulfur trioxide contacts ambient air and constituted (at least, what was then perceived to be) a major hazard.”
In 1977, Sandy successfully completed his PhD and was offered a position as a postdoc/instructor in the Department, which he was pleased to do for about a year, until a large multidisciplinary research program at the University of California at Davis (UCD) offered him a position as a research chemist. It was easy for Sandy to make the move because the UCD team was building on the work he had done with Professor West at LSU. A delighted Sandy reminisced, “I had no second thoughts about accepting the position at UCD. It brought me the exposure to a new world: the multidisciplinary study of inhalation toxicology --the generation and characterization of aerosols and an understanding of their properties, large-scale dilution systems and animal exposure investigations, respiratory physiology and smatterings of anatomy, biochemistry and immunology. Some of the aerosol generation and chemical characterization work was highly challenging and helped to unravel the pitfalls previous workers had suffered from.” In 1981, Sandy began his independent career as a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX. He rose through the ranks to become the Paul Whitfield Horn Professor and had a joint appointment with the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He retains adjunct status in his former departments at Texas Tech.
In 2007, Dasgupta moved to the University of Texas, Arlington, as Chair of the Department; he served a three year term in that role. Today, Sandy Dasgupta is the Jenkins Garrett Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Hamish Small Chair in Ion Analysis at the University of Texas at Arlington. When asked about advice he would like to give prospective and current graduate students, he replied, “Take as many courses as you can outside your mainstream of interest - you will be rewarded! (Would you believe I took courses in Underwater Acoustics and Antenna Theory? The one that really has paid off is swimming, I did not know how to swim when I came to graduate school :-), literally and figuratively.”
Sandy Dasgupta (left) and Philip West (right)
Profile contributed by Ashley Taylor and Carol Taylor