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Sharath Sriram

Sharath Sriram: Innovating Advanced Semiconductor and Materials Science

Bridging Research Commercialization!

The field of advanced semiconductor and materials science is reforming modern technology, driving significant advancements in various applications such as electronics, energy conversion, and medical devices. This industry is focused on developing new materials and technologies that enhance the efficiency and functionality of electronic devices, making them more powerful, flexible, and efficient. Innovations in this field are crucial for the progress of wearable technology, medical diagnostics, and sustainable energy solutions, which are vital in improving everyday life and specialized applications.

Sharath Sriram, a Professor renowned for his contributions to this innovative field, is leading the charge of these innovations. With a passion for technology that began in his early studies in India, Sharath pursued advanced education in semiconductor chip design and fabrication in Melbourne, Australia. His academic journey led him to a PhD focused on creating materials that efficiently convert pressure into electrical energy, driven by a fundamental goal of enhancing lives through technology. This vision has guided his extensive research into new materials, electronic designs, and sensing technologies to improve healthcare and quality of life.

RMIT University and Science & Technology Australia have been crucial platforms for Sharath’s groundbreaking work. At this institution, he has developed a robust portfolio of flexible electronics, conductometric biosensors, and innovative manufacturing techniques. His work focuses on wearables and point-of-care diagnostics, ensuring these groundbreaking technologies are scalable and manufacturable. Through close collaboration with industry partners, Sharath has successfully bridged the gap between cutting-edge research and practical applications, making significant strides in the field of advanced semiconductor and materials science.

Let’s explore Sharath’s strategic leadership approach to technological transformations: 

Exploring New Materials for Efficient Energy Conversion

Sharath found technology intriguing, and the opportunities to make lives better—not just easier—were very motivating. He grew up and did his early studies in India at a time when everyone was going into information technology roles. He was keen to make and design the electronics that run the code they write, as he felt that would be vital and transformational.

In Melbourne, Australia, a unique postgraduate program in semiconductor chip design and fabrication attracted him. Through the program, the opportunity to work in a cleanroom and make devices, deposit materials, and go down to the atomic scale to change the material properties and device functions got him hooked.

Based on his fundamental value of making lives better using technology, he pursued a PhD in creating materials that are the most efficient at converting pressure into electrical energy. The vision was to gather energy from blood pressure variations to power implantable electronics and sensors.

That has been the foundation of exploring new materials, electronic designs, and sensing technologies that help understand the human body better, aid better living and aging, and develop personalized medical technologies with a focus on prevention.

Innovation in Wearables and Point-of-Care Diagnostics

Medical devices encompass a vast range, from the smallest device to the largest instrument, and from those within our bodies to those around us (and those we rarely interact with). Defining areas of focus based on their expertise was the first key challenge.

Based on their electronics and semiconductor expertise, they developed a strong portfolio of devices and patents in stretchable and flexible electronics, semiconductor-based conductometric biosensors, and bespoke manufacturing techniques. Their focus is on wearables and point-of-care diagnostics (in vitro diagnostics).

The other challenge is to ensure everything developed can scale to manufacturing. They worked closely with many manufacturing partners to understand processes they would readily adopt, and they designed their infrastructure on that basis.

Sustaining Bold Initiatives through Trust and Delivery

His leadership approach is based on three elements: a clear strategy, developing team members, and trust. With any initiative, the long-term goal or legacy the initiative leaves are the most important aspects that inspire him. He does not enjoy short-term wins.

The ability to imagine the potential of an initiative, make it tangible into a five-year strategy, and be able to define this strategy with clarity and depth on a single page is key. This lets people understand if that strategy aligns with their values and participate wholeheartedly.

Doing anything ambitious is going to rely on a team of motivated people. Developing team members becomes the biggest activity over doing specific work. Giving them opportunities to take risks, fail safely by providing security, and enhance their networks and growth leads to success.

He trusts them to do their best and to make the best use of resources and opportunities. This does not always work out, and the challenges that arise can be demoralizing. However, without operating on trust and the ability of people to deliver, bold initiatives cannot be sustained.

Nurturing Growth in the Science and Technology Sector

In Sharath’s opinion, “when working in advanced technologies, we have the privilege to see what opportunities are on the horizon. We can also see how this is going to change how we live and the related social and economic impact on society.”

“Alongside this, the developments rely on people. Ensuring the sector supports people’s growth and opportunities and keeps trained people within the system is important to ensuring successful outcomes.”

His work in science policy advocacy is based on these two elements.

In Australia, access to Parliamentarians and members of the public service is significant. Working with peak science and technology organizations, they can engage regularly and constructively to influence policy. He believes, “When you experience the positive impact of being able to change policy, funding mechanisms, or eligibility rules, it is inspiration to do more.”

He got involved in policy through the Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum of the Australian Academy of Science. He used that experience at Science & Technology Australia, the peak body representing all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics societies (and through them, 225,000 STEM professionals). Having served as STA’s Policy Chair for four years, he has the honor of being the current President.

Advice for Aspiring Researchers

Sharath’s advice to early- and mid-career researchers aspiring to make an impact in nanoelectronics, sensors, or medical technologies is to reflect on the values that drive them and stay true to them.

In his view, “being an early- and mid-career researcher is really challenging, as many aspects of life and career are outside one’s control. However, being true to why one got into research is important, as only that gives long-term satisfaction, as performance goal posts will always keep shifting.”

“Another trait that complements values is generosity. The way research works has pitted people against each other, whereas collaboration, sharing, and supporting get us much further.”

From Research to Commercialization

The ability to create or translate innovative technologies is underpinned by cutting-edge research. This research is what creates the technology pipeline.

His team tries to split both activities into equal halves. Pursuing fundamental research and related patents that would be the technology used in 10–20 years while creating rapid solutions for the needs of the market or their industry partners to commercialize products in 3–7 years.

Promoting Inclusive Contribution in R&D

In R&D, one can never predict where the next idea will come from. Most of the biggest discoveries in the world have been serendipitous.

Giving everyone the opportunity to contribute without barriers is very important. This includes opportunities to have a job, contribute effectively to discussions, and approach problem-solving differently.

Staying Abreast of Research

Being in research, the rate of publications makes it hard to stay abreast. Moreover, the volume of information available and the variable quality of the content make it challenging to separate the wheat from the chaff.

While following stories that appear in magazines and key scientific outlets, they find networking to be the best way to understand emerging trends. People are more willing to speculate boldly, which can help challenge and refine strategies.

Improving Healthcare Access

His long-term vision is to ensure that technology is used to make lives better, not just easier. Technology can ensure we can truly make prevention better than cure.

He would love to use the power and potential of electronics and sensors to keep people out of hospitals, help them age better and live healthier, and dramatically improve access to healthcare for remote or low-socioeconomic communities.

Defining Success

“Success, personally and professionally, for me is quite simple – I should enjoy, value, and see the benefit of anything I am doing.” adds Sharath.