Exchange program opens doors for Mehta Rice Engineering Scholars

Students in the inaugural cohort accelerate research and develop professional networks.

Sikandar Bind and Srilekshmi Muraleedharan

In April 2023, Rice University and the Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta Family Foundation launched a partnership to foster collaboration between the George R. Brown School of Engineering and universities in India.

The Mehta Rice Engineering Scholars Program is an academic exchange program for Indian students that facilitates research collaborations among students and faculty. During the inaugural year of the program, seven students from Indian universities spent anywhere from three to six months in Houston working alongside Rice Engineering faculty.

Two Ph.D. students from the 2023-24 inaugural cohort, Sikandar Bind and Srilekshmi Muraleedharan, recently shared how the Mehta Rice Engineering Scholars Program has advanced their research and expanded their professional networks.

Sikandar Bind, a fifth-year Ph.D. student at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, was recommended for the Mehta Rice Engineering Scholars Program by his professor, Himanshu Sharma. He chose Rice University to further his research on the characterization of polyacrylamide for enhanced oil recovery in sandstone reservoirs.

The research facilities and lab equipment at Rice helped accelerate his research. "Spontaneous imbibition tests for oil recovery were readily available at Rice," Bind said. These tests allowed him to conduct core flooding experiments to study retention of polymers in the sandstone reservoir, measure the viscosity and viscoelastic properties of the polymer solution, and study the adsorption on the sandstone surface.

Bind also made valuable connections while at Rice—both professional and cultural. Through his Rice network, he met with a company to discuss his polymer research, gaining insight into how the research profession compares to a career in the industry. On campus, he experienced Halloween, Christmas, and connected with other students in the Indian Society to celebrate Holi.

Srilekshmi Muraleedharan came to Rice from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and is in the final stages of her Ph.D. program.

Muraleedharan is participating in cutting-edge research alongside Robert Vajtai, research professor in materials science and nanoengineering. While at Rice, her research focus is on developing an n-type semiconductor from diamond.

For Muraleedharan, one of the most valuable aspects of the program has been the opportunity to have face-to-face interactions with the professors. Among the Rice faculty, she has found mentors who helped her focus her research to support her long-term goal of an academic career.

“I could interact with many professors here and meet them in person to discuss what my research interests are,” said Muraleedharan. “This has helped me form connections that may lead to future postdoctoral positions.”

Muraleedharan participated in cultural experiences while in Houston, including the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and a behind-the-scenes tour of the NASA Astronaut Training Facility. “The NASA tour was an eye-opener for us all,” she said.

The Mehta Rice Engineering Scholars Program is open to scholars with research focus in quantum science, advanced materials, energy and sustainability, data science and artificial intelligence, and bioengineering and biological sciences. Research synergies will be directed by the Rice host faculty based on their current resources.