This Senior is Going to Stanford

Hari Ravichandran, a senior, was recently accepted at Stanford.

One recent evening, Hari Ravichandran took a break from his studies to check his email. He had been working hard on a senior project and was exhausted. But what he read in his email energized him.

Subject: Congratulations - Stanford Chemical Engineering Master's Program

He paused to absorb the “congratulations” and then read the first sentence of the email:

Dear Hari,

I am pleased to inform you that you have been admitted to the Department of Chemical Engineering at Stanford to pursue a Master’s degree starting in fall 2016.

At that point he stopped reading and called his parents.  

“My mom was excited when I told her,” recalls Hari, a senior majoring in chemical engineering in the Albert Dorman Honors College.  “She said, ‘Oh, my boy got into Stanford. My boy got into Stanford.’”

Hari is a marvelous student and once you know a bit about his background you’ll understand why Stanford, the most selective college in the nation, accepted him. He graduated from High Technology High School in Lincroft, which, according to U.S. News & World Report, is the top-ranked high school in the nation for science and technology.

While still in high school, he did an internship at Bell Labs, helping to develop a model for a high-speed semiconductor device. And at NJIT, under the direction of Professor Edward Dreizin, he did research to develop a compound that could have military applications.

He also did an internship at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where he researched how to improve the safety and performance of lithium ion batteries; the research has applications for cell phones, laptops and electric cars. He also did a second internship at Merck, where he helped develop a novel drug delivery system.

But what’s more impressive about Hari is his commitment to service. During his junior year, he won a Congressional Award Gold Medal for community service. It’s the highest congressional honor a student can receive for community involvement. He's also committed to developing alternative energy sources, and one day is likely to be a leader in that field.

In this Q&A, Hari talks about his successes at NJIT and his plans for Stanford.

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Can you talk about your interest in research?

Since I was a child, I have had an  interest in alternative energy. During my sophomore year in high school, I did a research project in the field of water electrolysis, which supports alternative energy storage. I continued doing this research through high school and it culminated with me achieving an electrolysis efficiency that was 30 percent higher than existing industrial setups. Furthermore, I entered my projects into several research competitions, where I won regional awards. Due to my positive experiences with this research, I chose chemical engineering as my undergraduate major.

What about chemical engineering and research?

At NJIT, I enjoyed my four years as an undergraduate chemical engineering student. My favorite classes were Kinetics and Reactor Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Fluid Flow. I enjoy the challenge of taking apart a chemical engineering problem, understanding the concepts behind it and figuring out the solution. I have also had the opportunity to do research with Professor Edward Dreizin, whose areas of expertise include energetic materials and solid fuels. While doing research with Professor Dreizin, I applied what I learned in classes such as Thermodynamics and Chemical Process Calculations to conduct experiments and analyze the results.

Can you discuss your internship with the Navy?

My sense of fulfillment doing research with Professor Dreizin led me to do an internship at the Naval Research Laboratory, where I worked on lithium-ion battery safety. Doing that research was a new experience for me, since materials science was involved as much as chemical engineering. I enjoyed the challenge of learning a new field, and was able to determine which membrane separators performed best in a lithium-ion battery. I also mathematically modeled the growth of lithium dendrites in a lithium-ion battery. These results have extensive applications in battery safety, two of them being mobile devices and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane.

You also interned at Merck, right?

After doing the naval research, I wanted to try a new field, so I accepted an internship at Merck, in Kenilworth, New Jersey. There, I helped develop a novel drug delivery system, one that would incorporate many pharmaceutical ingredients into a single delivery mechanism, and make it easier for patients to follow a dosage schedule. I enjoyed this internship, and it showed me another way that I could use my chemical engineering skills to help people. It could help patients by making it more convenient for them to take their tablets, and to pack several drug ingredients into one novel system instead of multiple tablets.

Can you discuss the work you did as a student representative?

This year, the accomplishment I am proudest of is my work on Student Senate as chemical engineering representative. At the beginning of the semester, I sent a survey to all the students in our department; I got 42 responses. I presented the results to our department chair, at the chemical engineering department meeting, and to the dean of the Newark College of Engineering. In response to student concerns, the department added sections to six classes, making for much smaller class sizes. The department also hired two new professors and added a required safety course to the curriculum, all within the past year. I would like to thank Professor Lisa Axe, interim chair of the chemical engineering department, for all of her help during my time as chemical engineering representative. I also wrote a chemical engineering handbook giving students tips on how to succeed in our major, which will be distributed to future students.

What do you like about community service?

For me, giving back and helping others succeed is an extremely rewarding experience. NJIT has provided me with a wealth of opportunities, and I would like to give back to this community that has done so much for me.

What will you focus on at Stanford?

I believe that the foundation in chemical engineering and research that I gained during my undergraduate education and my internships has positioned me to be a successful graduate student at Stanford University. I am now deciding between two different concentrations: biochemistry and bioengineering, and materials science. A concentration in biochemistry and bioengineering will enable me to help formulate new drugs to combat diseases such as cancer, while a materials science concentration will enable me to engineer new materials for applications in renewable energy.

Last thoughts on NJIT?

I have really enjoyed my four years here, and honestly, the time has really flown by. At NJIT, I have had the opportunity to perform well academically, serve on the executive board of The Vector, help others to realize their full potential and strengthen our chemical engineering department. But most importantly, I am grateful to have had fantastic professors and friends at NJIT with whom I can stay in touch. I am confident that NJIT has provided me with a very solid foundation in chemical engineering and positioned me to be successful at Stanford.

By Robert Florida (robert.florida@njit.edu)