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Introducing our new faculty members: Ravi Prakash

Ravi Prakash is a new member of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

This profile is part of a series highlighting some of the new faculty members who have recently joined the Queen's community as part of the principal's faculty renewal plans, which will see 200 new faculty members hired over the next five years.

Ravi Prakash (Electrical and Computer Engineering) sat down with the Gazette to talk about his experience so far. Dr. Prakash is an assistant professor.

[Ravi Prakash]
Ravi Prakash is a new member of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. (Photo by Rob Whelan)
Fast Facts about Dr. Prakash

Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering

Hometown: Delhi, India

Alma mater: University of Calgary (Doctor of philosophy and master of science in electrical and computer engineering), IIT Madras (undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering)

Research area: Disposable sensors and micro-actuators, organic transistors, label-free biosensors, bio-engineering

Unwinds with: Tennis, squash, swimming, hiking, walking the dog

Dr. Prakash’s web bio
Why did you decide to teach?
My perspective has always been to solve a research challenge. I feel like I have always been a mentor, even during my undergraduate studies. I was engaged in activities where I could help students in junior years.
When I started my masters and had some teaching assistant responsibilities, I thoroughly enjoyed assisting undergraduates. Everyone has their calling, and it seemed like research and instruction is mine. I have enjoyed it so far – I must be doing something right.
What got you interested in electrical engineering?

I think what attracted me to engineering most was the eagerness to deliberate about real-world challenges, and growing up in resource-limited settings offered an excellent vantage point for that.

When I was doing my bachelor degree in mechanical engineering at IIT Madras, I opted for a minor degree in biomedical engineering and was looking to develop microsystems for biomedical applications. I realized there are more electronics to these systems than mechanics. I had a good background for the transition when it appeared the best possible department to continue research would be electrical and computer engineering.

In my past research, I have developed advanced chip technologies for conducting bio-assay and biochemical tests. If you think of any nucleic acid test, for example, you go to a clinical laboratory where they take a blood or other bio-fluid sample, and they do a host of clinical tests using expensive bench-top instruments to identify bacterial, viral, or other kinds of infections.

During my PhD and my NSERC postdoctoral fellowship, I designed molecular diagnostic microchips that did not require such large, expensive clinical equipment, allowing for potential low-cost and point-of-care applications.

[Ravi Prakash]
Dr. Prakash examines a polymer biosensor device. (Photo by Rob Whelan)
What do you hope to achieve in your research?

My research is more focused on physical and chemical sensors now, and less on biomedical devices.

I am looking to create disposable, flexible sensors and soft-wearable devices where a polymer patch on skin can detect analytes such as glucose level, lactate level, or levels of stress induced hormone cortisol for biomonitoring applications. Two of my current students are working on cortisol detection in sweat and saliva, and detection of different kinds of enzymes and antibodies using novel label-free organic biosensors, in collaboration with faculty members in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and the Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

There is a health management aspect to monitoring these bio-molecular concentration levels, but there are many devices already available to track glucose. What we are trying to do is offer a multitude of tests within the same device through smart, multi-modal sensor integration and implementing new data analytic tools. Let’s say you’re doing athletic conditioning – these devices could help monitor lactate, pyruvate, glucose levels, measure breathing rate, exhaled air composition and the like. Or we can monitor acute or chronic stress conditions in workplaces, such as the military or healthcare facilities, where chronic stress and associated conditions are a major concern.

I also have some tangential research interests in clean tech energy sources. We are developing bio-supercapacitors with a company in Ottawa which will use a sustainable bio-electrolyte product in small and large footprint energy storage systems. I have recently started working on a geophysical sensing project – which is more of a civil engineering and environmental engineering domain – but my interest is focused on enhancing near-field sensing methods for testing geomembrane integrity as part of my sensor research.

Are you teaching as well?

I have taught a few technical electives, such as sensors and actuators, and core courses in electronics and digital electronics. This fall, I believe I will be teaching graduate courses in biological signal analysis.

This term, I had a large class with about 270 students, which can be a bit overwhelming administratively. But I love being in the classroom, and I enjoy being in front of the avid learners at Queen’s who are both intelligent and willing.

[A photosensitive chip]
Flexible organic transistors like these are sensitive to the environment and must be handled with care. (Photo by Rob Whelan)
What are you most proud of?
I completed my undergraduate degree at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. IITs are world-renowned institutions and, if you have some idea of the population of India, you know the competition to get in is really rigorous. I believe we had about two million students take exams per batch. Only a handful – less than 2,500 – are selected. I was ranked around 700th nationwide.
I am also proud of some of the research I led during my PhD. We were developing some superhydrophobic coating for new lab-on-chip tests and other biological assays. At the time, creating such coatings was rather expensive. I connected with a research team in Athens, Greece and worked with them on optimizing a relatively low-cost technique. We ended up coming up with a very novel way of developing superhydrophobic coatings. 
Doing a successful, interdisciplinary project where I was heavily involved gave me a lot of confidence. I was able to combine my various experiences into fruitful research outcomes.
Since that time, I have formed new research collaborations in Greece, as well as some in the U.S. and Germany. I have exceptional collaborations across Canada, particularly in Ontario.
[Ravi Prakash]
Dr. Prakash sits on the steps outside of his lab in Walter Light Hall. (Photo by Rob Whelan)
How are you liking Kingston?
I love Kingston. There is so much history in this town…and I call it a town. It’s not really a city, is it? Coming from Calgary at least, it seems like a town…but there is so much culture and history here.
I love the Victorian architecture, the limestone buildings and the gorgeous waterfront. I miss hiking though, being in Calgary and near the Rockies, but I am planning to head to Québec City at some point this summer to get some hiking in. 
I liked the weather in Kingston last year. This year, not so much.
It’s still a transition as my wife transitions her work from Calgary to Kingston – when you leave a city where you have been for eight years, it takes time!
Other than hiking, any hobbies or interests?
I love swimming. I haven’t made it to the beach yet but I look forward to checking that off my list.
I enjoy racket sports – tennis outdoors, squash indoors. I also have a 11-month old black Labrador retriever which means a lot of training, walking, and other outdoor activities.

Faculty Renewal

Principal Daniel Woolf has identified faculty renewal as a high priority for reinvestment by the university in support of the academic mission. The five-year renewal plan will see 200 new faculty hired, which nearly doubles the hiring pace of the past six years.

Faculty renewal supports Queen’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by giving the university the opportunity to seek, proactively, representation from equity-seeking groups such as women, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and racialized individuals. It will also build on Queen’s current areas of research strength.

To learn more about the Principal’s faculty renewal plans, read this Gazette article. Stay tuned for additional new faculty profiles in the Gazette.