Rama Bansil: Boston University’s First Female Physics Professor

Rama Bansil

WALTHAM, MA- Rama Bansil is the first female Physics Professor at Boston University. Working in a male-dominated field, she has been very active in efforts to broaden the participation of women in Physics and encourage children to pursue careers in science by doing outreach activities for elementary to high school students.

Bansil shares her passion for science with general audiences and has developed novel courses such as Physics of Food and Cooking to attract students studying non-scientific fields to appreciate the excitement as well as usefulness of science in their daily lives. She has supervised the PhD’s of seven women, achieving 40 percent female in a field where even today less than 15 percent of PhDs are awarded to women.

She has taught physics to hundreds of students at BU and also mentored numerous undergraduate students, including many of Indian origin in her laboratory. Her graduate students and postdoctoral researchers come from all over the world. She not only served as a role model to these students but has mentored them to help advance their careers.

She joined Boston University in 1976 after obtaining a PhD from University of Rochester, NY and doing postdoctoral research at MIT and Harvard. She has published over 100 papers including several in the most prestigious journals like Science, Nature, Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and has received prestigious awards such as Bunting Fellowship of Radcliffe College and Special Creativity Award of National Science Foundation.

Rama Bansil

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Rama Bansil: I am a physicist and an educator. My research currently centers around biological physics and the focus is to understand how the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers swim across the mucus lining that coats the stomach wall.  I love the challenge that comes from being a scientist because it lets me solve new puzzles all the time. I enjoy interacting with young students and researchers from all over the world and my job provides a great opportunity to travel all over. I love teaching and am convinced that it is only when you teach something, that you truly understand it yourself.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional group do you belong and why?

RB: I am a member and elected fellow of American Physical Society and am active in doing outreach activities to get school kids, ranging from kindergarten to high school, interested in science. A lot of my work involves mentoring college students at all levels and from many countries. The students who work closely me on their research are like members of my extended family and it is this close relationship that I value greatly.

I participate in volunteer activities such as fund raising for various organizations.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

RB: Reading, traveling, [and] gardening.

INE: In what way do you feel you have positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?

RB: As a woman working in a highly male dominated field I have played a significant role in addressing the many problems faced by women in science. As one of the founding members of the Women in Science and Engineering group at Boston University I have worked to improve working conditions for women so they can balance work and family life, participated in numerous outreach activities to encourage girls to pursue science, and physics in particular. I have also mentored women students at all levels to achieve their career goals and overcome difficulties.

INE: Your rare talent?

RB: Not sure what you mean, but maybe a strong mathematical ability.  On a lighter note, I have a good sense of humor.

INE: Your favorite books?

RB: [There are] too many to choose from- “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman; “A Thousand Splendid Sons” by Khaled Hosseini; “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh…

INE: Your favorite quotes?

RB: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” – Thomas Edison

“Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.” – The Dalai Lama

INE: Who inspires you the most?

RB: My mother- she had a profound wisdom and an amazing strength to handle adversity.

INE: The one person you would like to meet and why?

RB: Barack Obama, because he broke one of the biggest barriers and he is an amazing speaker.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?

RB: Do your best and help others to do their best.



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