Meghana Bollimpalli: Student Researcher
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Meghana Bollimpalli to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Meghana Bollimpalli: There is an increase in the demand for energy due to the alarming rate at which we are using our non-renewable resources, as well as the increase in population worldwide. To address this demand, we need to find a way to store our energy. Supercapacitors are devices that address this demand, and are used in common applications like automobiles, medical devices and electronics. However, their applications are severely limited due to the $1000 platinum electrodes used in their development. The goal of this research was to replace the platinum with something cheaper to cut the cost of production. Working with my mentors and supervisors, I was able to find that combining common substances like tea powder, molasses and tannin with small amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen could produce an electrode that costs less than $1.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
MB: One connection that I was able to notice throughout my numerous research projects was that, whenever you do research, you must make sure that your research is both scientifically and economically feasible. If the product that you are making isn’t cheap, nobody’s going to use it. It has to be part of the economy that already exists. The same idea applies to this research. It is a breakthrough because the electrode can deliver the charge that it needs to for the supercapacitor to work, AND it is very inexpensive compared to many current electrodes.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
MB: One thing that is common between any discipline of research is that you are never going to get the answer on your first try. Despite how detailed your initial plan or procedure is, and despite how sure you are that your first idea will work, in the end, it never does. The same was true for this project as well.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
MB: I first got involved with scientific research in middle school, after witnessing numerous deaths—from waterborne illnesses—in rural communities in India which were facing a water crisis. Wanting to help solve the issue, I designed water filters, using inexpensive natural resources, and mailed them back to India to be distributed within the communities. Upon receiving letters of gratitude from the residents, I knew that I had found my passion. I was thrilled at the idea of using my research to make a real change in the world. Ever since then, I have continued to do research in the environmental science field.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
MB: One of my favorite quotes is: “If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough.” When I first started doing research, I didn’t have access to a sophisticated laboratory. I was 13 years old when I first started, but I didn’t let my age deter me in my interest in pursuing research. The first time I did research in a university lab, my freshman year of high school, I didn’t like that I might have to initially fail to get to that eventual success. I didn’t like that I wasn’t understanding every single thing I was reading in academic science journals. But, despite this, I stuck with it and persevered because research made me feel alive. My advice for young women around the world is to find your passion and persevere to make your dreams come true. It is okay to stumble and fall on the way because the path to achieving your dreams isn’t easy.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
MB: Without innovation, there isn’t anything new and without anything new, there isn’t progress or growth. Women in innovation are so important because by unleashing their innovative potential and encouraging internal diversity, we as a society can tap into winning ideas and push boundaries to find novel solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Women make up nearly half the workforce and represent a growth market more than twice as big as China and India combined; yet only 5% of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs. Gender inequality, restrictive stereotypes, and the lack of role models for female innovators around the world are preventing women from being more active in innovation, which is hindering global development.
Follow Meghana Bollimpalli on Instagram.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.