Dr Sreeraj Gopi: A Scientist With Triple Doctorate aims to achieve Nobel Prize for India

Dr Sreeraj Gopi hails from Annanad, five kilometres further from Chalakkudi. His schooling too was from a Malayalam medium school, Saraswati Vilasam Lower Primary School. As there isn’t any Government schools available in this area, he had to enroll himself in the aided school. Sreeraj continued in this school till his Class 10. Son of Kovindankutty KN and Padmaja, he was born in Annanad and grew up there itself, as his father was an employee of Apollo Tyres in Kalamassery. Sreeraj has an younger sibling he too has doctorate in Chemistry! What an illustrious family!

Dr Sreeraj Gopi: Scientist with three Doctorates aspires to bring Nobel Prize for Science to India.

Sreeraj is married to an Ayurvedic Doctor, Akhila, who is also an excellent writer in Malayalam. She runs her own hospital. As early as when he was just four years of age, Sreeraj wanted to become a Scientist. Apparently, he was not sure about the reason behind his ambition. Nevertheless, he nourished that desire.

Dr Sreeraj Gop and his spouse Dr Akhila.

There was this library near his school. As he was not heavily built, Sreeraj was always an indoor guy. This was before the advent of television revolution. It was in fact, when he was in Class V, television was introduced. Those days, people in that area rarely used to subscribe newspapers. So, the young Sreeraj used to be a messenger, helping his father in fetching dailies and books from this little library right from Class II. There was this small science books published by Shasthra Sahitya Parishad. When he began reading these books, Sreeraj developed the passion for science. Also, there was a programme called Vitnjaanolsavam, organised by the Sashtra Sahitya Parishad. Right from Class IV, the young budding scientist used to attend these programmes with enthusiasm and verve.

By the time he reached Class VII, Sreeraj had participated State level competition of the same event. It was through this organisation, young Sreeraj learnt how to make a project and what are the things that needs to be gathered for making a project.

It was through the Shastra Sahitya Parishad did Sreeraj and host of other students received the foundation of literature and science.

“I think, we learned more about science from the Parishad than those which had been taught at schools,” Sreeraj says.

It was during that time, Sreeraj was able to try out practically at the Parishad’s events, the theories that were taught at school.

Also, Sreeraj and his associates had by then formed Bala Sahitya Vedi (Children’s Literary Forum).

“Now I am recalling that I used to contribute few articles in the publication. Also, I mastered the art of oratory through this forum. Now things have changed and where do we have the time and venue for public speaking,” laments Sreeraj.

Sreeraj had taken part in district and state level science quiz programmes back then.

By the time he reached his tenth grade, Sreeraj had fair idea as to which direction he should move. It was around this time, he had firmed up his mind that Chemistry is going to be his forte. He was so passionate about Chemistry. In fact, he had set up a miniature version of a lab at his residence. Inspired by Appu’s Science Corner (Little magazine published by Shasthra Sahitya Parishad), Sreeraj had set up a toy lab, which he preferred to call that way rather than terming it as a proper science laboratory.

Sreeraj pursued his Plus II at Aaloor near Irinjalakuda, RMHS School. It was here in this school did Sreeraj find the real science teacher in Sheena. Even now, Sreeraj is in touch with that teacher.

“As I did my schooling in Malayalam medium, transition to English medium at Plus II had lot of practical difficulties. Although, I knew the answers for the questions raised by the teacher, nevertheless, I was hesitant to answer the same in English. It was Sheena Ma’am who moulded my language skills. She created a great impact in me and she built humongous confidence in m,” Sreeraj points out.

And so Sreeraj began scoring excellent marks in Chemistry he also took part in various competitions for various categories such as oratory, quiz competition, play direction, story writing, poetry writing and more during this time, under the guidance of Sheena.

There wasn’t an item he would have not tried his hand, because the RMHS School pretty near his house.

“I was fully focusing only on Chemistry, while many of my peers were going for coaching to PC Thomas. He was never ambitious of appearing the entrance examinations. Also, Sreeraj never applied for the same. Back then and even now, perhaps, Christ College at Iringalakkuda is the best college in their region and after completing his Plus II, Sreeraj’s agenda was to enroll himself at this college for BSc Chemistry. I had fairly good marks in Science and Maths combination, nevertheless, for other subjects like English I had average marks. There were three choice we can opt for while applying for BSc. I opted all the three for Chemistry,” he says.

He decided that if he is not getting admission for Chemistry, he would not pursue any other course from that college. Mercifully, he got the admission in the first rount itself.

Turning Point

It was when Sreeraj joined the Christ College, that became a turning point in his life. It was the best batch in the BSc Chemistry section (2002-2005) because all the peers were great scholars. Also, it was the faculty in Christ College, who helped shape his career in Science.

When he joined the department, it was the best group of professors who were there in the Chemistry section. There was this Prof TI Johnson, who taught me the Organic Chemistry. He was the one who taught me the basics of Chemistry and further teaching Organic Chemistry as well. Even now, I have excellent relationship with him.”

Family Support

As I told you, my father was working in Apollo Tyres and ours was a middle class family. Then, now and forever, father is my super hero because he gave me the much needed support, when the word Scientist was unknown. Even today, my father is a great support. All the reference books in Malayalam, like that of Prof Shivadas, my father used to buy for me. This, he was doing apart from other household expenses. Despite having financial pressure, my father never hesitated to spend money on buying reference books for me,” Sreeraj fondly recalls.

Those reference books became handy for Sreeraj, as he was living at a time when Internet and Google Search Engine were unheard of. Those days, the dissemination of knowledge was only through the reference books. He says it was due to his loving parents and wonderful teachers he had Sreeraj was able to achieve what ever little he could (He has triple doctorate).

I have seen many a tutors including Nobel Laureates later in my life, but none were anywhere close to Professor Johnson. I have never seen an astute professor like TI Johnson in my entire career,” Sreeraj asserts.

“The efficiency of his classes were so superior. All we had to do was just to listen to his lecture and we don’t have to mug up anymore. For, that was his teaching skills,” says the excited scientist.

Besides that, it was this professor who was really yearning that Sreeraj to scale heights. Through his guidance, Sreeraj and other peers who not only took part in national level competitions but also won them all. He also advised them to join the best institutions in the country for the MSc Integrated PhD after their graduation. There was this institution by name JNSCR in Bangalore. Three of us applied to that institution. We were invited for the entrance test and we did attend the all India test. We attended the test even before the results of our graduation came. Eleven students were selected for this course and we three were in that list of people who were to attend the interview. We were so excited to attend the interview as we were all competing for just two seats. I reached the third position for the available two seats. I was disheartened and I eventually went to my paternal uncle’s house in Chennai. In Chennai I had applied in Loyola College, Madras Christian College and Presidency College. Also, I had applied in Cu-sat and Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala. I got into the rank list of Cu-sat and I guess I was in fourth rank. But Prof Johnson advised me to focus on Loyola College and MCC for the admission. So, I attended the test and I got selection in MCC. That was another turning point, as I was in a dilemma whether to choose Cu-sat or MCC. It was again Prof Johnson stepped in and advised me to opt for MCC and I didn’t think twice and I joined the MCC,” Sreeraj pointed out.

Sreeraj initially stayed with his father’s younger brother and it became handy for me to adjust to the dry and sultry weather. The professors of MCC were outstanding and that was one of the main reason to follow the advice of Prof Johnson in terms of choosing the institution. To my dismay, I didn’t see the kind of efficiency the professors of Christ College Iringalakkuda at MCC> Nevertheless, it was yet another turning point when I opted to pursue my post graduation in MCC. The exposure level I had in Christ College was way different in MCC. There it was semester system and the professors just came and taught us. In Christ, professors like Johnson used to take extra effort in guiding us. Also, the semesters weren’t so fast and we also got humongous opportunity to present several papers at a national level and subsequently our exposure level was pretty high,” says Sreeraj.

Now, the situation in Kerala is different and those who pursue MSc now have more exposure than before. Back then, we never had any sort of awareness about international conferences. When I reached MCC the story changed and we got ample opportunity to learn newer things. Also, we were able to visit prestigious institutions like CLRI and do projects. Another turning point while I was pursuing MSc at MCC was that I got an opportunity to take part in the Summer Research Programme at the Nuclear Installation which was under DRDO at Kalppakkam. Pan India, 20 students were selected and I was one of them. We got the stipend too for attending this programme. I just made a proposal and applied and luckly I got the selection along with stipend. For 45 days, I was able to associate under most modern science infrastructure along with the best research scientists. In fact, that was for the first time a student from MCC was selected for the programme. Students from all parts of the country including a student from Jammu and Kashmir was there at Kalppakkam. I was able to mingle with these bright scholars like one family and subsequently improve my insights to a great extend. It was in fact, the most inspirational moment back then,” Sreeraj beamed.

It was at IG-CAR (Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research) the programme happened. In normal circumstances entering the campus is impossible. Sreeraj and his peers got the opportunity to witness the research conducted by the best brains in the country. We had two batches consisting of 20 each students from Chemistry and Physics who were selected for this programme. I guess, even now, the programme is being run year on year. The problem with Kerala is the lack of exposure for the post graduate students. I cannot dream of attending this programme, if I had opted to pursue my MSc in Kerala. Later on, I realised, the advice given by Prof Johnson was apt and did a world of good to me,” Sreeraj reminisced.

He was all praise for his mentor, Prof Johnson. It was during the third semsester at MCC, organic chemistry was there in great abundance. I used help my peers by explaining the nuances of the subject because, I was thorough in Organic Chemistry, thanks to the efforts taken by Prof Johnson. It was not because of my superficial ability, I was able to teach my fellow students, rather, it was Prof Johnson’s mode of teaching was such that I was thorough in that subject. He was a man of veracity. He would delve deep iHnto the minutest detail and teach the mechanism of action. He was not merely teaching what was required for BSc. Rather, he taught us pretty much beyond that. He had already taught us beyond the level of MSc for those of us who showed inclination towards learning. That was how, I was able to give coaching to my peers at MCC. The Principal of MCC was Chemistry professor at the time of our batch. Although, he was a Malayalee, he was not fluent in that language. He asked me in an accented Malaylam as wo where did I pursue my graduation. It was a moment of pride for me when I answered that I studied in Christ College, Iringalakkuda. It was in fact, Christ College that moulded me with the basics of Chemistry,” he said with pride.

Sreeraj continued his research at the MCC in Organic Chemistry for his PhD with the stipend from the UGC. I completed the PhD from that college Organic Synthesis of Natural Product as main topic for the thesis. It was during then, he got an opportunity to go abroad for his research. Somehow, Sreeraj didn’t feel like doing so. Even now, he is not able to define the reason. It was some kind of fear that prevented him to make that move. It was immediately after the PhD, he joined a pharmaceutical firm as an employee. It was a dream for any Organic Chemistry student to join the pharmaceutical industry as he or she gets the opportunity to research on molecules. That was the time I got married and was wanting to relocate to Kerala. I was there in Chennai for almost nine years. My initial idea was to relocate to Kerala, pick up a job and go abroad for a post doctorate fellowship. So, I joined Plant Lipides Private Limited at Kolenchery, near Kochi. There, the R&D was not in place. I took the initiative of appointing few resources and set up an R&D. That was the time I got little more closer with Prof Sabu Thomas. In fact, my younger brother was the one who introduced him to me. Later, Prof Sabu Thomas became my most important mentor. I am greatly indebted to him. Right now, he the Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University. Even now, I have great association with him. He has one of the greatest scientist India has seen. At present, he has published maximum number of papers. He has network across the globe. So, I too joined the network. Having realised I too had talent, I started doing many projections through these associations academically, even while I was still working in Plant Lipids. Like that I started publishing several publications and books.

Dr Sreeraj Gopi with Prof Jozef Haponiuk

It was at that time I started association with Prof Jozef Haponiuk of Poland. But by then apart from Organic Chemistry, I had already moved into other areas such as Nano Technology. Besides gaining expertise in this, I also mastered in Material Chemistry. By the time I left Plant Lipids, if when I formed the R&D with two scientists, now I had 55 scientists worked under me and the company too gained lot of benefits. I had also started a separate Healthcare division called Biolabs, where I began publishing papers and inventing products. When I left the company last month, we have filed around 70 patents and also around 75 reputed journals across the world carried about our patents. Then, a fellowship came about from Prof Jozef Haponiuk. I informed him that I am interested pursue that. I submitted a proposal and and it was instantly approved by the European Union. So, I did half the work from Mahatma University and the balance work from Polland. Prof Jozef Haponiuk too is a great man, who was encouraging me like the other professors who had helped throughout my career development. It was due to the guidance from these masters I was able to do something, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish whatever I had achieved now. With the able mentoring of Prof Sabu Thomas and the encouragement from Prof Sabunick, I managed to complete the fellowship within two and half years. I went to Poland and wrote the examination. Again I went defended and I got a PhD in Nano Technology from Gdansk University in Poland. This is one of the oldest varsity. As part of the PhD I published six papers and I also participated three international conferences as well. It was when I had just completed the assignment and submitting my thesis, another university had offered another fellowship on Nano Drug Delivery.

Dr Sreeraj Gopi conferred with Doctorate by Deakin University.

I had earlier been doing Nano Drug Delivery in a small way at Plant Lipids both academic as well as industry collaborations. This fellowship offer came from Deakin University in Australia, which has higher ranking among global varsities. It has 31st position among the young university ranking. It was not simple to get a fellowship from that university. In all these university, if we are to pay fee and learn, it would have cost me fortune. But having done the fellowships through scholarships, I could do it without having to shell out money. Including thesis submission fee, this university paid for me. There was sufficient funding for me to attend few international conferences as well. We have to submit proposals along with our papers and only then the funding will be granted. Only two people from India got this fellowship offer from Deakin University and I was one of them. Again, Mahatma University had collaboration with Deakin University and that was how I got the opportunity to apply. I knew I will not be able to complete this fellowship under the mentorship of Prof Sabu Thomas. The degree at Deakin was awarded to me last me, that is my third degree. Before that itself, in 2017, based on my publications, positions and patents Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) in London conferred a fellowship on me. Now I can use FRSC after my name. Also, they conferred me Chartered Chemist, CChem status. I think I was the youngest fellow at that time. After that in London itself, the Royal Society of Arts selected me as a Fellow (FRSA). The Royal Australian Chemical Institute RACI selected me as Chartered Member. All these developments happened during 2017. The thesis of Deakin University was selected as top five percentage. The selection was based on the quality of thesis. Unlike our universities, Deakin University was really tough as lot seminars and internal presentations I had present and only after they were convinced, I was reaching the thesis submission stage. It was not like here in India as the chances of failing in the thesis submission was very likely. All these things streamlined my thesis as to how to go about it and how I can multi-task and stuff like that. All these are the contributions from Deakin University.

Dr Sreeraj Gopi, who aspires to bring Nobel Prize for Science to India.

Now that I am nominated for the Alfred Deakin Medal. After that I got lot of university collaborations. Lot of universities have offered job of visiting professor. For instance, universities like Deakin and Ddrans, MG University, University of Manitoba in Canada, etc…so my field has diversified to a great extend. I am doing maximum research on Natural Products. In it, I am also doing research on Nano Technology. I am also into Drug Delivery. For instance, Deakin University has selected me for Drug Delivery. I have to give classes often. I also have group research collaboration, where I have to share research ideas with them. From the Grnands university, Pure Bio Material, Bio Polimers and Nano Technology. In University of Manitoba, it is way different, where I have to deal with Natural Products, Pharmacology and Pharmaco Kinetics and Clinical Studies. Then there is an offer from National University of Malaysia, where I am in the payroll as a Senior Lecturer. With all these, I decided to leave the full time job concept, when all these universities offering me guest faculty position and many companies offering me to retain me as consultant. I was not able to take up full time job due to these offers. Then, By then I had also lost the thrilling factor after setting up R&D etc in my earlier firm. After giving six months relieving time, I left the Kerala job. Besides being consultant, I am also there as a member in many director boards of companies. Many of them are in the US and Europe.

Kitchen Chemistry, Authored by Dr Sreeraj Gopi.

I have also authored several books. I have published around five books online. All these books are meant for academic level people. They are research based books. I thought I will write a book in Malayalam for our own brethren in a lucid manner. I wrote a book and given it for publishing and Logos is the publisher. The book is in the final stage of publishing. The title of the book is Karikkootile Thanmathrakal, where I had written about interesting molecules that we use in the day to day cooking. Also, a book titled, Kitchen Chemistry, meant for non-Malayalees is written in English. I have completed the book and right now I am doing the proof reading.

As my spouse is an Ayurveda doctor, we established a Research Centre. it is an hospital cum research centre. Now I am having cohesive research on Ayurveda research with my own investment. In the first place, I don’t have time to run around for funding, I thought we will start this with our own investment. This will be the syncronisation of Ayurveda and Chemistry as the base.

Future

Like any young scientist, my aspiration too is to bring Nobel Prize in Science for India.

For, this is what the ultimate goal of each scientist. Nevertheless, I am not sure how far it is going to successful. I am not sure, given our present environment will be conducive for such a coveted prize. It is long time since a real domicile India scientist got a Nobel Prize in Science. As the meaning of life is itself based on trial, we can only try. Also, my aim is to continue my studies as long as I can until the end of my life. There are lot many things I do not have privy to. All this accomplishments are not meant to add academic qualifications after my name. It is not for me to add another degree and try for another job either. I consider these certificates as incentives. There will be a brief joy when I get it. The key factor is learning and not the certificate associated with it. Of course, certificates give us joy. Eventually, the joy fades because the joy lies in the journey to achieve the certificate. Once you get it, I am not sure whether we can sustain that joy for a longer period. When I got the Fellowship from Deakin, I was overjoyed. Once I obtained it, the euphoria had vanished. But, those things I had learnt will never fade from my memory. I would like to take another doctorate in Physics as well. If you ask me for what this is for, my answer would be, just to learn a little more.