Small is beautiful, says nano-technologist Ashutosh Sharma. The things he builds under a microscope could one day give tiny cell phone batteries, a cure for cancer which is why he has been awarded the Infosys Science Prize for this year.
"A nano-technologist has nothing to do with the Tata Nano. But we do work with very small things, things 10,000 times smaller than a human hair," says Ashutosh Sharma.
He says no tools exist for things that are very small. But with electricity, pressure, heat and chemistry, he can control how things take shape at a microscopic level.
He claims that what people like him do in their labs, affects people every day. For example detergents that remove stains better, paints that save walls from water, adhesives that stick stronger, longer; they all have tiny little particles they have engineered to have those special properties.
Professor Sharma perfected a new way of working with these tiny particles and his work will soon spin off commercial products that will touch each one of us.
"Using my work, companies can make micro-batteries for your cell phones, better filters for pollutants. And capsules that take medicine directly to cancerous cells. They won't damage the rest of your body. Only your damaged, poisoned cells," he says.
It sounds simple. But it took Professor Sharma, 26 years to perfect the technique.
Born in Rajasthan in August 1961, Ashutosh Sharma studied at IIT Kanpur and Buffalo State University, New York, before coming back to India to do research.
Over the years, he's got unstinting support from his family and colleagues from across India.
Surprisingly, the fastidious engineer also is a gifted artist.
"Nature inspires every nano-technologist. Atoms, molecules and cells combine spontaneously. No one taught a lotus plant to repel water. Its cells learned that on their own. We mimic the same magic in our labs. Make tiny things combine. And do special things," he says.