UC student inspired by his father to become an engineer
Varad Maitra dreamed of going to graduate school
Varad Maitra grew up in a small town in India where he watched his father work as an engineer. Seeing large machinery like tractors and trucks being built began his passion for manufacturing, higher education and the belief in hard work. Now a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati, Maitra demonstrates this hard work in the classroom, the lab and with fellow students. He was named Graduate Student Engineer of the Month by UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science.
How did you end up choosing UC? What drew you here?
Out of all the offers I had as a master's program applicant back in 2019, two particular aspects of UC attracted me more than others. Cincinnati is in the heart and soul of the Rust Belt of the United States (the region of the U.S. previously dominated by manufacturing), and because of that, UC is located close to some of the biggest manufacturing companies. As the inventor of the cooperative education (co-op) program, UC has ties with many giants in the industry. Also, the scholarship UC offered me, as well as the average cost of living in Cincinnati, made a lot of financial sense for me to come to UC. The sense of belonging I have here, the rapport I have developed with my adviser, belief in the research I do and faith that it'll all come together at the end of this is what made me stay at UC after my master's for my Ph.D.
Why did you choose to become an engineer?
Growing up, most of my role models were engineers. I've seen a 70-year-old grandparent of mine design and manufacture a carton packaging machine in their garage. I've seen an uncle rise through the ranks to become the youngest VP of a manufacturing giant out of Indiana through sheer genius. Above all, it was one fateful take-your-family-to-work day where I was introduced to some of the biggest and meanest roaring machinery I'd ever seen. At the time, my dad was the manager at one of the largest tractor manufacturers and I could see the epitome of "manufacturing" in that workshop, which never seemed to end. Just like in life, every component, big and small, played its part, and over a series of a few assembly lines we saw them come together and form a powerful formidable beast. Thus, began my love for mechanical engineering and manufacturing. I have loved being part of student formula race car build teams and have been doing my part to keep the "guy and his car" cliché alive.
Briefly describe your research work. What problems do you hope to solve?
My research focuses on a process called metal additive manufacturing that consists of creating strong components from fine metal powders. It has impacted not only the manufacturing industry but medical sciences as well. Small batch production of highly customizable metallic parts has made it possible to fabricate on-demand products ranging from personalized implants for patients to carefully curated fuel nozzles, but producing high-quality parts or parts with desirable quality metrics is a difficult job that requires trial and error. This ultimately increases cost for manufacturers and defeats the purpose of additive manufacturing. In order to deliver affordable implants to everybody and other low-cost end-user products, reliable predictive models must be developed for these metal additive techniques. Laser Power Bed Fusion (L-PBF), being one of the most commonly used techniques for manufacturing intricate parts, has been modeled in my research. The goal is to learn and apply existing knowledge of the technique to make informed decisions about common physical properties of the end product.
What are some of the most impactful experiences during your time at UC?
As a graduate student at UC, I have been fortunate enough to be involved heavily on and off campus. My most memorable experiences include serving as president of the mechanical and materials engineering (MME) Graduate Student Association (GSA). My team and I are organizing a one-of-a-kind research orientation for incoming MME graduate students, wherein more than 20 labs present their current research. This gives students a chance to make an informed decision about joining a lab. From the feedback I've received from students and faculty leadership, I take solace in knowing that I have been at least some help to fellow lost souls. In the summer of 2021, CEAS also provided me with an opportunity to be one of the organizers of a leading manufacturing conference, the North American Manufacturing Research Conference (NAMRC) and the International Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference (MSEC) hosted by UC. Another impactful and wild experience was the first home game of the football season. President Pinto hosted graduate student leadership at the President's tailgate and later at the winning game. Go Bearcats!
What are a few accomplishments you are most proud of?
I don't know if they qualify as accomplishments, but I sure am mighty proud of a couple things. One of the first courses I took at UC was a "programming" intensive course and unfortunately, I'd never had formal experience with programming software until then. I vowed to see it through and with resolute grit, I was able to program a self-playing Tetris by the end of the semester using the principles and software I learned in the class. Also, this past Christmas, I hiked the very icy Old Rag Mountain at Shenandoah National Park in six degrees Farenheit.
Do you have any other hobbies or involvements you'd like to share?
Apart from serving as the MME-GSA's president for the past two years, I have been elected as treasurer of the Graduate Student Government for the upcoming year. I am excited to keep advocating for the needs of graduate students at UC. I also serve as multi-cultural graduate representative on the Student Advisory Committee on University Budget, which is a committee that makes recommendations on allocation of over $30 million of general fees. Outside of campus, I have been volunteering with Bearcat Buddies to tutor math at various local schools. I also hardly miss a Bengals, Bearcats or Chelsea FC game!
Featured image at top: Varad Maitra at Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Photo/Provided.