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Chemistry Graduate Adding to BYU’s Good Name

Photo courtesy of Suresh Kumar

When Suresh Kumar’s poster took first prize at the International Symposium on Capillary Chromatography (ISCC), he added to BYU’s reputation as well as to his own.

Kumar, a recent PhD graduate in chemistry from New Delhi, India, spent his years at BYU studying new methods for early diagnosis of preterm birth (PTB), or birth before 37 weeks of gestation. His research received national attention at the symposium, held in Fort Worth, Texas, when he won the ISCC poster award and a $500 cash prize.

“It was exciting. I wasn’t expecting it,” Kumar said. “When I went there, I was ready to catch my flight when they announced my name.”

The presentation was titled, “Integration of solid-phase extraction and microchip electrophoresis for preterm birth biomarker analysis.” Kumar, together with a few bright research fellows, was able to create a miniature device that can read the components in blood samples.

“There are some important components in the blood which we can recognize on that device,” Kumar said. “Based on the concentration of those components . . . we can estimate the risk of preterm birth nine weeks before the delivery.”

One of the main problems with PTB, according to Kumar, is that it can only be diagnosed once the contractions start, and at that point it is too late for doctors to intervene. He is confident that this method of early diagnosis would help in delaying the delivery and could save millions of lives.

In high school, when Kumar was given three streams of study to choose from, he chose the science stream because he had a strong interest in biology. He discovered his passion for chemistry when he was receiving his bachelor’s degree in pharmaceuticals at the University of Delhi. With his background in biology and chemistry, Kumar said, graduate studies in bioanalytical chemistry felt like the perfect fit.

Kumar’s strongest counsel to undergraduates in his field is to learn with their hands as well as their minds.

“Be sure to emphasize the technical aspect of study,” Kumar said. “Whatever we learn in books, if we don’t apply it anywhere, we will forget it.”