2017 Finalist: ASTech Awards
PhD Candidate Facilitates Holistic Development of Student Careers for Communities across Alberta
When Tushar Sharma moved from India to Calgary in 2013, he described the change as a bit of a shock. Whether it was from the sweltering sun in Delhi, or the cold in Alberta, Sharma says he felt he was in a haze. Although the culture in Calgary was very different from the fast-paced life in Delhi, the people he met were incredibly welcoming and they adopted him into their community. As such, the initial shock turned to a smooth transition from his academic life in India to the University of Calgary.
Sharma was a Masters student in 2013 but was fast-tracked into the PhD program. Now a PhD candidate, Sharma is researching high-efficiency power amplifier design for cellular infrastructure in iRadio Labs at University of Calgary with previous ASTech Award winner Dr. Fadhel Ghannouchi.
Power amplifiers are devices located in the transmitters of cellular towers that boost the signals. Currently these power amplifiers faces challenges in efficiency and bandwidth. Sharma’s PhD work focuses on waveform shaping for high efficiency RF power amplifiers.
“We are on the edge of moving towards 5G and we will need higher data rates, increasing complexity of these RF systems,” says Sharma. “I am focusing on green solutions that will tackle these problems.”
Sharma is bouncing back and forth between Phoenix, Arizona and the University of Calgary to help create an industry collaboration between the university and the leading semiconductor technology company NXP Semi-conductors.
Making science accessible
Even before his PhD path, in Sharma’s first six months in Calgary he saw a need for a holistic approach that allowed students to interact with the community rather than solely focusing on their individual research and grades.
Together with a few colleagues, Sharma decided to create a program to leverage the skill-set of other graduate students to help high school students engage in science, through the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is the largest technical non profit organization aiming for community development, specifically science outreach in the Siksika nation.
This program led to formation of the Astronomy Research Training Institute. In the last two years, the team focused on creating programs that taught students from the Sikisika nation about radio astronomy and ham radios. They also taught students to build an optical telescope from scratch with support of teachers and community members.
“The idea was to facilitate more community involvement by making sure whatever is being done is by the students, for the students and of the students. The motive is to engage [graduate] students to develop the feeling in them the importance of contributing to community.”
Soon after the program’s inception, Sharma brought together principle investigators from NASA, Stanford Solar Center and the University of Calgary for a three-day camp to engage with the students in science outreach programs. Sharma said they used storytelling to bridge the gap between the culture and the science. The program evolved and now graduate students from the University of Calgary works with high school students exposing them to research oriented environment at high school level.
Sharma says the graduate students interact with the students using tools and experiments and even allow them to collaborate on research papers. Sharma and his team identified the need of educating people on use of ad-hoc electrification systems, which can be deployed after disasters and thus they ran training courses to educate people on using reliable low cost renewable energy solutions.
The IEEE team in Southern Alberta became the key example of utilizing student talent to foster the young professionals’ development holistically. The team went all the way from being the best Canadian young professional group to the IEEE best affinity group globally.
“In past year, I interacted with many young people came and it was more about talking to them, understanding their background, making that knowledge transfer and sharing and caring,” explains Sharma. “It was pretty successful. Alberta has an amazing pool of talent which can help us to build a scientific temperament in young generations. Depending on whatever need there, is we try to see how, as students, we can make a difference.”
Benefits of mentorship
Sharma’s passion for science outreach comes from his own experience of feeling he needed direction when no such programs were available.
“There were instances that I felt if I was given guidance at the right time I could have accomplished much more in my career,” he says. “You have to experience that and only you can feel it. It’s not from reading a book.”
As an undergrad in India, Sharma worked with high school students to introduce the concept of pursuing careers in scientific research. He says after those students finished their schooling and the program with Sharma, they began applying for their own undergrad programs.
“Some of those students are studying at Stanford University today,” says Sharma. “That kind of thing gives me real motivation. I used my energy to channel and motivate (students) to pursue their passions to accomplish things that I was not able to do.”
Now, Sharma is taking the projects he has developed in Alberta and applying them across Canada and internationally.
“All these things help me think, ‘how can we make a difference internationally and how can we take all that knowledge back to Canada?’”
Sharma says his next big challenge is to figure out how to build the future of next generation technology in Alberta. He also says he wants to use his passion to build platforms that engage the community to address humanitarian problems globally.
“We now need to engage our student community and workforce to think about technical solutions to those problems that can be reliable, scalable and cost effective,” he says. “These three factors together are very critical.”