This series highlights ABPDU alumni. We interview different alumni to learn more about their career path and what makes them passionate about their work.
Priyanka Singh was an intern on ABPDU’s fermentation team in 2015. Now, she is completing her PhD in chemical engineering at UC Riverside.
How did you become interested in science and engineering?
I was very fortunate to be inspired by my parents very early on. We always joke that I was raised in a lab. My mom was an early career scientist at the time, and my dad worked in the engineering field. They were very supportive and I was always very STEM-oriented.
In high school, I was really lucky to do an internship at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). I knew I wanted to do something science related, and it was at JBEI that I determined I wanted to pursue further studies in chemical engineering.
What brought you to ABPDU?
During the last year of my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at UC Riverside, I interviewed for an internship at ABPDU on the fermentation team. I started working there right after graduation and absolutely loved it. It was the optimal learning experience coming right out of college. I realized I had a very narrow-minded, textbook description of what it meant to be in this field of fermentation and bio-based products. ABPDU opened my eyes to how microbial fermentation can impact every aspect of our lives. There was overlap with the food industry — something I had never even thought about. There were a lot of projects where we scaled up processes from the bench scale all the way up to 250 liters. Seeing that scale of research was amazing.
Not only did I receive excellent fermentation training at ABPDU, I also had great mentors. The team was always providing me with career advice and helping me get exposure to different unit operations. It was like a training camp. I found myself wanting to stay in the lab all day because there were so many opportunities to learn. The team was willing to bring me into whatever they were doing so I could get valuable hands-on fermentation experience — something I didn’t have in my undergraduate education.
Tell me about what you did after your internship.
I worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory carrying out fermentations for lignin valorization for about a year — something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t worked at ABPDU. After that, I came back to UC Riverside to do my PhD. My whole thesis revolves around biomass pretreatment, process optimization and using various organisms to convert biomass to different end products; again, something that is very influenced by my time at ABPDU.
What are your career goals?
I want to continue working on sustainability with biobased, renewable products and renewable energy. I also want to work on science communication and science policy in that realm.
Through my internship at ABPDU, I understood the negative impact of the fossil fuel-derived items that we use all the time — gasoline or household items or even food products. This problem can be solved by replacing petroleum products and scaling up biobased products that can instead have a positive impact. It was very impactful to see how we can synthesize novel things just by feeding an organism sugar and engineering them to do something we need. Now, I understand how we can transform the way we look at our energy needs and consumption by creating new products that will be useful forever because we can keep on sustainably producing them.