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My serial research: Anusha Atmakuri’s Doctorate in Water Sciences

August 11, 2023 | Anusha Atmakuri

Update : August 11, 2023

Unveiling the doctoral journey: embracing challenges and empowering growth in professional and personal horizons.

Anusha Atmakuri, PhD student in Water Sciences

I was always interested in environmental sciences, primarily focusing on biotechnology and biomedical sciences during my early education. After two masters’ degrees–one in biotechnology and the other in biomedical sciences–I decided to pursue my quest for research further, and to undertake a Doctorate in Water Sciences at INRS, in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Drogui.

What is research according to me? Well, simply put, I believe, ’Research is unraveling the mysteries–the thrilling adventure of knowledge discovery!’

Well, the pandemic did seem to put a pause on my arrival in Canada, but nothing could have stopped me. After being remote for almost 8 months of my doctoral studies, I turned up here in Québec city in January 2021.

My current research touches the world’s population very closely: it involves finding an ecological and economical way of treating leachates, a kind of juice created by wastewater from landfill sites.

Landfill site near Portneuf.

Most of the world, especially Canada, applies landfilling as the main method for waste management. It has been a successful way to do so for many years. However, leachate is quite unsanitary and highly dangerous if not treated properly prior to its release into the environment.

From liquid waste to sustainable solutions: Cracking the code on landfill leachate management

When my director Patrick Drogui unveiled the project’s theme he was proposing for my doctorate, it was like stumbling upon a hidden treasure trove that seamlessly weaved together my passions and untapped realms of fascination, sparking an electrifying journey of discovery.

My project is called “Extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) production and its application in the treatment of landfill leachate in combination with electrochemical methods”. In other words, it focuses on the production of EPS from industrial waste by-products, such as paper & pulp sludge and glycerol, and on the use of these produced EPS to further treat landfill leachate, alone and in combination with electrocoagulation.

Electrocoagulation reactor cell with electrodes and connecting wires, being filled with landfill leachate.
The production of Extracellular Polymeric Substances (EPS) by shake flask fermentation.

By using waste by-products, we aim to contribute to circular economy and reduce the cost of EPS production, while dealing with waste in a sustainable way as opposed to just discarding them. Similarly, electrocoagulation was chosen as the other method in the combinatorial approach since no chemical additives are involved in this process–thereby lowering the amount of chemicals, while helping remove most contaminants successfully.  

If I have to sum up my topic in a quote, I would say “From trash to treasure: Unraveling the enigmatic duo of EPS and electrocoagulation in landfill leachate treatment”.Well, enough said about my topic of research!

Embracing the doctoral horizon: A journey beyond academia’s thresholds

The experience of graduate school is a voyage that leaves an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of aspiring scholars. It provided me with a nurturing environment to hone skills, pursue passions, and forge lifelong connections, while also fostering my personal growth.

Graduate school is not just about academics; it molded me into a strong, flexible, patient, and a competent professional in my field. From presenting research at conferences to balancing the demands of coursework and life; collecting samples from the field and conducting day-long experiments; all these events helped build my resilience, time management skills, and a sense of accomplishment that for sure would propel me forward in my career.

My journey at INRS transcended far beyond my doctoral project. I have worked on different spheres of environmental sustainability, for instance production of bioplastics from kitchen waste collection, or my project aiming at treating landfill leachate.

As an immigrant woman who is evolving and working in the sciences, and conducting research abroad, I am embarking on a transformative journey of discovery and innovation.

I also got the amazing opportunity to mentor new students at INRS from 2021 till date. Mentoring and guiding new students, here in Quebec City, has helped me grow and develop personally, in addition to rewarding me with a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction by making a meaningful difference in their lives. It has also sharpened my communication skills, along with helping me gain a fresh perspective on life.  

Well, all in all, the pursuit of PhD has been a rollercoaster ride, encompassing a whirlwind of emotions, ranging from stress and challenges to moments of profound joy and fulfillment. Approaching the final phase of my PhD, a mix of anticipation, accomplishment, and eagerness to contribute to my field fills every moment with excitement. With the thrill of completing my  education, I eagerly have my sights set on an exhilarating future of pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers in sciences.