Loving Chemistry



She’s got the highest degree that can be awarded in science, the DSc or the Doctor of Science degree, and has devoted 31 years of her life to teaching chemistry. Her field is radio and nuclear chemistry, and she is in complete love with it. At a time when very few women dared to go out of the realm of the usual categories in everything, not just academics, Dr Zarine Rustom Turel forayed into chemistry and specialised in bio inorganic chemistry, environmental chemistry and nano materials. And now, she’s seated comfortably in her room at Shri Vile Parle Kelavni Mandal’s Mithibai College, where currently she is an adjunct professor, and enjoying every bit of her stint.

“During those day, like any other science student, my first love was surgery, but again, like many, I could not secure admission in the field. Chemistry was my second choice,” says the lady who was just conferred with the Tata Chemicals Honour for Distinguished Service to Chemistry Education. The awards are dedicated to the International Year of Chemistry – 2011. Dr Turel has won many awards and received several recognitions in the span of her career, but this one, she says, is doubly special for her. “Both my father and grandfather have worked with TATA at different points, and now receiving such a distinguished honour from the same company is a matter of pride for me,” says the endearing professor. She’s also quick to point out that her children, in a lighter vein, complimented her by saying, “You’re appetite for awards is never getting satisfied!”

After a few other jokes and exchanges, Dr Turel gets serious about chemistry. “I was overjoyed when I heard UNESCO declared 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry. At the time of the announcement, I was a part of a team working on a national level conference on the role of chemistry in health and diseases. This conference was among the first events to celebrate the year,” she informs.

Apart from being engaged in teaching, Dr Turel has served as a guide to 33 doctoral students, all of whom have successfully completed their PhD under her guidance. She has over 200 research publications to her credit, and she is actively engaged in providing exposure to students about her subject. She holds regular seminars and workshops for her unique subject. Dr Turel says nuclear chemistry offers various applications for the environment and health, as well as other sciences. “I want to break the cliché that atomic energy equals to something negative. I was to spread the word to the world at large, and to the student community in specific, that atomic energy is not always dangerous. It can also be put to constructive use rather peacefully.”

Dr Turel is pleased by the fact that currently, a large number of students are interested in nuclear chemistry in India, and are opting for making their careers in the field. “It says a lot about the progress of the field in our country. I am pleased that there are so many laboratories apart from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai that conduct nuclear research,” says the lady according to whom life cannot exist without chemicals.

Extending this thought to the classroom, Dr Turel strongly believes that chemistry learnt by way of project work will enable students develop a deeper understanding of the subject. “The projects have to also include experimentation, because when students discover something new, they are fascinated. This fascination leads to a new thirst for knowledge and that is how the cycle goes on,” advocates the voracious reader who has travelled widely, observing nuclear installations and attending international conferences and seminars.

Even though Dr Turel has completed her post doctoral studies from University of Maryland in the US, she is a strong patriot. She is disappointed that India loses many fine, scientific minds to developed countries every year. “I wish they would come back to serve their motherland,” says the grand old lady of chemistry. At least that’s what we want to call her.

Volume 1 Issue 9


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