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Reja Amatya '05

Postdoctoral Associate, Tata Center for Design and Technology, MIT Energy Initiative

Reja Amatya

Coming from a relatively big family with engineers and doctors in Nepal, I knew I wanted to be an engineer since high school. Transition to the United States for college was a natural one after finishing high school, but rather than going to a traditional engineering school, I applied mostly to liberal art colleges. After being in a structured British schooling system all my life, I wanted to explore few more options in college (even though I was certain I was going to be in life sciences). I would have probably been a physics/math major if not for Smith and the Picker Engineering Program. When I first looked at applying to Smith, I was very excited to see the engineering program in a liberal arts setting. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to explore new fields, at the same time keep engineering dreams close to my heart.

In the three years at the program (I went to University College London for junior year abroad), I have lots of fond memories, but the best I can remember is still the very first one—intro to engineering with Susan Voss. In this project-based class, I along with my teammates (Corinne, Rhonda and Clare) designed a pulley-based tug-O-war system to teach second graders about simple machines. Everything about that class was FUN.

After finishing at Smith, I went directly to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where I finished my master's and doctoral degree in the electrical engineering department. For my dissertation, I worked on designing a low-cost portable power generator utilizing solar thermoelectrics for developing world applications. I joined graduate school with the intent to learn more about lasers and semiconductors (which I did for my master's, with silicon photonics), but by the time I was looking for a doctoral thesis topic, I was not just interested in a basic scientific research, but wanted an applied science problem; something I could see being incorporated in daily life and making a difference instantly. During my doctoral track, I worked closely with a nonprofit organization (One Earth Designs, in China) to implement my research in the field. I was working closely with industrial designers, mechanical engineers and social scientists. I believe my Smith education and the Picker program's broad curriculum and teamwork focus helped me tremendously in this situation.

I am currently a postdoctoral associate at the Tata Center for Design and Technology with the MIT Energy Initiative, where I handle even more of a diverse group with students in my project, ranging from electrical engineering, to engineering systems, to technology and policy, and urban studies/planning. Apart from helping the center in curriculum development, my core research focus is electrification with current focus in India.