Student Star

Silk Spinner: Swetha Barkam

The nanobiotechnology doctoral student in the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering wants to help the world one cocoon at a time. Barkam is also the recipient of UCF’s 2014 Extreme Leadership Scholarship.

Barkam spends her days (and nights) extracting raw silk from Bombyx mori (Latin word for silkworm of the mulberry tree) with the hope of creating biodegradable and biocompatible polymer-based technology for commercial use in products such as “smart patches.”

The products would get resorbed into the body to minimize cost and health risk. The goal: fully green, sustainable and inexpensive health-care solutions for underprivileged populations, like the people in her native India.

Silk has been produced and used for more than 5,000 years, but Barkam is part of only a few dozen research groups worldwide with this specific focus.

Barkam, 26, arrived at UCF in August 2011 fresh from gaining her undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur in India. She immediately became involved in student government as a graduate senator and, most recently, won the 2014 Extreme Leadership Scholarship.

As a member of Dr. Sudipta Seal’s research group within the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science, she studies the interaction and application of nanoparticles in biology. She is also working with Dr. S. Das in the lab to understand some of the science behind nano-silk and seeks to produce biodegradable therapeutic applications in the future.

That work has brought her in search of making a global difference.

Barkam hopes to receive her Ph.D in 2016 — “hopefully, I’ll be done then,” she says with a chuckle. Yet, she’ll be only getting started. She has an eye on entrepreneurship.

“I definitely want to commercialize this,” noting that it might take at least two or three more years to perfect the low-cost products and another few years to get them to market.

She hopes UCF can help with those efforts, too: “That would be awesome.”

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