The microscope that takes science further

After more than twenty years of research, in 2009, Indian-born professor Pratibha Gai discovered a new way to observe elements even smaller than those seen with an electron microscope. This ongoing work is paving the way for even more breakthrough discoveries in energy, agriculture and medicine.

The invention of new ways to see what cannot be seen with the naked eye has consistently been one of the most groundbreaking achievements in the annals of science. From 16th century optical microscopes to 21st century electron microscopes, advances in our ability to view previously invisible processes of nature have opened up floodgates of new knowledge.


Professor Pratibha Gai is among the relatively few scientists in history who can lay claim to such a key advancement. Thanks to her truly ingenious modifications to electron microscopes, her work enables us to actually see chemical processes at the atomic level that were once completely mysterious. It was when it occurred to her to drill a hole in the microscope lens that she made her breakthrough discovery, pulling off a delicate operation where the smallest error could have destroyed the entire machine.


Seeing the Future


Her fundamental research promises a plethora of potential applications for an immense range of scientific, technological and economic solutions. In a departure from usual practice, she also researches end-uses for her findings and has gone back and forth from universities to private industry on two continents. Currently working with both the public and private sectors, she is collaborating with firms that will transform her findings into technology and products ranging from eco-friendly paints to more efficient agriculture to new medicines, materials and energy sources. Pratibha Gai purposely chose not to patent her discovery, so that everyone could be able to use it and help make new discoveries.


“I was accepted as a proper scientist.”


Originally from India, the young Pratibha Gai’s studies took her far from her family at a time when most women in her country led more sheltered lives and were encouraged to stay close to home. Determined to follow a different path, she worked hard in school and became such a brilliant student that she was eventually accepted at Cambridge University. There she fulfilled her long-cherished dream: a PhD in Physics from the university’s famed Cavendish Laboratory, becoming one of the first women from India to achieve this. The university still holds an important place in her heart. “Being thousands of miles away from home was daunting in many ways, but at Cambridge I was accepted as a proper scientist.”


More Science and More Women in Science


Professor Gai sees an urgent need to raise public awareness of the crucial role science can play in solving the challenges facing our planet. “Our society has not done enough to increase scientific literacy among the general public,” she states. “We don’t invest in the long-term scientific goals we need to because the public often doesn’t recognize the importance of them.”


She has given her time to increasing scientific literacy and she has also worked for another cause she champions: Bringing more women into science. “I believe that women scientists bring new perspectives to science as well as to the workplace itself. And, after all, we make up 50% of the population and more women in science can only mean more benefits to the world.”


More about Professor Pratibha Gai:


L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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