Follow in your mentor’s footsteps. Check.
Meet your inspiration. Check.
Travel the world. Check.
To say Meena Ejjada had a productive summer would be an understatement. When the civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. student traveled to Germany in June for the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, she ticked off those accomplishments in one swoop.
“I had some starstruck moments. I was getting to meet my inspiration” said Ejjada, referring to Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan. “ I’ve always looked up to him.”
Ejjada is the third doctoral student to represent UNLV at the prestigious meeting, which gathers scientists from different generations, disciplines, and cultures for the exchange of ideas. The first was Ejjada's UNLV mentor — Erica Marti, an assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction, who attended the meeting in 2015 as a student.
“I heard some of my professors say it has become Dr. Marti’s lab legacy to represent UNLV at the Lindau Nobel Laureate meetings. I am happy I was able to take that legacy forward,” said Ejjada. “I didn’t know anything about the meeting, but Dr. Marti shared information about it and her own experience. To find out that something like this exists and you can actually meet Nobel laureates, I felt so excited. I envisioned myself attending the meeting.”
Around 600 young scientists worldwide were selected to participate in this year’s meeting, which focused on chemistry. The competitive application process takes academic and research achievements, leadership qualities, extracurricular activities, and recommendations from advisors and mentors into consideration. Ejjada worked close to two years to meet the requirements.
“The chance of not being selected was on my mind, as I’m not purely from a chemistry background,” said Ejjada. “There’s a time zone difference; so when they announced it, it was midnight here. I couldn’t believe I was selected. I was so excited to be part of it. Also, the meeting had been online the past two years, so I was excited that I’d be able to go in person and travel.”
The weeklong meeting included lectures from the 30 Nobel laureates in attendance; impactful lectures on everything from the future of chemistry to the joy of discovery; agora talks, open exchanges, panel discussions, evening walks, and lunch and dinner discussions with the Nobel laureates; opportunities to experience the local culture; and more.
“The whole focus was science and research, but we got to do it in different settings. On the last day, we even went to nearby Mainau Island and had a picnic to discuss diversity in the research field,” said Ejjada. “The main purpose was for people to interact, educate each other, and collaborate on things.”
As someone who likes to travel and explore new places, Ejjada extended her trip and visited the Czech Republic, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands before heading home to continue her research.
A first-generation graduate, Ejjada earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering in India. Since starting her Ph.D. at UNLV in 2019, Ejjada has been researching Lake Mead’s water quality and its emerging contaminants like disinfection byproducts and their uptake in plants grown using reclaimed waters.
“On the West Coast, we are facing a lot of water scarcity issues and water levels dropping every year. The amount of fresh water we have is very limited, while our domestic and agricultural water needs are very demanding. That is where I fit in. I’m trying to help safely get wastewater back in circulation by minimizing the contaminants,” she said.
Thanks to the varied work experience Ejjada has already gained, she is keeping an open mind about what happens immediately after she graduates in a year, but plans to return to India eventually to help address the water shortage and food safety issues there.
In summer 2021, Ejjada was selected for a summer-long, collaborative research project at George Washington University to study and explore the application of laser ablation electrospray ionization technology to analyze disinfection byproducts in plants for the first time. During summer 2022, she worked as an intern at Carollo Engineers’ Las Vegas office, designing and proposing water and wastewater technologies for different clients.
“I like teaching others, and I’ve worked in academia before, but my internship now is practice-focused. So I’m going to keep my options open and be more exploratory for both postdoctoral and corporate positions,” she said. “Long term, I just want to contribute to the field by mentoring aspiring young minds and researching novel ideas to advance water technologies. Taking the lessons I’ve learned here back to India means a lot to me.”
To take a deeper dive into Ejjada’s experience at the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, read: "A First-Hand Account: Meena Ejjada’s Experience at the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting."