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Fields of Discovery: When questions become testing

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Growing up, Anagha Gaitonde was a very curious kid.  Her passion for learning and desire to broaden her horizons were what ultimately encouraged her to pursue science in high school. What could she learn? And why was it important?  

Today, Gaitonde is asking those same questions as an undergraduate researcher at Purdue University. A rising sophomore studying Agricultural and Biological Engineering, she works in Associate Professor Mohit Verma’s lab to help develop on-site testing for the detection of foodborne pathogens. 

“We're trying to make accessible testing kits so we can more easily identify contamination,” Gaitonde explains. “This way, we don't have to use time and resources on bringing samples back to the lab and running tests on them.” 

Gaitonde references the at-home COVID-19 testing kits when describing her project. “You know, those at-home testing kits really helped people get diagnosed faster, which helped us limit the spread? That's sort of the idea that we're taking here. Our goal is that we want people in agriculture to have the ability to test things on-site and get quick results rather than collecting samples and transporting them to a lab.” The use of on-site testing will save resources and time for both researchers and industry professionals. 

Gaitonde recalls how she had always dreamt of getting into research. It was her drive to follow her dreams that ultimately helped her land the role. “When I came in as a freshman, I started reaching out to professors and Dr. Verma, now my mentor got back to me. I’ve been able to work with him ever since the summer after my freshman year. He does a really good job of encouraging independent thinking. As an undergrad, sometimes I feel like I'm not qualified enough to make these big decisions, but he really wants me to feel confident in my decisions and in my abilities. He does a really good job supporting me that way. “

Gaitonde uses lab equipment to further the lab's research. She is wearing a black labcoat. Gaitonde uses lab equipment to further the lab's research.

For Gaitonde, working in research during the summer has been an incredible experience for several reasons, including having the ability to focus and devote time to her work to her work. “During the academic year, making time for everything feels like walking on a very stressful tightrope; I’d always wish I had more time for research, but with classes and homework and my extracurriculars, it just isn’t feasible most of the time.” 

“It’s wonderful to be able to come in and invest so much of my time into my research. It’s given me the ability to go so much deeper into my work and learn so much more.”

Gaitonde plans to graduate in Spring 2026. She is seriously considering going to graduate school to pursue a masters and eventually a PhD. She would love to work as a senior research scientist in the biopharmaceutical industry. She would enjoy working in an industry position, because as she puts it, “In an industry position, you can really see the real-life application of the work you do.” 

Gaitonde encourages others pursuing research to persevere. “You're not always going to get a yes right at the beginning.”  

“It’s important to continue pushing yourself to become better and better.”

For Gaitonde, asking questions is the key to pushing herself. Learning more about how the world works around her is essential to pursuing her passion for science and research, and her passion for growth.  

Gaitonde continues to use lab equipment to further the lab's research. She is wearing a black labcoat. Gaitonde uses lab equipment in Verma's lab.

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