Indian-American chemist Sumita Mitra has been nominated as a finalist in the “Non-EPO countries” category of the European Inventor Award 2021. Mitra was the first to apply nanotechnology to the production of dental materials, leading to the creation of a new composite to repair teeth which has many advantages over conventional materials. The European Inventor Award is one of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the European Patent Office in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times.
Sumita Mitra’s material overcomes many of the limitations of previous dental composites, which were either too weak to be used on biting surfaces, or quickly lost their polish and became physically unattractive. In addition, her invention is more versatile than other composites, meaning it can be used in any area of the mouth, and simplifies the filling procedure for dentists. Commercialised as Filtek™ Supreme Universal Restorative since 2002 by 3M, the US multinational for whom Mitra worked for more than 30 years, the technology and the products developed from it are today used by dentists around the globe.
More about the inventor
Sumita Mitra is a partner at Mitra Chemical Consulting, LLC, a company she set up with her husband after leaving 3M in 2010, and which advises companies on new technology development, product design, commercialisation, mergers and acquisitions. She was named an American Chemical Society Hero of Chemistry in 2009, inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2018 and elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2021 for her work related to inventions in nanotechnology for use in dental materials. Other awards include a Hollenback Memorial Prize from the Academy of Operative Dentistry (2020); a Peyton-Skinner Award for Innovation in Dental Materials from the International Association of Dental Research (2012); and a Top 25 Women in Dentistry Award (2010). Mitra was elected to the 3M Carlton Society 1998 – the highest 3M award given for lifelong contribution to R&D.
In an exclusive email interview with Startup Terminal, Sumita Mitra talks about her journey in the field of Science and Technology.
ST: What would you say about the contribution of women of this century in the field of science?
Sumita Mitra: The number of female scientists has increased significantly as have their seminal contributions towards advancements in all fields of science and technology, be it the physical sciences, biological science or digital technology. In the past the contributions of women scientists were often overlooked but fortunately, in this century many women have been recognized for the significant contributions that they have made.
ST: Even though this question may sound a bit clichéd for today’s time, what were the key challenges you faced while starting up in the field of science?
Sumita Mitra: Initially there was some skepticism towards my pursuing a career in science. I think I was not always taken seriously in some quarters and expectations were different than for male students and colleagues. However, as my career progressed, I received less resistance. I had the full support from my family and that helped a great deal.
ST: What is the most important message you want to send out to all the scientists and innovators around the world being a finalist in European Inventor Award?
Sumita Mitra: It is really important to pursue one’s ideas even if there are many doubts expressed. In fact, the skepticism and questions that arose during the early stages of my work helped me to critically examine my initial ideas and refine them. It is also really important for inventors to record their finding appropriately and file for intellectual property protection as soon as possible.
ST: What should countries do to create a better environment for scientific research?
– Provide sustained and consistent investment in R&D funding at the national level.
– Provide an environment for open discussion of ideas and findings without early criticism but good critique.
– Promote collaboration and team endeavors involving people from different disciplines and with diverse backgrounds
– Allow for sharing of research results in the scientific community through presentations, attendance of conferences and publications in refereed journals.
ST: Who is a woman that inspires you the most and why?
Sumita Mitra: Madame Marie Curie has been my hero from my childhood. Reading about her life and work, and especially her persistence in the face of many difficulties, has inspired me to believe in myself and to never give up.