Assistant Professor Sapun Parekh remarks on what's changed since he was a UT Austin student

August 02, 2019
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Sapun Parekh joined UT Austin as an assistant professor in the spring of 2019. Previously he worked at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany. He received a PhD in bioengineering from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco and a BS in electrical engineering from UT Austin.

sapun parekh1000667What drew you back to UT Austin?

I majored in electrical engineering at UT Austin and got my start in biomedical optics, which led to my now 15-year interest in biomedical engineering as a career. There was no BME Department when I graduated, so it’s exciting to see the growth.

One thing I missed about academic research was teaching and getting people excited about science and engineering. That experience is how I got involved in undergrad research, and I wanted to offer similar perspectives and opportunities to future students. Another motivator was a greater opportunity to interact with engineers. Previously, I was often the only engineer surrounded by scientists. I realized that engineers often look at a system and want to take it apart to make it better, whereas others are often happy to use the system as it is for experiments. While the distinction is slight, it’s palpable, and I am thrilled to be part of the BME community at UT and rediscover how rewarding biomedical technology development and science can be.

Lastly, Austin is a special place—good people, good music, good food, and just an overall good vibe.

What are your impressions of campus and living in Austin?

I left in 2002 and much has changed, from my old building, ENS, being torn down, to the new BME building. I’m excited to see that the Hole in the Wall is still around.

Coming back after being away, I feel what a friend of mine calls “the hustle.” It’s a feeling of things getting done, ideas popping out of walls, and people with energy, which is fantastic. I think Austin has developed a strong tech and innovation spirit over the years.

My impression of the city is also different because I’m back with two kids. Having lived in Europe for the last 7 years, I was keen to find a place with a sense of community—close-knit neighborhoods where people look out for each other. So far, we like what we’ve found, and I look forward to summer block parties with the other middle-aged parents in the neighborhood!

How do you spend your time outside of work?

Outside of work I hang out with my wife and kids. I have developed a strong interest ice hockey. I hadn’t played until about 5 years ago a nice fellow I sold a couch to in Germany, saw a hockey stick in the corner of my house (which I picked up at a giveaway event in San Francisco 7 years earlier), and invited me to play hockey with a bunch of Russian and German guys. This got me hooked, and I’ve been playing ever since. If I’m not in the lab or with family after work, I’m playing (non-checking) hockey.

What excites you about doing research at UT Austin?

I’m excited to be around the students, faculty across the university and Dell Medical School, and the whole UT community. People are the engine of research and development, and UT has great people all around. I can find a collaborator for anything from spectroscopy theory to machine learning algorithms to microscope development. The expertise combined with the ambition of the whole community is energizing.