Break Barriers in Superconductor Electronics: A Journey with EE Alum Sukanya S Meher

Discover the inspiring journey of Sukanya S Meher (MS EE'17), Member of Technical Staff at Hypres and IEEE CSC co-chair, as she navigates the challenges and opportunities in the niche field of superconductor electronics.

Xintian Tina Wang
May 29, 2024

Imagine diving into a field so niche and advanced that it feels like science fiction comes to life. This is the everyday reality for Sukanya S Meher, a 2017 graduate of Columbia's Electrical Engineering Master's program, who has carved out a remarkable career in superconductor electronics. Currently working as a Member of Technical Staff at Hypres, Meher's journey is nothing short of inspiring, marked by her resilience, passion, and knack for overcoming formidable challenges as a woman of color. 

A High-Flying Career in a High-Tech World

Meher’s role at Hypres involves pushing the boundaries of what's possible with superconductor technology. But her contributions extend beyond her job description. As the Co-Chair of the IEEE Council on Superconductivity (CSC) Young Professionals and the Communications Lead for the IEEE YP Climate and Sustainability Taskforce (CSTF), Sukanya is at the forefront of advocating for and advancing cutting-edge technological innovations. 

Transitioning from a background in semiconductors to the specialized field of superconductor electronics came with a steep learning curve. "During my early career, I faced numerous challenges," she shares. Networking became a crucial tool in her arsenal, allowing her to learn from experienced professionals and keep abreast of industry trends. Battling imposter syndrome and navigating a field with limited female representation required resilience. Meher conquered these challenges through consistent self-improvement and a dedication to learning.

One of Sukanya's proudest achievements is her work on the IARPA-sponsored project, SuperTools. This initiative aims to develop a comprehensive electronic design automation toolset for superconductor circuits, a groundbreaking endeavor in the field. Her contributions have been crucial in advancing the design and testing of these circuits, showcasing her expertise and dedication.

Columbia EE's Role in Shaping Her Career

Her master's degree from Columbia EE was instrumental in smoothing this transition. The rigorous curriculum and hands-on projects, like designing a Smart Temperature Sensor and a Down-Conversion Mixer, laid a solid foundation for her career. 

"The experience gained from these research projects was instrumental in helping me establish myself professionally," Meher notes. Columbia's collaborative environment and state-of-the-art labs provided her with the skills and confidence needed to excel in her field.

Volunteerism has played a significant role in Meher's professional and personal growth. Her roles in IEEE and AnitaB have opened doors to collaborate with leading experts, attend influential workshops, and stay updated on the latest technological trends. These experiences have also enhanced her leadership skills and broadened her perspective on diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

We sat down with Meher to hear more about her journey and her advice to the current students.


Q&A with Sukanya S Meher

EE: How did your Master's degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia help you navigate these challenges and reduce the learning curve?

SSM: The experience I gained during my master’s at Columbia University was crucial in helping me overcome various challenges. The demanding curriculum in integrated circuit design was instrumental in establishing my foundational knowledge. Additionally, my participation in the course VLSI Design Laboratory involved working on projects such as designing Smart Temperature Sensor in 120nm CMOS, with the aim of fabricating the chip and designing the PCB for it to display temperature on an LCD screen. This significantly boosted my confidence, particularly at the beginning of my career when I needed to independently design chips. I am thankful for the guidance and support provided by Professor Peter Kinget during this academic project. In line with my career goals of pursuing research, I actively participated in a research project under Professor Harish Krishnaswamy and Professor Jin Zhou, where I designed a Down-Conversion Mixer for a 28GHz Transceiver in 45nm CMOS SOI. The experience gained from this research project was instrumental in helping me establish myself in my professional work. Columbia's well-equipped labs provided me with hands-on experience using advanced equipment, which reduced the trial-and-error approach in my early work. The collaborative environment at Columbia University helped me work on different projects involving various fields, broadening my perspective and improving my problem-solving skills. This well-rounded education, along with participating in research projects, made it easier for me to transition from academics to the industry. This entire experience reduced the learning process, better preparing me to handle the complexities of superconductor electronics in my professional career.

EE: What opportunities do you see for current graduates in the field of superconductor electronics?

SSM: The field of superconductor electronics offers numerous exciting opportunities for recent graduates. Superconductor technology, which is faster and more energy-efficient than traditional semiconductors, is constantly advancing. It has applications in both digital and analog mixed-signal domains. There are numerous reports on the development of new superconductor materials and the latest advancements in other areas such as quantum computing, wide-band telecommunications, and cutting-edge medical applications. This has led to growing interest from Department of Defense (DoD) agencies and other industries. For example, my employer HYPRES has developed the Advanced Digital-RF Receiver (ADR), a flagship product that is being deployed for various US government customers for applications including signals intelligence, electronic warfare, and satellite communication, demonstrating significant potential in that area. Research opportunities in superconductor electronics include energy-efficient computing, quantum computing using superconductor qubits, superconductor detectors and sensors, and MRI machines in the healthcare sector. Beyond these, superconductors have applications in the energy sector, such as efficient power transmission through superconducting cables, superconducting magnetic energy storage, particle accelerators, and magnetic levitation trains. Graduates can find jobs in universities, national labs, and companies working on the applications of superconductor electronics and advancements in cryogenic technologies. There is scope for both research and product development. In conclusion, graduates have many opportunities to make significant contributions to this technology.

EE: How has your involvement in volunteerism at IEEE and AnitaB contributed to your professional and personal growth?

SSM: Being involved in volunteerism at IEEE and AnitaB has had a big impact on both my professional and personal growth. As the Co-Chair of the IEEE Council on Superconductivity (CSC) Young Professionals and the Communication Lead of the IEEE Young Professionals Climate and Sustainability Task Force (CSTF), I have had numerous exciting opportunities. These roles have allowed me to collaborate with external stakeholders like the United Nations, and IRENA and organize events at technical conferences. Additionally, it provides opportunities to collaborate with leading experts in my field, attend various workshops, and present my research at multiple conferences. This has helped me stay updated on the latest trends and technologies, and it has boosted my confidence in communicating my ideas to others. Volunteering with AnitaB has connected me with passionate advocates for diversity in the tech industry. It has expanded my perspective on supporting and advocating for underrepresented groups. Personally, volunteering has helped me develop leadership skills, build friendships, and find a sense of fulfillment by giving back to my community. Overall, my involvement in volunteerism has enriched my professional journey and helped me grow as a person.

EE: What advice would you give to current Columbia Electrical Engineering students who are interested in pursuing a career in superconductor electronics? How can they best prepare themselves for the opportunities and challenges in this niche field?

SSM: For Columbia Electrical Engineering students with an interest in superconductor electronics or related fields, here's some advice to help you succeed:

  • Build a strong foundation through your coursework. A deep understanding of the fundamental concepts is crucial. Make the most of lab opportunities to gain hands-on experience with advanced equipment. 
  • Seek internships or research opportunities with professors to gain practical experience. These experiences will enhance your resume and provide knowledge of real-world applications of your studies.
  • Develop your storytelling skills early on, as the ability to clearly articulate your ideas and findings is essential in both academic and professional settings. You can begin by sharing stories that highlight the objectives and outcomes of your coursework projects or internship experiences.
  • Stay curious and keep learning. Technology changes quickly, so be open to learning new things and take on challenges. Don't worry about making mistakes; they help you grow. Every experience is different, so don't be afraid of what others might think – create your own path. Be open to feedback and take criticism positively.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek advice and guidance from professionals or alumni in your field. Building a strong network can help you find new opportunities and navigate your career path more effectively.

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If you are seeking career advice or would like to mentor/engage with current electrical/computer engineering students, please reach out to Jennifer Lee, the Director of Career Placement at [email protected] If you are interested in being featured on the EE website, please contact [email protected]