Dr. Mahendra Sunkara Named 2016 KSEF Fellow

Headshot of Mahendra SunkaraFor the last two decades, Dr. Mahendra Sunkara has served as an educator and innovator in his field. His efforts in materials research, energy, storage, and variety of innovative technologies, including coatings and material synthesis and processing, made him the ideal candidate for director of the Conn Center for Renewable Resources, a position that he has held since it opened for operations. Dr. Sunkara is the founder of Advanced Energy Materials, an innovator in clean fuel solutions.

Recently, Dr. Sunkara was appointed a 2016 KSEF Fellow. The KSEF, or Kentucky Science & Engineering Foundation, is an organization that according to their website “invests in research and development activity to promote innovation, new product development and commercialization, to advance new ideas and technologies that could add value to scientific and economic growth in Kentucky.”

The KSEF Fellow honor is reserved for people with significant contributions in the advancement of excellence in science and engineering in Kentucky. This distinction is meant to foster science and engineering innovation-based entrepreneurial culture in the Commonwealth.

But Dr. Sunkara has a very practical approach to his award. He admits, “I put in my package, and I was supported by the right people. A technical director at Clareon. The vice president for research supported it. He knows that I’m a prolific inventor that could potentially grow to tens of employees. In fact, they’re moving to a facility near First Build.”

He continues, “On top of that, they know my work from the Conn Center. We’ve been promoting that innovation in this area. They all know that we promote startup companies and making them successful. About six companies out of the Conn Center right now have actually received public funding. They all happened in the last four to six years. My company is leading the way.”

According to Dean Usher, “Dr. Sunkara is a well-deserving recipient 2016 KSEF Fellow honor. Because of his outstanding efforts as a Professor of Chemical Engineering, Distinguished University Scholar, and Director of the Conn Center for Renewable Energy, Dr. Sunkara is a huge asset to the JB Speed School of Engineering and the University of Louisville. He teaches our students, provides countless hours of service to the profession, and pursues groundbreaking research and entrepreneurial endeavors that contribute to the overall excellence of science and engineering here in Kentucky and beyond. We are all very proud to have him as a colleague.”

Dr. Sunkara believes in the people that surround him. He says, “It’s the people. Almost all my students support it. It’s basically having a lot more students, who are very bright, who believe in my mission. The company that I started have five PhD graduates working there. I don’t have to spend time. It’s a measure of having bright people for the public. That’s what’s happening right now. I’m not involved with other startups, but my team leaders in the center are involved in getting them up and running.”

Ultimately, it’s the work that drives his continued innovation and drive for creative solutions.
He says, “I’ve always believed in filing for patents, publishing in journals, and training very bright students. I look at them as a resource. With innovation, you can retain the brightest people. That’s the dream for the state, is that you train all these bright people, but they end up leaving the statement. The link between an academic organization and the community, can support each so much, so that they can support one another in innovation.”