Chemical Equations & Chess Moves

Namratha A. Rai
Published: February 2018


It came as no surprise that Manasa K, a Ph.D student at CNMS Jain University and an excellent chess player, won the Karnataka State Women’s Chess Championship with a score of seven points out of nine rounds. Manasa is someone who has been juggling sports with studies for a long time. A research scholar of Chemistry, she has been playing Chess since the age of 13. Playing chess with her father for endless hours when it was raining got her hooked to Chess while Chemistry and its applications drew her to the subject. She has the credit of winning the State Women’s title four times and at present, tops the list of female players in Karnataka with the highest FIDE rating.

She is an exceptional student, who wants to add something to the world through her research and an equally good chess player who has represented India at the Asian Youth Chess Championship twice – in 2008, in Tehran, Iran and in 2009, in New Delhi. She was also selected to represent India in the World Under-18 girls Youth Chess Championship in Turkey the same year.

Passionate about Chess and Chemistry, she tackles the challenges she faces in her research as she does in a game of Chess- motivation, appreciating the opponent in times of defeat and humility in times of victory. In a chat with the girl who combines grit, focus and sensitivity, Manasa tells us of her chosen field of study, her research and her love for Chess.

Why did you choose to study Ph.D at Jain University?

There are plenty of reasons why I chose Jain University for my research studies; the first one being, my guide, Dr. Amit Kumar, who had posted a call-for interview. I came to know that he was an alumni of IIT and had many research articles to his credit. I was particularly interested in Inorganic Chemistry and found out that he had done his research on the same. The second reason was the tremendous support shown by the University towards sports. The final one was the location and beauty of the Jain Global Campus. The campus is far away from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore city but near enough for me to reach anytime.

What attracted you to Inorganic Chemistry?

It’s interesting as well as fun to run chemical reactions! My field of study is Bio-Inorganic Chemistry and involves research work in the synthesis of transition metal complexes which could be potent drug molecules for certain therapeutic applications. The interdisciplinary nature of this topic intrigued me as my work not only involves the synthesis but also checks their interaction with biologically relevant proteins and their biological activities.

What are the areas your research can be of help or can be put to use?

As I said my target is to synthesize compounds for therapeutic usage. We screen them against cancer cell lines, diabetic cell lines and other microbial cell lines. If any of them turn out to be effective, they could be further screened for animal and clinical studies. This is a time consuming study but in the long run my research might be of help in the field of pharmacology.

What would you like the impact of this project to be?

I would like to be successful in synthesizing at least a few compounds which would prove significantly effective as anticancer, antidiabetic and antimicrobial agents.

What are your plans after completing your Ph.D?

I want to take up teaching as my profession. What I mean by this is, teaching Chemistry for the PUC and Degree students, and dedicating my free time to teaching Science to underprivileged children. I would also love to teach Chess.

How do you balance your studies and Chess?

Time teaches us everything! In the beginning, it was difficult to cope with studies as I was participating in many tournaments all over India but with time I could manage my studies with Chess and even won a gold medal during my B.Sc for securing the highest marks amongst all the streams of my college. The credit goes to my parents and my teachers since high school. The headmistress of my school, Mrs. Usha Ballal always encouraged me to attend tournaments. It is the same now with my research guide supporting me when I participate in a tournament. Well, all I can say is that I am blessed to have such wonderful parents and good teachers!

Describe a typical work week for you.

Since I am a research student, a typical week from Monday to Saturday would be waking up at 7 am, doing half an hour of yoga or brisk walk, breakfast at the hostel and then working at the research lab. Work at the research centre sometimes goes on till evening. If I’m free in the evenings, then I practise Chess or teach the same to two school students.Dinner is at 8 and I’m in bed by 12. I prefer studying and working at night and so, if I have work related to research, I do it at night.

On Sundays, I usually go to the City to volunteer for an organization called Youth For Seva. Some of the activities that I engage in are organizing summer camps for government school children, helping mentally challenged children in their annual school day programme, distributing fruits to and visiting cancer patients, and cleaning the premises of government schools.

Who has been a great influence in your life and why or how?

The greatest influence in my life has been my father, Mr. K Sudhakaran. His soft and calm nature, sacrifices for his family, helping my mother equally with the household tasks, his love towards everyone and the hard work he puts in has made him a role model for me. You don’t need to be a celebrity to be a role model. The role model we look for in our life may be present around us in the form of parents or friends or relatives too.

What is your biggest weakness and strength?

I feel that my biggest weakness and strength are the same! It is hard for me to say ‘no’ when I’m asked for help. Although it would be a weakness if the person was taking advantage of me, it would be my strength if I was helping someone who was in need of it because that would also give me satisfaction and happiness.