March 15th is the birthday of a woman with her feet planted firmly in the realms of both the sciences and the humanities. Dr. Sunetra Gupta, a theoretical epidemiologist, was educated at Princeton University in the United States and the University of Oxford in England.
Born in Calcutta, India she spent much of her early childhood traveling between Ethiopia, Zambia, and England as her father was a lecturer and writer. Her father introduced her to all types of art and helped her to develop a spirit that was able to feel at home in both the science and the arts. At Princeton she began studying physics but after taking a course in the biological sciences she began to think about how mathematics could be used to make sense of biology. She began focusing on using mathematics to study epidemiology expanding ecological thinking to look at the evolution of infectious agents.
Her current research as a Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford University concentrates on using simple mathematical models to generate new hypotheses regarding the processes that determine the population structure of pathogens that include malaria, HIV, influenza, and bacterial meningitis. While she works on the theoretical portion she collaborates closely with laboratory and field scientists to both develop and test these hypotheses and has published many papers on these topics. In 2015 she was honored by the Royal Society by being included in a special art exhibition featuring the portraits of women in science.
And while she has been recognized with awards for her scientific work she is just as accomplished in the world of literature. She has written five novels that have also won critical acclaim, including her fifth novel So Good In Black, published in 2012 that was long listed for the DSC prize for South Asian Literature. According to her website she is currently working with illustrator Ted Dewan creating a website focusing on women in science sponsored by the Royal Society as well as a book contrasting the uses of narrative in science and literature, sponsored by the Arts Council of England.
Written by Angela Goad