Rocket science has been making everything else look easy since 1958. And this story is of someone who does that exact same job. Alisha Contractor is a rocket scientist from England, not living in India and this article is all about why you should care about what she is doing. Alisha is set to make the lives of farmers much easier by using remote sensing to analyse vast stretches of land. But before we get to that, let’s start from the beginning.
Seeing how she is a rocket scientist today, it’s funny how, as a kid, Alisha loved science and math, but she wasn’t all that good at it. Not the kind of good you’d expect a rocket scientist to be.
“I remember I used to fail in tests, but I was fascinated by the subject. I struggled to get a hang of it but kept pushing anyway.”
When she came to high school, her grades started improving drastically. She had finally conquered what she lacked in natural ability with persistence and smart work. Not that grades have ever been a reliable indicator of intelligence, but they sure do help.
Along with attending school, she did a diploma in civil engineering and later went to pursue her B.Tech Aerospace and Astronautics from the UK.
“I had been fascinated by airplanes and space for as long back as I could remember since my maternal uncle was with the air force. I was doing what I always wanted.”
Alisha excelled as a student and when she was pursuing her pre-doctoral research, she gave lectures to the Master’s student.
When she came back to India, she did not have anything concrete planned. But she had a strong foundation laid in research; she was bright and, vibrant these are generally properties that fetch you good work, or at least good ideas.
That’s when she approached one of her friends back in Scotland and asked her if he wanted to collaborate on a project she has been thinking about but did not have the right equipment for.
“I had learnt to code when I was in my late teens, as sort of extra skill. It was not really related to my main branch, but I figured that it might come useful some day, and it did.”
They used remote sensors to analyse the water and soil properties in an entire farm. As a result, they could make the requisite changes in the cropping pattern and the chemicals used. This was a significant leap for agriculture as a whole and went on to produce an excellent produce.
She talks about the moment the idea took shape. “One of my relatives owns a greenhouse here in Ahmedabad, where he grows capsicums. He told me about how pest attacks were rampant because there was no certain way to detect the presence of pests before the crop was spoiled. And it just clicked in my head- Why not use remote sensors?”
While a major organization like ISRO collects information of the same nature for the farmers, there is no practical way in which farmers can have access to this information. Farmers need real-time, simplified and personalized information if they are to use it at all.
With a background in aeronautical engineering, this brilliant girl is trying to help the food soldiers of our country while simultaneously developing a software for her father’s business.
“I am just trying to pay back my fees to my father,” she laughs.
When Alisha had to leave behind bright options and return to India due to Visa issues, she made the best use of the career capital that she had accumulated over the years and took the higher road.
“I am still trying to work it all out; the project needs huge funds which cannot be financed by farmers, and I don’t have the kind of contacts or network you’d need for something like this. But it is a viable project and a lot of agricultural wastage can be reduced.”
I feel bright and hopeful after meeting Alisha. When life gave her lemons, she did not make Margaritas or Lemonade. She added them to her tea and now sips her Black Lemon tea as she unfolds new paths and moves on.