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While pursuing his Ph.D. at VCU, Dhruv Fomra also received curricular practical training at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, an institution with the goal of standardizing daily use units. (Contributed photo)

Class of 2022: Dhruv Fomra thrived in rich research environment at VCU

Dhruv Fomra traveled to the U.S. from his native India to earn his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering.

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Dhruv Fomra grew up in India where his father owned a plastic manufacturer. He would walk the factory floor looking at how the machines worked. When they would occasionally malfunction, Fomra would watch employees try to fix the machines, even trying to get involved himself.

“That really interested me and excited me,” he said.

That early experience helped drive Fomra’s interest in engineering. This month, Fomra will receive a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering.

Fomra earned his undergraduate degree in nanotechnology from SRM University in India. Nanotechnology proved to be a broad academic field. In one semester, he had courses ranging from quantum mechanics to thermodynamics and nano biotechnology.

“At the end of four years, what you had is jack of all [trades] but master of none,” Fomra said.

Fomra believed he needed to narrow his specialty and pursue a higher-level degree. When deciding whether he wanted to go for a master’s or doctorate, Fomra said he tried to imagine where he wanted to be in 15 years. He pictured himself as an engineer performing research and development for an organization. A Ph.D. seemed to make the most sense for that future.

Fomra decided to earn his doctorate in the U.S. because he believed there were better opportunities in his chosen field than in India. He reached out to professors and students at targeted schools to learn about their programs and research environments.

When Fomra attempted to contact a student at Purdue University, he learned the student had completed the program and become a professor at VCU. That professor was Nathaniel Kinsey, Ph.D., who is in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at VCU. Fomra gave him a call.

“That one call with him really changed my perspective because he carried the same research ideas that Purdue has and enthusiasm, but just in a different university,” Fomra said.

Fomra said he’s enjoyed his research with KLab Photonics at VCU, including the small lab size and the hands-on approach that Kinsey, who is his adviser, takes to the work being doing in the lab.

“The learning curve was very steep because I came from undergrad directly to Ph.D. However, with him being so involved, that made the process very smooth,” Fomra said.

Fomra’s work has included curricular practical training at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, an institution with the goal of standardizing daily use units.

“For example, if you're going into quantum computing right now, a lot of protocols are needed,” Fomra said. “Like how do we benchmark every quantum computer? There needs to be some standard benchmark procedure … If you go into quantum networking, there needs to be some protocol for how two computers are communicating.”

During his time at NIST, Forma earned the NSF Intern Award, which provided approximately $80,000 to cover his expenses at VCU and enabled him to do the year-long internship.

Fomra said working at NIST gave him experience working with equipment that most labs and universities in the country don’t have, as well as the experience of working on research projects with a larger team.

“This combination of internships with working in more like a startup, which was my research group at VCU, provided great experiences and perspectives from both ends,” he said.