SUNETRA GUPTA, a theoretical epidemiology professor at the University of Oxford, stands out in two worlds – science and literature.
The voice of the India-born Briton was perhaps heard the loudest during the pandemic when she suggested in May last year that Covid-19 was on the wane.
Gupta, who was once paradoxically advised by a family friend and noted Indian neurosurgeon not to study medicine – has excelled in epidemiology to the extent that her portrait was on display during the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition along with leading female scientists like Madame Curie.
According to Gupta, advancing a new theory for pathogen evolution that helps understand why so many of them exist as antigenically distinct strains has been the greatest moment in her scientific career.
Born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, in 1965, Gupta spent her childhood in Ethiopia and Zambia. She returned to Kolkata when she was a teenager and began writing, encouraged by her father who introduced her to the work of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.
She showed her curiosity in science and zeal for observation during her young age.
By her own words, she kept a cockroach and an ant in a jar, gave them food, and faithfully recorded their indifference to each other – an incident that showed her keenness in life around her. She studied biology at the University of Princeton where she secured her degree in 1987. Five years later, she obtained a PhD from the University of London.
She currently teaches theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford.
As a writer, she made a notable impact on the literary field. Gupta is the author of Memories of Rain (1992), The Glassblower’s Breath (1993), Moonlight into Marzipan (1995), A Sin of Colour (1999) and So Good in Black (2009).
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