Nirmala Ramanujam (Class of 1984)


Teacher Appreciation Day, sometimes also referred to as Teachers’ Day or National Teacher Day, is annually occasion to honor and appreciate teachers and recognize their lasting contributions to education, society and the lives of their students. GIS Alumni Community would like to celebrate Teacher’s Day by sharing this wonderful write-up about Alumna Nirmala Ramanujam (Class of 1984) who is currently a Professor at Duke University.


Professor Nimmi Ramanujam’s Profile…

Dr. Ramanujam is the Robert W. Carr, Jr., Professor of Biomedical Engineering as well as a faculty member in the Global Health Institute and Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University. She is an innovator, educator and entrepreneur and her mission is to develop and leverage technology to have the most wide-reaching impact in women’s health. She directs the center for Global Women’s Health Technologies (GWHT), a partnership between the Pratt School of Engineering and the Duke Global Health Institute. Through the GWHT, she is empowering her trainees at Duke and beyond to be agents of change – providing them with the knowledge, confidence and critical thinking skills to create impactful solutions to improve women’s lives.   

Dr. Ramanujam’s research focuses on women’s’ cancers and in particular breast and cervical cancer. Her goals are to design innovations that enable complex referral services often reserved for hospitals to be accessible at the community/primary care level, develop technologies to see and treat women with early stage disease and to develop tools that will make cancer treatment more effective and efficient. One example of a technology she and her team has developed to achieve health care impact is the Pocket Colposcope.The Pocket colposcope has the potential to revolutionize screening in low resource communities by enhancing the effectiveness and scalability of the screening process, reducing loss to follow up and guide the choice of treatment in a ‘see and treat’ paradigm.

Design is at the heart of innovation. Today engineering design is often taught in a traditional classroom to engineering students, and often towards the end of a student’s tenure in college. What if design and innovation could be accessible to a global community rather to a privileged few that can attend an elite university and what if the global technological challenges that communities face could be solved by women and girls who can personally relate to them right then and there? Dr. Ramanujam and her team have created a unique model to make design thinking and execution pervasive and in the process have created teachers, innovators and entrepreneurs. It starts with an initial node – a design course that teaches a small group of students how to hear, create and deliver a technological solution to a community need. Students than adapt the curricula to meet the needs of an international community and teach it to students in those communities using a similar instructor to student ratio. The students in those communities then perpetuate the knowledge by maintaining that virtuous cycle within their own communities.

Prof. Ramanujam has received several awards for her work in cancer research and technology innovation for women’s health. She received the TR100 Young Innovator Award from MIT in 2003, the Global Indus Technovator award from MIT in 2005, Era of Hope Scholar awards from the DOD in 2005 and 2009, the Stasnell Family award from the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke in 2011 and the Emerging Leader in Global Health Award from the Consortium of Universities in Global Health (CUGH) in 2018. She is a fellow of several optical and biomedical engineering societies including OSA, SPIE AIMBE. She has also been elected to the National Academy of Inventors – Class of 2018. She is also the co-editor of the Handbook of Biomedical Optics (publisher Taylor and Francis).


Please share with us some of your memories of GIS…

One of my fondest memories of GIS is being in an international community. While mathematics, science and history are all important, the most impressionable part of being at GIS was the diversity of students and faculty and how that created a vibrant and enriching cultural experience for the students. Now as I work with international communities around the world, I realize that my global citizenship began at GIS


Describe GIS in three words…

Safe, enriching, challenging.


What’s your advice to current students who will be making the same choice as yourself?

You have had the privilege of a GIS education – you were empowered by that education now empower someone else, one person at a time.


What’s your take on lifelong learning?

Without lifelong learning, there isn’t growth, without growth, I don’t think there can be happiness.