y parents, who are from Kolkata, India, named me Shree — for the goddess of wealth. We'll see! My first interest was learning English, but my older brother, Pinaki, got me hooked on science. He tried explaining atoms to me when I was 6 years old. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but he was so excited. I watched him enter science fairs and decided I wanted to do the same thing.
In second grade I entered the science fair world at the Invention Convention. My teacher told us to come up with an idea that no one had thought of. I didn't like green vegetables, so I thought I would dye one blue to make it more attractive to kids. I injected a spinach plant with food coloring. Unfortunately, that didn't go so well. I came to school with a withered and horrible looking plant. I remember the other kids snickering. I think I got a passing grade for effort. But I still had fun.
In fifth grade, I decided to create a remote-controlled garbage can because I hated taking out the trash and thought it would be useful for handicapped people. I took the top off a remote-controlled car and fitted a garbage can on the wheels. It was the coolest thing I'd ever done. I still have the car, and I won the science fair.
It never occurred to me that girls didn't 'do' science. My schools never participated in science fairs so I did the research and prepared the entries myself. Everyone made a big deal about football and athletics with pep rallies. But when someone won a science competition, there would be a short PA announcement that no one paid attention to.
When I wasn't doing science I was swimming. Since age 8 I've been swimming competitively. At a race, the light flashes and the buzzer goes off. I hear the crowd screaming and then I'm in midair. When I hit the water everything just goes silent. It's awesome.
became interested in cancer research in high school and sent emails to professors in my region looking for a sponsor. Everyone said "no" except Dr. Alakananda Basu at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. I worked on a breast cancer project the summer after my freshman year and took it to the science fair. I was crushed when I didn't win anything, but I realized that I was doing something I liked, and wasn't in it simply to win. I returned to Dr. Basu's lab the following summer. That's when I began to help design experiments for an ovarian cancer project. I was 16 and had just learned to drive. So every morning I drove myself to the lab.