As a recently announced Superstar of STEM, Dr Dhani Dharmaprani spends her days investigating matters of the heart. Dhani tells us how a family legacy paved her way to Flinders, and why she spends her spare time with her feet off the ground.
What is your role here at Flinders?
I’m a biomedical engineer and postdoctoral researcher at the Cardiac Signals Analysis Lab (lead by Associate Professor Anand Ganesan), which is located within the College of Medicine and Public Health. My work (very literally) investigates matters of the heart, and applies mathematical approaches to better understand dangerous heart rhythm disorders that lead to stroke and sudden cardiac death.
I am also a casual academic at Flinders, and have been involved as a lecturer, topic co-ordinator, tutor and everything in between for several undergraduate and postgraduate engineering courses at the College of Science and Engineering.
What journey brought you to Flinders University?
I completed my undergraduate degree and PhD at Flinders University after following in my dad’s footsteps – he’s an engineer who did his PhD at Flinders. I’ve been fortunate to remain at Flinders ever since, supported by the wonderful staff and ecosystem here. I’m extremely grateful for the lifelong mentors I’ve met along the way.
Can you explain your research?
Despite the vastness of our universe, consistent motifs can strikingly be found throughout nature. One such motif is the spiral, demonstrated through swirling galaxies in the Milky Way, whirlpools in the ocean and deadly tornadoes. However, the presence of spirals still remains a mystery in one of the most fundamental biological systems: the heart.
Spirals in the heart occur during a condition known as cardiac fibrillation, which is a significant disease that affects 1 in 4 people. Understanding how and why these spirals lead to fibrillation is therefore a key to treat this prevalent disease. To unravel this mystery, our research at the Cardiac Signals Analysis Lab uses maths and numbers to help model and understand the behaviour of such spirals in the heart. This work has led us to receive three major category 1 research grants in the past two years, worth approximately $2 million, which are helping us progress towards state-of-the-art technologies for patients suffering from cardiac fibrillation.
What is an important lesson you’ve learnt?
It’s important to believe in yourself and be comfortable with always learning new skills. Research is all about discovering the unknown.
What are you most proud of?
I’m very proud when I see students that I teach and supervise developing their skills and confidence. And there is no feeling quite like seeing concepts and ideas being brought to life, especially when they can help others. I’m also very proud to advocate for women in STEM and hope to promote more visibility for female scientists and STEM professionals.
How do you spend your spare time?
I love food and like to cook for the family, which conveniently coerces them into spending time with me! I’ve also dabbled in aerial silks, I love a good puzzle, and love travelling with my husband.