Graduate Applies Engineering to Health and Video Games

Shyno Mathew
Shyno Mathew

For Shyno Mathew PhD’17, whose journey began in Kottayam, a small town in India, earning her doctorate in computational chemical engineering is the culmination—so far—of an intellectual adventure that spans continents and disciplines. In addition to her extensive research contributing to next-generation drugs and therapy, she is also an educational entrepreneur developing interactive apps to help inspire diverse young talent to pursue STEM careers.

In 2016 Mathew and postdoc Jennifer Appawu founded qLogiX Entertainment to develop and bring to market novel games that make STEM more engaging for young audiences. Their first product, a STEM video game called BooMEE currently in beta, is receiving rave reviews from users on the iOS, Android, and Windows platforms.

“‘Play Inspire Explore’ is our mantra,” says Mathew, noting that 10 percent of profits are devoted to supporting children in high-needs situations. “Our products are geared to eliminate the social fear associated with STEM topics like math, break the stereotype that STEM is exclusively for ‘geeks,’ and address inadequate representation of women and various ethnicities pursuing STEM majors.”

Mathew has also long dreamed of engineering better human health, inspired in part by her father’s struggle with type 2 diabetes. After receiving the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Academic Scholarship for her schooling in India, she found her calling while interning at Merck Pharmaceuticals as a Drexel University undergraduate. There, she collaborated with a group of mostly chemical engineers to develop cutting-edge drugs. She went on to earn her master’s degrees in chemical engineering and engineering management from Drexel, with a focus on computer-simulating proteins to explore their potential applications for treating a range of ailments including diabetes.

Drawn by the “outstanding” research opportunities at Columbia Engineering, she came to the School in 2010 to hone in on molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules like proteins and DNA. Her dissertation focuses on autophagy, cells’ recycling mechanism for removing dysfunctional components, which plays a crucial role in aging and in diseases like cancer, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. Using molecular dynamics simulations, she modeled the ways in which LC3 protein may help complete structures that envelop materials for removal.

“Without the closure of these cup-like structures, autophagy never gets finished,” said Mathew, who also studied nucleosome positioning problems—how chemical modifications of DNA, as in cancerous cells, can affect the tightly wrapped packaging of DNA inside cells’ nuclei. “Understanding the details of autophagy will help us design better drugs and therapeutic treatments for many different diseases.”

While working on her PhD, she co-curated and addressed a TEDxColumbiaEngineeringSchool conference, helped lead a SEAS Women in Entrepreneurship Hackathon (securing sponsorships from Bloomberg and Google), and worked with the Office of Graduate Student Affairs to hold a variety of professional and cultural events for graduate engineers, including the “Engineering Your Style” wearable tech gathering. She also was a teaching assistant for eight courses ranging from first-year to the PhD level.

In addition to serving as an instructor in the School of Professional Studies’ GirlsinSTEM program in three cities and teaching an introductory chemical engineering course for high school students this summer, Mathew is now pursuing qLogiX Entertainment full-time, and plans to continue teaching and developing innovative educational products. She is also interested in sustainable agriculture and creating holistic personal care items, perhaps combining Ayurveda, yoga, and organic goods with technology. During her rare moments of free time, she plays tennis in Riverside Park.

Looking back, Mathew expresses gratitude to the many faculty, colleagues, and friends at Columbia Engineering, her “home away from home,” who have helped her along the way, including Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship. She is pleased to remain in the neighborhood and plans to stay involved with the alumni community

“We have to invest in children and encourage them to use their brains and time for constructive purposes,” she said. “Apart from my parents’ support, it was childhood education that made my journey possible, so I like to give back to the community and support education in the best way I can.”

by Jesse Adams

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 510, New York, NY 10027    212-854-2993