Krishna Mahadevan

Riding That Intellectual Roller Coaster

As a teen, a pair of images solidified his interest in biology and math. Now he's doing his part to solve the world's complex problems.


Radhakrishnan Mahadevan is a Professor of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on understanding cellular metabolism, and how we can use it for sustainable chemistry. We asked him everything from his admiration for rogue thinkers to the privileges of his career in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

I am most excited by the possibility of contributing to solving the complex challenges facing our world. If I think a bit more about it, I feel deeply privileged to have the opportunity to do research and train students to solve problems.

To me, the most satisfying aspect of being a researcher in a university is the ability to interact with students and train them. The development you see in them is something that is beyond any material reward.

What advice would you give young researchers?

Sometimes things go in a roller coaster way, and it is very important to stick to the tasks at hand, even though things can be tough sometimes. In the end, it’s essential to realize every day is a learning experience and as long as you have that attitude along with discipline and hard work, it is always going to be valuable in the end; the journey matters more than the end. Graduate school or academia is a special place of learning, and it is vital to make the best use of it with a good plan and attitude.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I was kind of influenced by two images in high school. One was a photo of a diatom with amazing symmetry, and the other was an image from math on fractals that kind of crystallized my interest in biology and math and in designing biological systems based on mathematical modelling. I was also fortunate to have terrific mentors at the undergraduate and graduate level who were inspirational.

What do you like to do for fun? 

I enjoy hiking, yoga, listening to music and colouring with my daughter. Spending time with her (e.g. baking) is relaxing, most of the time.

What’s your favourite cuisine?

For this one, I go back my roots: south Indian cuisine. Outside of that, I enjoy middle eastern cuisine.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?

I would want to be a musician, though I am not sure I have the skills for it. I find it amazing how these basic notes can be combined to spark your brain in so many ways. With my current skill set, I would have tried my hand at being a sports analyst.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

I have a special place for people who were able to overcome prevailing dogma and change thought at a global scale, so it would have to be someone like Copernicus. I would have loved to have figured out how he came up with a plan to communicate his ideas.

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