Amar Bhardwaj

Class of 2020

The key to sustaining sustainability is making eco-friendly options cheaper and better than less conscious alternatives, believes chemical engineer and environmentalist Amar Bhardwaj '20.

Working jointly with Professors Daniel Esposito of chemical engineering and Ngai Yin Yip of earth and environmental engineering, Bhardwaj has already spent two years investigating catalysts for solar fuels and new techniques for seawater desalination, aiming for innovations that can make sustainable technologies more competitive in the marketplace.

It’s a passion that the Santa Monica- and Hong Kong-raised Bhardwaj discovered in his first year, as a Science Research Fellow at Columbia College, when he began to explore Esposito and Yip’s work. Soon, he was invited to help start up a new joint project between their two labs, ultimately transferring to Columbia Engineering.

“I started this project mostly from scratch with one other undergrad, and not as a direct continuation of previous work,” said Bhardwaj, a C. Prescott Davis Scholar. “For the last year, I’ve been working on it alone—it has been a bit of an atypical arrangement, but it has taught me to take the lead on a research project and think independently on how best to conduct it.”

Bhardwaj found additional inspiration this past spring in an expansive class on energy and its conservation led by James Valentini, professor of chemistry and dean of the College.

“Professor Valentini presented a broad ‘beginner’s mind’-oriented overview of energy from both theoretical and applied standpoints,” Bhardwaj said. “He fostered a state of full involvement and uninhibited curiosity that has become my model for how I hope to approach every context.”

In 2018, Bhardwaj was among just five college sophomores selected alongside 45 juniors nationwide to receive the prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarship recognizing leadership and public service on issues including the environment. The honor came with up to $7000 for his studies and a five-day orientation in Tucson with fellow scholars, Udall alumni, and an array of professionals.

“It was a phenomenal experience that cast environmental issues in a vastly different light than I was used to,” he said. “With a focus on the on-the-ground intricacies of environmentalism in contrast with my lab work, the orientation helped reinforce that my research is only important in the context of its real-world implications.”

In 2019, Bhardwaj received the fellowship again as a junior, as well as the Goldwater Scholarship, which honors students who show "potential to make a significant contribution to their field."

Bhardwaj strives to raise awareness of environmental issues and help others adopt more sustainable lifestyles. He is lead writer for Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, overseeing a team of student contributors and serves as the Engineering Student Council’s sustainability representative. He also co-leads Columbia’s EcoReps recycling committee, which works to implement better recycling infrastructure and messaging on campus.

“I try to be as involved as I can in helping on the policy and human behavior front,” Bhardwaj said. “I hope to exert a more granular influence by getting the Columbia community more invested in sustainability and making it more convenient to live sustainably on campus.”

When he isn’t conducting research or advocacy, Bhardwaj plays French horn in the Columbia University Orchestra, performs with Sabor: Columbia’s First Latino Dance Troupe, and spends as much time in nature as he can manage. Looking ahead, he plans to earn a PhD in chemical engineering, specializing in sustainable energy, and hopes to become a professor at a leading research university.

“In addition to advising my project, Professors Esposito and Yip have helped me understand how to navigate my career trajectory and what it’s like to be a professor,” he said. “They have become true role models for me.”

Student Spotlight

"Professors Esposito and Yip have helped me understand how to navigate my career trajectory and what it’s like to be a professor. They have become true role models for me.

Amar Bhardwaj
Class of 2020