During her PhD at Oxford University, Sapna worked on research projects that combined chemistry, physics, and materials science. She undertook extensive solid-state and solution phase chemistry of nanomaterials, such as graphene, and studied their physical and electronic properties. She developed novel synthetic approaches to use ultrathin graphene as a substrate for advanced transmission electron microscopy. Using these methodologies, Sapna studied the behavior and structures of single atoms, molecules, and other 2D materials down to the atomic level.
As a Schmidt Science Fellow, Sapna has pivoted from materials to neuroscience with Professor Ed Boyden at MIT. Here, she will work on evolving more human-appropriate optogenetic tools, to support a new generation of neural interfaces and bionics.
Sapna hopes to lead efforts, including biomining and directed evolution, of proteins (e.g., opsins) that are maximally compatible with the human body, in terms of minimal immune response and maximal biocompatibility, to open up a new generation of optical input-output interfaces to the brain and body. She hopes this work will lead to the treatment of intractable conditions of disability, including paralysis, amputation, brain degeneration, mental illness, and immune dysfunction.