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Nirmal Nair

Digging into the business of mushrooms

Though he has spent the past quarter-century in California, one mechanical engineering (ME) alum considers himself a “Midwestern boy” at heart and he attributes that to the critical role that Iowa State University played in his professional development.

Nirmal Nair spent time in both Chennai and Delhi growing up in India. As a kid, he always had an interest in taking things apart to learn how they work, and as he grew older, he became particularly interested in automobiles and engines. While many of his peers were pursuing studies in computer science and aspects of electrical engineering in the 1980s, Nair knew that he wanted to be a mechanical engineer.

He studied ME as an undergraduate at the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, and spent a couple of years working for a car tire ingredient manufacturer in India after completing his bachelor’s degree. However, he found that he was not challenged enough intellectually and wanted to take his career in a different direction.

“I decided that I needed to go back to school,” said Nair. “My learning journey wasn’t done yet.”

Coming to America

With his credentials coming in, Iowa State University offered Nair a research assistantship that allowed him to work with a major professor of his choosing. After exploring his options, he found a place for himself in the lab of Jim Oliver, then an associate professor who has since risen to the rank of a university professor and also serves as the Pithan Executive Director of Innovation for Iowa State’s Student Innovation Center.

“Jim Oliver was my guide. He was my mentor. We were great friends outside of work as well and we remain in touch today,” Nair said.

Oliver recalled that he would occasionally bring his dog into the office, during the times he would need to work late into the night. Nair, a dog lover, would stop by the office and take her for walks around campus so Oliver would continue his work uninterrupted. Oliver also remembered Nair’s love for cooking. Read more:

Anand Vaid

Sempera Organics' staff writer seeks out all the latest mushroom news to keep you informed and up-to-date.