A Quebec City civil engineer who grew up in rural India without running water or electricity is now leading cutting-edge research that could reform the construction industry.
Pampa Dey defied the odds of a girl getting a higher education and could now make a significant contribution to the fight against climate change.
“When I was growing up, I was growing up with a very small dream that I wanted to be a teacher,” Dey explained.
Dey is now the educational chair in literacy on sustainable design of aluminum structures at Laval University, where she is also an assistant professor and researcher.
Moving to Canada and becoming a professor, she said, never seemed possible to her as a child.
“Oh no, no, no, no. I’m from a very rural place of India. If I have to give you a context of my background, I’m the first engineer, be it man or woman, from my town,” she said.
Dey is the first one in her family to go to university. Her older sister got married before graduating high school.
However, Dey always dreamed of higher education. She wrote an entrance exam for the engineering program at a university 250 kilometres away from her home.
“I got selected, not knowing what civil engineering was,” Dey said.
She also received a bursary.
“And because I came to the city, I got exposed to a lot of opportunities,” she said.
She went on to do her masters in an outside province and then her PhD at the University of Waterloo.
Dey’s path has set an example for a lot of young women — especially her younger sister.
“She’s now a nurse in the hospital, but she did the education, because you know, I already crossed the boundary,” Dey said. “But for my elder sister, it was unfortunate.”
“So if I was not getting selected in engineering, at one point, I could have gotten married,” she said, laughing slightly.
“I was the next in the queue after her, within one or two years probably.”
Now in Quebec, Dey is studying the use of aluminum in large construction projects like high rises and bridges.
“It is lightweight, at the same time it is high strength. It is a durable material and it has a very, very good recyclability,” Dey explained.
Quebec has the lowest carbon footprint in the world when it comes to the production of aluminum, which is another good reason to replace steel and concrete.
However, Dey says more research is needed in order to convince the industry.
“They don’t have any information on how to use aluminum, or … how to design it,” she said.