Natural sciences lecturer Sandra Bishnoi dies at 44

Sandra Bishnoi, a lecturer in natural sciences and coordinator of Rice University’s Sustaining Excellence in Research (SER) Scholars Program, died July 26 after a long battle with cancer. She was 44.

Sandra Bishnoi

Sandra Bishnoi

Bishnoi taught the hands-on Introduction to Scientific Research Challenges course for freshmen to give them the opportunity to do research on practical projects. Rice News covered her students’ work on the chemistry of “shrubs” with award-winning chef Chris Shepherd and the analysis of soil chemistry at Houston’s Hope Farms.

Bishnoi earned a Bachelor of Science in 1997 and a Ph.D. in 2001 in chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a Rice postdoctoral researcher in chemistry and electrical engineering from 2003 to 2005 and became an assistant professor of chemistry at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

She returned to Rice as a visiting scholar and then a lecturer and lab coordinator in 2012 and assisted with cancer nanotechnology projects as a research scientist in the Laboratory for Nanophotonics through 2014. She was also a faculty associate at McMurtry College.

She was well-known in Houston’s cancer community as an advocate for patients, working as a volunteer with the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Network, even while she was in treatment over the past seven years. Bishnoi was interviewed numerous times by Houston and national media and wrote for MD Anderson’s Cancerwise blog on topics that included support groups, motherhood, first visits to a cancer clinic and living life fully with cancer.

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, University Professor and director of the Rice 360˚ Institute for Global Health, said Bishnoi was instrumental in establishing the SER Scholars Program and the freshman course with funding from a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant. Rice has committed to continuing both beyond the grant’s final year, along with an endowment to SER by the Bishnoi family, Richards-Kortum said.

“Sandra so believed in the ability of her students to succeed,” Richards-Kortum said. “She helped them overcome their fears and become practicing scientists. She was an inspiration to them and to everyone who taught alongside her.”

Bishnoi is survived by her husband, Sanjay Bishnoi, and children, Raj and Anya.

A memorial service will be held Aug. 4 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 5308 Buffalo Speedway, Houston.

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.