From India to Atlanta to Germany, this skilled scientist also wants to communicate his science well
While in high school, Bharath Hebbe Madhusudhana wanted to be a mathematician or a physicist. Now, he takes home degrees in the two fields he esteems the most: an M.S. in Mathematics and a Ph.D. in Physics.
The mathematics degree was almost an afterthought. When Bharath began his Ph.D. program in physics, he also started taking one graduate-level class in mathematics per semester. Before long, he needed only a few more, as well as a thesis, to complete the requirements of the master’s degree.
Prior to Tech, Bharath completed his undergraduate degree in physics in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, India. He knew he would do a Ph.D. “I joined Georgia Tech in the pursuit of a place where cutting-edge research was being done,” he says.
At Tech, Bharath not only studied his major fields but also pushed himself to communicate his science well. In 2016, he participated in Georgia Tech’s Three Minute Thesis Competition. Competitors explained their research to a diverse audience in just three minutes.
At the time, Bharath was a fourth-year Ph.D. student. He had discovered something fundamental about rubidium atoms: When cooled to about 170 nanoKelvins – almost absolute zero – and exposed to a magnet that traces a circle around them, the very-low-energy rubidium atoms can remember something abstract. They can tell the area of an abstract surface – called the Boy’s surface – corresponding to the real traced circle.
For his spirited explanation of how atoms, when cooled to almost immobility, remember abstract geometric phenomena, the judges named Bharath the third-place winner and the audience voted him as one of two winners of the People’s Choice award.
What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?
Apart from the technical knowledge necessary to conduct scientific research in my area, I learned the art of academic communication and collaboration in research. The papers I wrote and the conferences I attended helped me learn the basics of communicating my research work. While working with multiple faculty members at Georgia Tech, I gained experience in scientific collaboration.
What is your proudest achievement at Georgia Tech?
One of my research papers was rejected three times in a row by the same journal. However, with a carefully crafted rebuttal, I got it published after the fourth resubmission. The process was challenging, but I was supported extensively by the faculty members at Georgia Tech.
Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?
I gained a lot from the technical guidance of my advisor, Professor Michael Chapman. I owe my experimental skills and my intuitive understanding of atomic physics to him. He also provided valuable advice on crucial career-related decisions that I had to make in the later part of my Ph.D. work. His guidance has been pivotal in my professional development.
Professor Kennedy was always welcoming and available to talk about the theoretical aspects of our experiment. The discussions he had with me helped steer my research work into a productive direction. He also helped me extensively in writing a theoretical research paper and getting it published. During this process, with Professor Kennedy’s support, I learned how to respond to critical reviews of a research paper.
Being an experimental atomic physicist, I owe almost all my understanding of condensed-matter theory to Professor Sa de Melo. He is very friendly and always enthusiastic to talk about physics. I remember several late-night discussions with him in the laboratory, which resulted in a research paper that he and I wrote.
As my master’s thesis advisor, Professor Blekherman is responsible for my technical knowledge in the area of convex optimization. He was kind and accommodating as a thesis supervisor.
Professor Etnyre helped me understand the mathematical basis of my thesis project, which involved the fascinating subject of topology. He was always made himself available for discussions, from which I benefited greatly.
What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?
I have several.
Professor Sa de Melo would sometimes come to our lab at 9 PM. Along with a freshly brewed pot of tea, we talked about physics. Sometimes, we would lose track of time, only to realize that it is past 1 AM and we should call it a day. These discussions alone have resulted in a couple of research papers.
In the evenings, I would go on long walks, circling the campus area, occasionally stopping at the Campus Recreation Center for a swim or rock climbing or a game of ping-pong.
In what ways did your time at Georgia Tech transform your life?
Professionally, I now have a clear view of what I am going to do. At Georgia Tech, along with the acquiring the necessary technical skills, I developed an understanding of the goals of the specific research field. This understanding helped me decide what I want to do next.
What unique learning activities did you undertake?
In 2016, Professor Chapman encouraged me to participate in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition at Tech. The challenge was to communicate my thesis work in three minutes to a nonexpert audience.
While preparing for 3MT, I learned the art of oral communication, and it changed the way I presented my work at conferences thereafter. I was fortunate to win prize money, which I used to attend a conference. Professor Chapman had the foresight to know that participating in 3MT would be a good step in my professional development.
What advice would you give to incoming graduate students at Georgia Tech?
Georgia Tech has vast intellectual wealth, held by the numerous knowledgeable faculties in various disciplines. I would advise incoming graduate students to make use of this resource, as well as the facilities available on campus, to maximize their intellectual development during their time here.
Where are you headed after graduation?
I am starting a postdoctoral position at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, in Garching, Germany.
Professors Chapman, Kennedy, and Sa de Melo helped me develop the skills and confidence to continue in academia.They prepared me for an academic career, particularly for this postdoctoral position.