About

Hello! Thanks for visiting my academic website. Here’s a bit about me:

Me_Taughannock_Falls
In front of Taughannock Falls

My name is Shovan Dutta. I’m a graduate student in the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. I study the strange quantum behavior of matter at very low temperatures, working under the guidance of Erich Mueller, one of the nicest and smartest professors around! You can read my research papers on arXiv. I get to play with ideas and mathematical models to understand the microscopic world, occasionally getting a glimpse of “the great ocean of truth” which lies “all undiscovered before me.” Its indeed a privilege to have such a wonderful job!

I grew up in Howrah, India (a town near Kolkata) in a middle-class family. I was fortunate to have loving parents, caring teachers, and cheerful classmates, who helped nurture my curiosity in academics, music, and sports. My “dream” of becoming a musician and then a mathematician gradually gave way to becoming a physicist as I neared the end of high school. However, socio-economic circumstances meant that I was to enroll in an engineering program instead, which had better job prospects. But, as an undergrad in the Department of Electronics and Tele-Communication Engineering at Jadavpur University, I became more and more attracted to physics as I kept reading great books, such as those by Feynman, and did some research in theoretical physics with Prof. Subhankar Ray. Eventually I applied to physics PhD programs in my final year and got accepted at Cornell.

My current research is on collective quantum phenomena in ultracold gases [group website]. As matter is cooled to near absolute zero, strange quantum-mechanical properties emerge out of interactions between the particles which make up matter (atoms) and light (photons). My work consists of analyzing mathematical models of such quantum gases of atoms and photons, using a blend of analytical and numerical techniques, to study the rich features of novel quantum states and make predictions which could be tested in experiments. Our research provides insight into the behavior of many-body quantum systems and has led to publications in Physical Review Letters and Physical Review A. Here is a story on our recent work on domain walls in superfluids, written for a general audience: Surprising nature of quantum solitary waves revealed. Here’s another, on fractional quasiparticles in an optical cavity: Enlightened path to anyons and quantum computation.

Before coming to Cornell, I did some research as an undergrad on bifurcations in dynamical systems, random walks modeling anomalous diffusion, photoemission from thin films, “PT-symmetric” quantum mechanics, and phase transition in cold nuclear matter. My current and past research projects and publications are detailed here (with images and slides!). You can also find a compact version in my CV where I brag about my accomplishments.

During my stay at Cornell, I’ve also had the chance to teach undergraduate physics courses on a variety of topics as a Teaching Assistant. Depending on the course, I have supervised discussion and lab sections, prepared quizzes and exam questions, designed numerical problems and Mathematica tutorials, created new demos, managed online discussion forums, and graded. I’ve come to discover that I actually love teaching (apart from grading, that is, which I hate!). I have learned, and continue to learn, a great deal from reading pedagogical articles and interacting with professors as well as enthusiastic (and sometimes not-so-enthusiastic) students. You can find details of the courses I have taught, their student evaluations, my ideas on teaching, and a collection of fun exercise problems here. More resources on a variety of topics can be found on the Links page.

Outside academics, I’m fond of music, having learned Indian ragas and Bengali music for several years. I also enjoy walking through the woods and thinking (god knows what), listening to audiobooks and interviews, reading popular science articles, watching movies, documentaries, and comedy, spending time in a boat, playing cricket, tennis, and the harmonium, and traveling to new places, although I don’t get to do all these things very often, as you might have guessed. I like to live in the present, keep things simple, and stay hopeful of the future (well, I try!). But on the other hand, I rarely go to the gym and am quite lazy, so there you are.