Souvik Ghosh, our Scientist of the Week, spends countless hours in the Sankaran Laboratory (http://microplasma.case.edu) at Case Western Reserve University. He is very creative and innovative. I have often observed him construct electrodes and components of research equipment using low-cost materials that are available in the lab. He works long hours and it is more than obvious that he enjoys his research work. Souvik is expected to defend his doctoral thesis this year.
Any potential employers out there? I highly recommend him!
Souvik Ghosh Interview
1. Why and when did you decide to become a researcher/scientist?
My grandfather worked for the Indian Army and did research on new designs for arms and armaments. He taught me how to use basic prototyping instruments like the lathe and drill. He also taught me how to build things like a bow and arrow (which I promptly dropped and stabbed myself right in the foot with) and built fireworks from scratch with flower pots that would shoot a flame as high as 8 feet up! He made me into the tinkerer I am today. He is currently 93 years old and is a person whom I’ve always admired. I realized early on how I liked to build things and was intrigued by mechanics. The sheer motivation that I get from knowing and understanding how things work made me realize my path towards research as a career.
2. What made you choose plasma as your field of study?
I have explored different aspects of physics and materials science in my career. Early on, during my undergraduate studies I was lucky to have professors who were well-renowned physicists and experts in the fields of astrophysics and condensed matter physics.
My masters degree was in the field of astroparticle physics, which incorporated in-depth studies of high temperature plasmas at the surface of our sun, the solar corona. I was fascinated by the properties of plasma, particularly the incorporation of fluid mechanics along with electromagnetic theory embodied in a single entity. Spending more time on this, I came to the realization that although I liked the idea of researching on plasmas, I was not quite the guy who enjoys running simulations in front of a computer all day long. I wanted something to do hands-on.
When I was accepted to the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur in their materials science and engineering masters program I was blessed with an amazing supervisor and mentor, Professor Chacko Jacob. Because of his guidance I concluded that I love the materials aspect of technology and want to work in a lab where I make (and break) equipment for enabling those studies. My current position at Prof. Sankaran’s lab satisfies all of those needs. We make our own instruments. An added bonus is that we work with plasmas to make nanomaterials. It is the perfect mish-mash that I could only dream of!
3. Describe your favorite plasma experiment
One of the professors in the chemistry department at CWU, Prof. Daniel Scherson, came up with an idea op coupling an atmospheric-pressure microplasma to activate metal ion species in water and study their spectroscopic properties. The only condition was that there needed to be enough space near the plasma to introduce probes at the site where the plasma activates the water. This was a big limitation in the realization of the study as atmospheric pressure DC microplasmas are highly localized to a volume ~ 0.008 cm3. Professor Sankaran and I brainstormed to generate an idea of how the stagnant water can be converted into a vertically falling water-jet – just like a faucet – which would make enough space for the probes to come in. In our lab, we developed a working system that contains a vertically falling continuous water-jet. We demonstrated how this instrument can be used to continuously synthesize silver nanoparticles in solution without any limitation of the batch volume and simultaneously control the reaction and the production rate. We published this work in the Journal of Vacuum Science (J. Vac. Sci. Technol. A, http://scitation.aip.org/content/avs/journal/jvsta/33/2/10.1116/1.4907407) in early 2015. Since then, it has been one of the most downloaded papers for that journal.
4. How much has your mentor influenced you?
While at IIT I worked with Professor Chacko Jacob, who has played a pivotal role in the choice of my career path. His supervision and guidance has led me to where I am today. At Case Western I get to work under Professor Mohan Sankaran, whose optimism with every aspect of science and technology never ceases to amaze me – from exploring new avenues and finding innovative solution to problems. Not only has his guidance taught me how to address difficulties in research but also how to tackle every facet of a scientific problem to achieve success. He has helped me nurture my leadership skills as well, by enabling me to supervise multiple undergraduate researchers and help bring their projects to fruition, and created opportunities to moderate panels in international conferences. Finally, I am fortunate to have Dr. Ina Martin at Case Western as a friend, a mentor and as counsel. Her cheerfulness and support make her my go-to person to discuss my academic and non-academic ventures.
5. Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
Yes, I do! I’ve really gotten into developing visualization of models and process schematics with various 3D rendering software. I’m always learning how to improve. I’ve come a long way from my first image but there’s a long way to go. Apart from these I really like building electronics using open source platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. For fun, I love building and tinkering with remote controlled airplanes. When I was growing up I wanted to go into the Air Force and was obsessed with the idea of flight. I have three right now that I’ve customized heavily, but I really want to get a first person view (FPV) flight one day. Other than that, all my time is spent with my amazing wife Rebecca and my dog Darcy!
6. Your personal website: http://souviksg.com is impressive. Is it important for a young professional to have his/her own website?
Thank you, I worked really hard on it (although it was my wife who coded the website). I absolutely think it is important, even essential for a young professional to have their own website. It is much more interactive than a CV, I can highlight things I am passionate about, and it can provide more detail on my work for those who are interested. I believe having my own site has helped me in reaching out to other professionals in academia and industry alike. The hardest thing when developing it was ensuring a clean design and keeping the information on there concise. No one likes reading from a cluttered web page but the temptation to put too much information on there for a work you’re really excited about is huge. So I balanced it out with high resolution images, which appeared to be the best compromise!