Nature India | Indigenus

Away from home: Quantum thermodynamics in Israel

A new story from a new country in the ‘Away from home‘ blog series today. The series features promising young Indian postdocs working in foreign labs. They recount their experience of working in foreign lands, the triumphs and challenges, the cultural differences and what they miss about India. They also offer useful tips for other Indian postdocs headed abroad. You can join their online conversation using the #postdochat hashtag.

Our ‘Away from home’ interactive map now features 45 bright Indian postdocs from around the world. Write to us to suggest names of postdocs from countries and disciplines we haven’t covered yet.

Arnab Ghosh is the first Indian postdoc from Israel being featured in this series. Arnab, a quantum thermodynamics geek at the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS), Israel is a Ph.D from Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), Kolkata. He brings in a unique flavour from a country culturally close to India and witnessing a robust growth in science and technology. His collaborative work on ‘Born-Kothari condensation‘ was recently in the news.

Arnab Ghosh at Isarael's historic Masada rock plateau

Arnab Ghosh at Isarael’s historic Masada rock plateau

Fascinated with maths

My interest in science started with a fascination for mathematics, a subject I loved most in school. My first mentor Bikas Bhadra fanned this interest further. Long after becoming a chemist, I enjoy the maths stories he tells me till date, a recent one being that of Archimedes’ and his classic method of evaluating the mathematical constant π. I opted for chemistry in undergrads but the interest in maths steered me into theoretical chemistry.

I joined an integrated PhD programme at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), Kolkata under Professor Deb Shankar Ray, who gave me full freedom to try out new ideas. This resulted in some interesting observations, the most important being the recent proposition of a new kind of condensation for fermions, namely, the Born-Kothari condensation (BKC). We named it after the seminal works of eminent Indian physicist D. S. Kothari and German physicist Max Born — a work that was dormant since 1943. This is reminiscent of the more familiar Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) for bosons named after Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose.

I wanted to expand my scientific horizon and so do a postdoc in a different field altogether. After the PhD , I started looking for a long-term postdoctoral position that would allow me sufficient time to learn the new subject. Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS), Israel offered me a rare three-year postdoctoral fellowship. I took the opportunity.

Dabbling in quantum thermodynamics

This field has attracted considerable attention in recent times, both in theory and in experiments. While thermodynamics was developed as a theory that limits possible macroscopic processes, quantum mechanics describes mainly microscopic systems. Thus it was unclear earlier why these two disciplines should be related. Richard Feynman envisioned ‘‘tiny machines’’working at the single-atom level in his seminal speech ‘‘There is plenty of room at the bottom’’ in 1959. His vision is now on the verge of realization, thanks to cutting-edge quantum technologies. Yet, these technologies, while entreating quantum mechanics, still rely on power-supply and cooling that are governed by 19th century thermodynamics. It is therefore important to examine the conceptual compatibility between these two disciplines. Despite considerable attempts over last few decades, their concordance is still an open fundamental issue.

The project we are currently pursuing under Professor Gershon Kurizki of the Department of Chemical Physics involves such crucial bearing on the validity of the conventional thermodynamic laws and the performance bounds of heat machines in the quantum domain.

Cosy team, Mediterranean bliss & costly weekend trips

My lab has is made of a small group of three — two from Kolkata, India and one from Austria. It is nice to have people from different cultures and ideological backgrounds under the same roof, makes for interesting conversations. An abundance of Indian postdocs in every university of Israel is an additional plus point.

The best asset of Israel is its captivating Mediterranean weather. Israelis are generally very hard working, helpful and cooperative. They love India and Indian people. They travel to India a lot. Indian festivals are gradually becoming popular in Israel. This year we had full-blown Holi celebrations organised in the WIS campus.

Language might have been a hindrance if there weren’t so many Indians in Israel to help newcomers make a smooth transition. Indians naturally gel into the Israeli work culture, easily find Indian groceries and can speak in Hindi with many Indian-Israeli Jews. An Israeli plumber once came in to fix a water problem in the apartment I share with an Indian friend. He inquired if we were Indian and when we said yes, he broke into a popular Bollywood number: “I am a disco dancer”! We realised that Bollywood is a big brand ambassador of Indian culture outside India.

In Israel, Friday and Saturday are holidays when you have limited access to public transport. Though taxi services are available during the weekend, they are expensive. So it’s hard for us to plan a long distance outing after a busy week. Most people own cars, so they don’t face such problems. Our only saving grace are the trips organized by the institute for international postdocs. This leaves us with limited choice.

Tips for Indian students looking at Israel for postdoc

Having spent time in the US and in Israel, I would say the US is more formal and professional. Israel gives you a delightfully satisfying balance between work and personal life. So, if you have decided to come to Israel, don’t hesitate.

There are several ways to apply for postdoctoral positions in Israeli Universities:

  1. Finding position online and apply for it. Here is one such link: http://www.academy.ac.il/Ads/?nodeId=940 . Alternatively, keep eye on the respective websites of the Universities. All nine Universities of Israel are world class.
  2. Applying through different fellowship programmes. Special fellowships like VATAT support Indian and Chinese postdocs to do research in Israeli Universities. Here is one such link to apply for these: https://www.weizmann.ac.il/feinberg/fellowship-aid/postdoc-fellowship-opportunities
  3. Directly contacting the faculty member you would like to join.

On coming back home

I do miss my own people, my family, playing with my little twin nieces, mom’s delicious dishes. I miss my native village Alampur, where I spent my childhood. I miss Diwali and Durga Puja festivities with my dear ones.

I came abroad only to get a better scientific exposure and experience. I would like to come back to India at the first opportunity. In a couple of years, I will start applying for positions back home.

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