Being part of Astro club in FC, I interacted with research scholars: Mayuresh Surnis, post-doctoral scholar
During my bachelors course, I became a member of the Astro Club in Fergusson CollegeUpdated: Dec 28, 2018 17:15 IST
Hindustan Times, Pune
Mayuresh Surnis is working on developing an instrument to search for fast radio burst (FRBs) at the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in USA. He wants to write popular literature, especially in Marathi to help develop scientific temper and make people aware of the career opportunities in science.
Which college, course, and batch were you in? Tell us about your educational background
I did my primary schooling at the Hindustan Organic Chemicals (HOC) school in Rasayani, Raigad district. We moved to Pune in 2000 and I finished my Class X from New English School, Tilak road in 2003. I passed my higher secondary certificate exam from MES Abasaheb Garware College, Pune in 2005. I graduated with a bachelors degree in Physics from Fergusson College in 2008. After that, I continued for a master’s in Physics (2010) at the Department of Physics, Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU). I then joined the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), Pune for a Ph D in Physics. I defended my thesis in January 2017 and was awarded the Ph D by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.
How were you in academics?
I was a bright student. I was consistently among the toppers in my class. I was ranked 4th in Raigad district in primary scholarship exam conducted by the Maharashtra Sate Board in 1997.
What drove you to chose this career path?
I was always interested in Science. I cannot pin point an exact moment but there were several instances which propelled me towards my goal. Popular science books were my biggest companions since childhood and I believe they had a huge impact on my career choice. Dr Jayant Naralikar and Dr Prakash Tupe are my favourite authors. Their books kindled my curiosity towards astronomy. It was my high school Science teacher, who truly inspired me to pursue a career in Science. She was a very good teacher and she explained the importance of scientists for the development of the society. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to take up science.
During my bachelors course, I became a member of the Astro Club in Fergusson College. This group was mentored by our professor Raka Dabhade. In Astro club, I came across many like minded classmates and seniors who were interested in astronomy. We used to have stimulating discussions, participate in science exhibitions in the college and interact with research fellows from IUCAA and NCRA. During one of those days, I got an opportunity to work with Govind Swarup, who is a pioneer of Radio Astrophysics in India. That was how I was introduced to National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA). I carried out my research projects at NCRA. This opportunity was unique in several ways. I got glimpses of the cutting edge research in astrophysics. I also got to know how professional researchers operate and learned a lot about radio astronomy. This exposure was enough for me to make a decision to pursue radio astronomy as a career.
What happened after graduation?
While pursuing my master’s, I carried out a research project with Dr Bhal Chandra Joshi at NCRA. After I cleared the joint entrance screening test and interviews at NCRA, I decided to continued the research with him for Ph D.
Tell us about your career journey?
My career journey truly started with the opportunity to work in NCRA with Dr Govind Swarup. In this project, I got hands on experience with a small radio telescope to observe celestial objects. Radio telescopes are unique because they see a completely different picture of the universe, compared to the optical telescopes. This gave me a hang of what radio astronomy is and I decided to come back to NCRA for my masters project. During the masters project, I observed with a world class instrument, the “Giant Metrewave Radio telescope (GMRT)”. In this project, we were searching for radio pulsars, the rotating neutron stars that emit radio pulses. I developed a keen interest in pulsar search and timing while working on this project. Meanwhile I cleared the Ph.D. entrance test and became a junior research fellow at NCRA. I readily chose pulsar search as my Ph D thesis topic because of my interest. After submitting my thesis, I moved to Radio Astronomy Centre in Ooty as a visiting scholar. Here, I worked on a different kind of radio telescope, the Ooty Radio Telescope (ORT). While working at Ooty, I got an offer to work with Dr Duncan Lorimer (the discoverer of Fast Radio Bursts or FRBs) at the West Virginia University in the USA. I immediately took it up and joined in April 2017. I am currently working there as a post-doctoral scholar.
What about the highs and lows of your career so far?
Getting the prestigious Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) fellowship in 2007 gave me direct access to research institutes and their libraries across India. It was also a confidence booster which showed me that I can actually make a career in research. Discovering my first pulsar in 2010, which was a first professional achievement for me, then getting my first paper published in an international journal in 2016, which gave me peer recognition and also a job offer from Dr Duncan Lorimer. It is always inspiring to work with pioneers of the field. He is both my personal as well as professional idol. Of course, defending my thesis and getting my Ph. D. was a major milestone.
There was a period of 4-5 months during the third year of my Ph. D. when I was struggling to detect the pulsar that I had discovered earlier. It was frustrating to travel to GMRT and to carry out observations only to not detect the pulsar again and again, but my patience paid off and I successfully completed the project. Another low was during the last year of my Ph. D. when I was applying for post-doctoral positions. I was writing my thesis and applying for jobs simultaneously and nothing was working out. This period taught me the value of trusting my ability because things worked out eventually. These highs and lows have shaped my career and personality in specific ways.
Please tell us about your upcoming/current project?
I am currently working on developing an instrument to search for FRBs at the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in USA. GBT is the largest, fully steerable radio telescope in the world and we are setting up the instrument that will search for these mysterious radio bursts from far away galaxies. Our instrument is unique because it will keep working round the clock, even when other observations are going on. We have almost completed the project and are eagerly awaiting first results.
What are your future plans?
I am looking for more research opportunities abroad to work on a variety of radio telescopes. This will provide me with work experience in diverse work environments and learn more about pulsar science. I would like to use this experience and contribute to the growing field of pulsar research in India. I am also planning to write popular literature, especially in Marathi to help develop scientific temper and to make people aware of the career opportunities in science.
First Published: Dec 28, 2018 17:09 IST