Varun Srivastava

  • PhD student
  • EQUS
  • Macquarie University
  • Road-tripping Alice to Darwin (2024)

What do you do?

You may be aware that everything is made up of extremely tiny particles like atoms.  They are everywhere, they are small, and today’s technology gives us the incredible power to manipulate and control them.  Why would we want to do that?  Turns out that having the power to control atoms can lead to very cool technological developments like faster and secure internet, more efficient batteries, discovery of new medicines and quantum computers, which are computers that use atoms to perform complicated computations that our everyday computers may not be able to perform.

So what is my research?  Because these atoms are incredibly tiny they are very susceptible to disturbances around them.  They also end up ‘talking’ to nearby atoms, which results in them behaving in a way we don’t want them to.  This is called noise, and it is the main factor that makes it very difficult to control atoms for our use.  I am researching the effects of noise in these atomic systems and how they can be mitigated or even used to our advantage.

How did you get to where you are today?

My undergraduate and master’s education was completed in India.  I went to the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, to study physics.  There I got rigorous training in different topics in physics and completed my master’s thesis in semi-classical gravity and quantum field theories.  After that I decided to shift to quantum information as it is the ‘new thing’ in physics today and there are a lot of opportunities to contribute to cutting-edge research.

What’s the best thing about your role?

The best thing about being a PhD student is that I can work from anywhere and at anytime as most of the work in theoretical physics happens inside your head.  And I get to puzzle about new problems almost everyday and a lot of freedom to choose to explore my interests.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying physics?

Studying physics properly is very different from reading about physics from popular media and books intended for general audiences.  Popular books and media help a lot in motivating and inspiring people to study physics but the actual thing requires a lot of work, especially a lot of maths, and there is a learning curve where things can get frustrating.  But once you get over it you get to enjoy and gain insights that you would never have done without learning the maths.

Which three people would you invite to dinner?

Richard Feynman, Lionel Messi and Alan Watts.

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