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Dr. Deepak Singh is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Missouri and Principal Investigator of the Magnetism and Superconductivity Research Laboratory there. He received his PhD in condensed matter physics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Afterwards, Deepak conducted postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to joining the University of Missouri, Deepak worked for about 4.5 years as a Staff Scientist with a joint appointment at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland, College Park. He has received several research awards at the University of Missouri, including the Research Board Award and the Physics Alumni Faculty Fellow Award. In our interview, Deepak shared some of his experiences in life and science. In our interview, Deepak shared some of his experiences in life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:24)
Deepak has a variety of interests outside of science, including playing tennis, traveling, and spending time with his family. In particular, he and his family love exploring National Parks, and the Badlands National Park is his favorite thus far.
The Scientific Side (3:54)
His research aims to better understand magnetism and superconductivity in new and existing materials. One of the magnetic materials they are studying has a honeycomb lattice structure that gives the material unique properties. Deepak and his lab are working to better understand the fundamental physics and mechanisms that underlie these properties, but also to investigate potential practical applications of this material.
A Dose of Motivation (8:15)
“Never give up. Sometimes things are frustrating, but don’t give up. If you give up, it’s your loss, and someone else will do it. – Deepak’s mother
What Got You Hooked on Science? (11:00)
Even as a young child, Deepak was very interested in science. He attended a small country school in India, and his mother always motivated him to think bigger, ask questions, and never give up. It was common where Deepak grew up to bathe using a mug and a bucket of water. When Deepak was a kid, he asked his mom why the mug floated. Despite never receiving a formal education in physics, his mom explained this seemingly amazing phenomenon. Deepak’s interest in physics continued, and he went to college in New Delhi to study physics. The professors there gave the students so much homework, asked so many questions, and made them work so hard that there were moments when he and his peers wanted to quit. However, looking back, Deepak is really grateful for these professors early in his career because they helped him develop his passion for physics and become what he is today.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (20:02)
While Deepak and his lab members were searching for something else entirely, they serendipitously discovered a magnetic diode phenomenon in a two-dimensional magnetic honeycomb lattice material they were working with. When initially faced with the results, Deepak wasn’t convinced it was real. However, his lab members were able to reproduce the effect in two separate experiments on this material. They checked and double-checked everything they could think of to try to figure out how and why this phenomenon occurred. When they tried to make the honeycomb material again, the experiment failed. Weeks of work passed to no avail. This was really frustrating because they had no idea why the experiments stopped working with this new material. Careful study of the material structure provided the answer they were looking for, and they were again able to reproduce the phenomenon. They realized that the integrity of the honeycomb structure was critical to the effect they had discovered.
A Shining Success! (22:43)
At NIST, Deepak worked on a project investigating quantum crystal phenomena in a particular material. To see the quantum crystal effect, they needed to apply extremely high pressure to the material, but they didn’t have the capability to achieve the magnitude of the pressure needed for the experiment. The experiment kept failing. One of Deepak’s colleagues was in his office encouraging him to abandon the project, when suddenly it occurred to Deepak that there were other ways to increase the energy of the material aside from pressure. In just a few minutes, Deepak completed some simple calculations to determine the combined external pressure change plus magnetic field change that would be required to reach the quantum crystal point for that material. Deepak stayed in the lab all night to set up the experiments. They ran for two days, and the phenomenon occurred exactly as they had predicted. This was one of his most exciting developments, and it was a very rewarding success.
Book Recommendations (25:25)
Short stories by Rajendra Yadav, What is Life by Erwin Schrödinger
Most Treasured Travel (26:27)
In 2008, Deepak attended the American Physical Society March Meeting in New Orleans. This was during his postdoctoral fellowship, and just a few years after the region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It was amazing to see how the city was being rebuilt and to experience the energy of the people there. He had an opportunity to return to New Orleans last year, and the city has continued to flourish. The jazz music there is phenomenal. Another especially memorable trip was Deepak’s very first large conference. He attended the American Physical Society March Meeting in Montreal as a graduate student, and it left a lasting impression. There were about 8,000 attendees, he met many new scientists, he was motivated by the exceptional presentations, and he gave a presentation on his own research. It was also exciting to explore the city and go out to different restaurants for lunches and dinners.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (30:22)
Scientists have a wide variety of interests, both within and outside of science. When Deepak worked at NIST, his team leader was a great scientist, but also a quirky and funny person. The team leader often came to visit Deepak in his office to ask a question or discuss something related to science, but the conversations very quickly steered to something else entirely, including life, politics, sports, and other areas.
Advice For Us All (35:30)
A river that is wide and shallow is not as fearsome as a river that is deep and narrow. You have to be very thorough and know your field deep enough that you can answer questions well and feel like you are an expert. Remember never to give up. Failure is a part of life. Don’t be distracted by failure. It provides you an opportunity to look at a problem from a new perspective and try to understand it better.
Deepak’s research is focused on studying magnetic materials of fundamental and practical importance. He is a condensed matter physicist who creates new solid state materials and studies their fundamental properties, especially how magnetic moments correlate and affect the material’s physical properties, using various measurement and analysis techniques, including neutron scattering method. More recently, he discovered magnetic diode effect in two-dimensional magnetic honeycomb lattice, which paves the way for the design of highly energy efficient electronics to be utilized in handheld and peripheral devices. Deepak uses two-pronged approach of designing new materials and explore their technological implications in this pursuit. His research on magnetic materials is supported by a research grant award from the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences. In his free time, Deepak travels to new places with his family and spends time with his daughter. He plays tennis and enjoys running. He is also very passionate about soft rock music and old Hindi songs.