From India via Basel to NASA.
Text: Bettina Volz-Tobler
Arkaprabha Sarangi is a research associate at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA. While growing up in India, he developed a keen interest in all physical sciences. His passion for astrophysics eventually led him to move to Basel to pursue a PhD. From here, it was only a short hop to NASA.
UNI NOVA: What motivated you to pursue your PhD at the University of Basel?
SARANGI: Nuclear physics and astrophysics were my favorite topics during my master studies in India. At the time, I learned of the nuclear astrophysics group in Basel, which is a very active and reputed group. My future PhD supervisor Dr. Isabelle Cherchneff had just started an international research project called Co-DustMas, which was funded by the European Science Foundation. She was looking for PhD candidates, and I was very fortunate to be selected.
UNI NOVA: Today you work for the NASA. How did you land this job?
SARANGI: I am a research associate at NASA GSFC in the Observational Cosmology Lab, in the Astrophysics Science Division. I am working with Dr. Eli Dwek, who is a world-renowned scientist in the field of infrared astronomy and also a member of the COBE project, which won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006. Due to our overlapping research interests, Eli was one of my mentors during my PhD studies in Basel. After graduation, I started working with him and won a NASA Astrophysics Theory Grant.
UNI NOVA: What are you working on there?
SARANGI: My field of study is cosmic dust, which are solid chemical compounds found in space in different compositions and morphologies. Importantly, they are the building blocks of planets, so, for example, everything we see on earth, including human beings are made up of materials which were in the form of space dust at some point in the past. My primary research goal is to find the origin of cosmic dust.
UNI NOVA: Looking back, what was your most memorable experience in Basel?
SARANGI: When I moved to Basel in 2010, I was traveling to a place 7500 Kilometers away from my hometown. I did not know the language, nor did I have any savings in the bank, as I was just out of college. Everyone I met at the university was very kind and welcoming from the first day on. Academically, I learnt from my adviser how to tackle complex scientific questions, which is indispensable for the career of a scientist. I owe a lot to her for all my success today.
UNI NOVA: How would you characterize the spirit of the Physics Department?
SARANGI: It comprises a very productive and successful group of scientists. The mutual appreciation of each other’s work was something that I learnt to value during my time here. I received a lot of encouragement from all members of the group, which has motivated me to pursue research at the highest level.