Physics Spotlight

May 2019
Physics Spotlight

Krishna Kumar

Ph.D., Syracuse University (1990)

 

This month, the Physics Department would like to highlight one of our newest professors, Krishna Kumar! We chose Krishna to not only introduce him, but to highlight his research focusing on Parity-Violating Electron Scattering Experiments and Neutrino-less Double Beta Decay Searches. As one of our experimental physicists, his primary focus is to seek answers to fundamental nuclear and particle physics questions; he studies the forces that shaped the universe. Krishna joins the Physics Department as the New Gluckstern Chair, which is a key professorship that aids in new departmental initiatives as well as helps to expand physics research opportunities for students. We are very excited to welcome Krishna to our department here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus! To learn more about him, read his Q&A below!

Welcome to the University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus! As a new professor, what are you excited about the most with regards to your first semester here?

For me it feels like a return home. I taught and carried out research here from 1999 to 2014 and so I am very familiar with the campus! I am very excited about settling into my new office and laboratory spaces in the new Physical Sciences Building, reconnecting with old colleagues and getting to know new colleagues who joined the department after my departure.

 

 What is your professional background?  What did you major in and where?  Where did you go to graduate school and for what?  How can your educational background help you teach and mentor students at UMass?

I graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India with an MSc in Physics. I came to the US for graduate school at Syracuse University, NY and did my dissertation research in experimental nuclear and particle physics at the MIT-Bates Linear Accelerator Center. I lived in Cambridge, MA for most of my graduate studies. During this time, I developed a passion for fundamental research and for understanding natural phenomena from the most basic principles and I to this day, try to communicate that excitement to new students at all levels.

 

 Why did you decide to go to graduate school?  How did you decide which grad school to go to?  What advice would you have for a student who wants to go to graduate school?

The most important factor in the decision to go to graduate school is discover whether you are excited by the prospect of answering basic questions about nature and discovering new knowledge. Graduate school will have its highs and lows, so it is important that you maintain a passion for fundamental research and reaffirm often that it is something that is important to you.

 

 What is your advice for a student who wants to go to industry?

Try to understand what your own strengths are and make sure that you enter an environment where you are able to use those strengths to feel empowered and make progress.

 

 In 140 characters, explain your research:

Are there new forces that shaped the evolution of the early universe? Are neutrinos their own antiparticles? My research focuses on answering such questions.

 

 What class in the undergraduate curriculum is closest to your research?

PHY 556: Introduction to Nuclei and Elementary Particles. This course is available for advanced undergraduates and provides a foundation from which to appreciate ongoing fundamental research in nuclear and particle physics.

 

 Do you take undergraduates in your research group?  What type of work do they do?  Have you published any papers with undergraduates?

Yes, absolutely. In my lab, we develop advanced instrumentation for specific experimental projects, run simulations to test ideas for future experiments and analyze data from ongoing experiments. Motivated undergraduates typically spend the first few months with pilot assignments that train them in required skills; they can then contribute to all of these activities. Publications with undergraduate co-authors are certainly possible.

 

 What is your favorite class to teach at UMass at the undergraduate level?

I love teaching the introductory physics sequence for freshmen PHY 181 and 182, which are offered to highly motivated science and engineering majors. It is the most advanced set of introductory physics courses we offer and highly recommended for students considering becoming physics majors.

 

 What do you do outside of physics?  Do you have a hobby?

I have two: outdoors I am an avid tennis player and indoors I like to play Contract Bridge (a card game).

 

What do you like best about being a professor and a physicist at that?

I consider myself very lucky that I have a job that allows me to pursue my love of understanding the physical universe and I cannot imagine doing that as anything other than as a physicist! Being a professor is particularly rewarding because one is able to pursue research problems while simultaneously motivating and teaching the next generation of scientists.

 

Upon returning to the UMass Amherst campus, you were named the new Gluckstern Professor of Physics. This is a prestigious appointment to the professorship that has a term of 7 years. How has your past experiences and research guided and prepared you for this position? What are some of the goals that you would like to accomplish in this key leadership role of the Physics Department?

First and foremost, the infrastructure support that comes with the appointment will allow me to consolidate and enhance my ongoing research projects in the near term. The central questions I pursue mesh very well with the ongoing research under the umbrella of the Amherst Center for Fundamental Interactions. Within the period of the appointment, I expect to launch new and diverse initiatives with faculty colleagues that will further expand the portfolio that falls under the broad category of subatomic physics research in the department. The resulting set of research initiatives should provide a new set of opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral research.

 

For more information on Professor Kumar's research and bio, please visit his personal page at https://people.umass.edu/kkumar/.