Feature Stories 2017: Rahul Kashyap, PhD, '17 pursues the rhythms of the universe

Rahul Kashyap
Feature Stories 2017: Rahul Kashyap, PhD, '17 pursues the rhythms of the universe
Rahul Kashyap, PhD, '17 pursues the rhythms of the universe

One of the first graduates of the PhD in Engineering & Applied Science program, Rahul studied supernovae using some of the largest supercomputers in the world.

by Prof. Gaurav Khanna, Department of Physics

Rahul Kashyap, who will graduate with his PhD in Engineering and Applied Science this year, has always wanted to be a "true student of Nature." Some of his earliest childhood memories include wondering about the stars and moon during hot summer nights in India. Later, he discovered a Russian children's book "What is Relativity?" by the Russian scientists Lev Landau and Yuri Rumer, which had been translated into Hindi. Rahul became fascinated by the subject: Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

"It was so unintuitive, and yet still a real phenomena, that I was bound to study physics and math," he recalled.

Next step: postdoctoral research in Germany & India

Fittingly, Rahul has accepted an offer to work after graduation as a postdoctoral research scholar jointly at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (also known as the Albert Einstein Institute) in Hanover, Germany, and at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences in Bengaluru, India.

He will delve into the very rhythms of the universe itself. Albert Einstein first predicted more than 100 years ago that waves in space and time could be generated, much as a rock dropped into a pond. This prediction was spectacularly confirmed one year ago by U.S. scientists, who stunned the world with their announcement that they had detected ripples of space and time, or gravitational waves, generated during the merger of two black holes.

Studying the extreme science behind black holes

In his postdoctoral scholarship, Rahul will explore the extreme science behind black hole and neutron star mergers.

"I will be focusing on binary black hole and neutron star mergers and their detection via gravitational wave detectors," he said. "One of the important unresolved problems in this field include how many are formed during the history of our universe. In addition, neutron star mergers are a primary site for understanding the nature of matter at extremely high density, and the formation of heavy elements such as gold."

He will also be among the first generation of young scientists to be trained in gravitational wave research in India, as India seeks to move onto the world stage by partnering with the American gravitational wave program.

The last two minutes of the evolution of two white dwarfs which have come together and merged.
Last 2 minutes of the evolution of 2 white dwarfs which have come together and merged. The primary white dwarf is surrounded by a disk of material from the shredded companion white dwarf. Successive frames demonstrate the generation of spiral waves. In the final frame, the white dwarf undergoes an explosive nuclear fusion event: a supernova.

During his PhD studies at UMass Dartmouth, Rahul investigated the nature of a class of exploding stars, or supernovae, using some of the largest supercomputers in the world.

Prof. Robert Fisher of the Physics Department, Rahul's PhD thesis advisor, said, "Rahul has made his mark on the astronomical community by discovering an entirely new and unexpected mechanism by which thermonuclear supernovae may explode, and has been very successful in publishing a string of papers on this work. His research ideally positions him to undertake his future investigations of the even more extreme events of merging black holes and other exotic events which will be discovered in the coming years.”

Rahul was supported by a Distinguished Doctoral Fellowship provided by the Graduate Studies Office, the Physics and Mathematics Departments, and the Center for Scientific Computing & Visualization Research. 

The EAS Program: tackling 21st century problems

The scientific and engineering challenges of the 21st century—ranging from clean water, renewable energy, and climate change, to the astrophysics of stars and black holes which Rahul studies—require new approaches by teams of interdisciplinary researchers.

UMass Dartmouth has recently created a new PhD program in Engineering and Applied Sciences (EAS) to bring together faculty and students from a broad range of disciplines to tackle these challenges. Rahul is one of the first students completing a PhD within the program's Computational Science and Engineering track, and has worked closely with faculty in physics and mathematics.

EAS program director Prof. Gaurav Khanna of the Physics Department said, "As one of the first few graduates from the EAS program, Rahul has been offered an opportunity that is perhaps one of the most competitive in his field. Such student successes will significantly enhance the reputation of our research programs and the campus, overall."

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