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Optics Award Announced

Indian recipient reflects passion for light and outreach

Goutam Kumar Samanta, recipient of the 2017 ICO/ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award
Goutam Kumar Samanta, recipient of the 2017 ICO/ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award

21/02/2017 - Trieste

Goutam Kumar Samanta of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, India, is the recipient of the 2017 ICO/ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award.

The prize was announced 21 February by ICTP and the International Commission for Optics (ICO) during their annual Winter College on Optics. It recognizes Samanta’s significant contributions to the field of nonlinear optics, lasers and quantum optics, as well as his efforts in popularizing science among school students in India.

See photos from the award ceremony

Samanta received B.Tech and M.Tech degrees in optics and optoelectronics from the University of Calcutta in 2002 and 2004, and a PhD in photonics from the Institute of Photonics Sciences (ICFO), Barcelona, Spain in July 2009. He joined the Physical Research Laboratory, India in October 2010 as a faculty member. He is a life member of the Indian Laser Association, India and a regular member of the Optical Society of America and SPIE, USA.

Samanta says a fascination with light attracted him to the field of photonics and optics. As a physics student, he gravitated toward the study of lasers. His research interests include structured laser beams, nonlinear generation of structure beams, optical parametric oscillators, and development of entangled photon source with high brightness.

At India’s Physical Research Laboratory, Samanta’s research group is looking at the orbital angular momentum of light at the single photon level and its use in quantum optics. The work involves structuring a laser beam and studying its nonlinear affects, and generating entangled photons with high brightness, useful for quantum optics experiments. “Entangled photons are the basic ingredient for many quantum optical experiments not only for the fundamental research, but also for a variety of applications in real world quantum communications and quantum computing, for example long distance and satellite communications,” Samanta explains.

Samanta carries his passion for light into the classroom. He actively promotes optics and photonics among school and college students in India through hands-on experiments. He develops experiments to answer questions like “why do humans have two eyes?”, and, “why are sunsets so colorful?”.

He, along with his other Indian colleagues, is also involved in various programs to encourage more students to study experimental physics. His approach is creative and pragmatic: he gives students a problem, and then asks them to develop the equipment and do the experiment to solve the problem. One such investigation requires the students to develop an optical experiment to measure unknown concentration of salt and sugar.

To add to the challenge, the experiment must be done at a low cost. “They must design it with a low budget--below $5,” he says, adding, “They discover that what they have learned in theory is not always true in experiment, because you have too many unknown difficulties that you don’t realize when you are just solving an equation.”

A third outreach initiative Samanta actively participates in is professional development for PhD students. He helps arrange India’s two-day Student Conference on Optics and Photonics (SCOPE), organized by and for students, who also present research (along with a few invited experts). The event not only gives attendees important networking skills, but also encourages them to engage with the presenters and improve their own research skills. “Students don’t hesitate  to ask questions if the speaker is another student,” observes Samanta.

With such a dedicated researcher and mentor as Samanta, India is sure to produce some exciting optics and photonics research in the years ahead. This year’s ICO/ICTP Prize winner has shown that with a little money but a lot of passion, science can be a guiding light for building scientific capacity.

About the Award

The ICO/ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award is given annually to researchers younger than 40 years of age from a developing country who have made significant contributions to the field of optics or photonics. The recipient receives a certificate, US $1,000, and an invitation to participate in and deliver a lecture at an ICTP activity relevant to optics.

The award is named in honour of Gallieno Denardo, who coordinated optics activities at ICTP for more than twenty years.

For more details, please see the ICO/ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award web page.