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Abhishek Kottaram Amrithanath

PhD Candidate in Mechanical Engineering

Abhishek Kottaram Amrithanath

When needs arise, pull up your socks, learn what you need, and get things done. If you don't know something, be brave and just learn it.”

Abhishek Kottaram Amrithanath is a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering. He currently serves as the president of the McCormick Graduate Leadership Council (MGLC). In 2019–20, Abhishek was a Fellow in Leadership with Northwestern's Center for Leadership. Earlier this year, he completed a certificate from the Management for Scientists and Engineers (MSE)  program jointly offered by The Graduate School and Kellogg School of Management.  

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?

Just like we have electronic chips in our mobile phones, I make devices and chips that use light instead of electricity to process information. These devices are 10 times smaller than the thickness of a strand of hair and made using a 3D printing technique called two-photon polymerization. So, a typical day at work involves working with different lasers, chemicals, and nanoparticles, and observing how light interacts with everything. At a higher level of application, I am in the process of developing an on-chip photonic platform to harness the quantum characteristics of light. By addressing this research problem, I hope to enable the development of a key component of photonic quantum computers that, in turn, will open the door to solving many of our data-intensive societal challenges.

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?

I have moved across multiple disciplines of study throughout my bachelor's to PhD—from electronics engineering to nanoscience to chemical synthesis to classical and now quantum photonics. This might seem risky to some, but this path has helped me develop the technical skills, knowledge, and leadership qualities necessary to address my research's cross-disciplinary challenges.

How do you unwind after a long day?

Running by the lake or a CrossFit workout helps me unwind.

What books are on your bedside table?

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat and Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. I have only read 3/8 of the short stories in the first book and cannot wait to read the rest. The second one is the only book I brought from home when I came to the U.S., so it is always there on my table, reminding me of home. 

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.

Serving in leadership roles such as the Graduate Teaching Fellow and the president of McCormick Graduate Leadership Council (MGLC) has been a great learning experience. It allows me to meet new people, share ideas, and make decisions that positively impact the graduate student community.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

During the first summer of my PhD journey, I worked on a project where I had to synthesize some nanoparticles. With a background in engineering, I knew very little about chemical synthesis. Just making sense of instructions given in chemistry journals was difficult for me in the beginning. By the end of that summer, I achieved one of the proudest results of my career. I have come to realize a PhD is all about that—when needs arise, pull up your socks, learn what you need, and get things done. If you don't know something, be brave and just learn it. 

Published: December 15, 2020

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