Jan. 18, 2006
By Christina Dierkes
Madappa Prakash enjoys gardening so much that he is planning on selling his home-grown tomatoes at the Athens Farmer's Market next year. But in his day job, he just happens to be a world expert on neutron stars.
Prakash recently joined the Ohio University faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He assists with the Structure of the Universe project, which "unifies seemingly different aspects of physics into one big picture," says Prakash. As he has many different research interests, ranging from astrophysics to nuclear physics, Prakash was hired to "act as the glue" between the different research areas.
Prakash earned his Ph.D. at the University of Bombay and his undergraduate and master's degrees at the University of Mysore, India. He worked at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, one of the most prestigious research institutions in the world, and later relocated to the United States to conduct research and teach at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. Sanjay Reddy, a former student at Stony Brook, recommended Prakash to the physics faculty at Ohio University. Prakash accepted the position because he felt that the smaller physics department created "an atmosphere of growth," which made it an attractive place to work.
Prakash began his career with examinations of nuclear fission, the separation of atoms into their smaller components. His interests now include the evolution of neutron stars from their beginnings to old age, and the formation of black holes from some of those neutron stars. Prakash also investigates nuclear and particle physics problems, such as what happens to nuclear matter under extreme conditions such as very high or low density, extreme temperatures, or magnetic fields. He currently is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy as a co-investigator on a grant to the university's nuclear theory group, which is led by physicist Charlotte Elster.
Aside from his involvement in the Structure of the Universe project, Prakash is excited about working with students. He has done as much research with undergraduates as with graduate students, partly because he enjoys exposing students to new things.
"I like training new people, and I try to help undergraduates to devise projects suitable to their interests," he says.
His graduate and undergraduate students do not work simply as research assistants, but instead conduct original research that may lead to academic publications. Prakash emphasizes, however, that studies that repeat or add to existing research are just as important, and explains that "you can't always think in terms of publications" when choosing a research project.
An important aspect of conducting research with others, whether with students or other professionals, is getting along on a very basic level of mutual respect, according to Prakash. He must be doing something right, as illustrated by the success of Avery Broderick, one of his former undergraduate students, who went from SUNY Stony Brook to complete his Ph.D. degree at Cal Tech and is now a Harvard fellow. "They're not all like that, but that was a great experience," says Prakash.
One can only hope that the tomatoes turn out equally well.
Christina Dierkes is a graduate assistant in the Office of Research Communications.