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Ishita Dasgupta - Statement of Purpose

Applying for a PhD in Physics, Fall 2014

I am applying to the PhD program at Caltech to pursue my interest in theoretical condensed matter physics. During
my undergraduate years, I have had wonderful opportunities to explore quantum condensed matter research. It is through
this field that I have found an aptitude for and a serious interest in research. I find this field deeply fascinating, but I am
always open to new things and keen to explore. I grew up in an academic campus, around scientific research and I loved
the environment of open-minded curiosity. After my experiences over the last few years dabbling in research and learning
physics, I genuinely feel that there is nothing I would be happier doing for the rest of my life as a career.
Varied experiences so far, have helped me decide to pursue research and prepared me for it. In the summer of 2012, I
worked with Prof. J.M.D. Coey† at the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices. My project was
to try and observe spin torque oscillations in giant magneto-resistance stacks∗ . No one in the group was working on this
project at the time. Working independently, I mapped out possibilities and proceeded systematically the decision tree of
hypotheses and tests that is a fundamental tenet of scientific research. My work was mine to nurture and I took input and
advice from anywhere I could. I spoke to experts at CRANN, read textbooks and papers, mixed and matched to see what
could work. I had limited time, was inexperienced and there was a technical failure in an instrument needed in my project.
But I didn’t give up. Guidance from Prof. Coey was very inspiring and his show of faith in granting a measly intern such a
free rein was very new to me. The fact that I could handle the independence encouraged me a lot. On the other hand, my
project with Prof. K. Damle† at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research helped me appreciate the synergistic facet of
research. My work has been with the Anderson resonating valence bond wavefunction on a 2D honeycomb lattice∗ . During
several discussions, I went up to the blackboard, explained my ideas and incorporated feedback. For example - when I had
to enumerate the dimer coverings of a given bipartite lattice, I immediately drew parallels to courses in graph theory and
data structures and implemented a new algorithm that worked faster than the one used by the group. I loved talking about
my work and sharing my understanding. These interactions helped me appreciate several subtleties of my work and improve.
Research as a collective effort and its environment of mutual collaborative respect, were a wonderful experience. It was
also the first time my work depended actively on that of another student. Coordination was difficult as my colleague and I
lived in different cities, with different college timetables. The travails of working in tandem over Skype were a big learning
experience. We managed well and our work with Prof. Damle is now on the arxiv here.
A major factor in shaping my current interests has been my project with Prof. Damle. I enjoyed everything about this
project from the computational and algorithmic work to figuring out our theoretical model and reading about quantum
many body theory in general. The project involved approximating a the Anderson nearest neighbour RVB wavefunction in
2D, with a classical interacting dimer model. This correspondence was checked by mapping the classical system to a height
model and checking our results from Monte Carlo simulations against the expected theoretical values for the stiffness of the
system. The neatness of quantum mechanics and the fantastic things it leads to in large systems is very thrilling. Recently
I have started investigating the entanglement entropy of this wavefunction. The implications of the kind of physics I have
come across in literature surveys for this work is very exciting. Prof. G. Refael’s work in these direction is fascinating. At at
colloquium at TIFR, I came across Prof. O. Motrunich’s work on Mott insulators and valence bond solids and found it very
interesting. Soon after starting on this project, in December 2012, I attended a school, organized by the International Centre
for Theoretical Sciences in Bangalore, centred around graphene, topological phases, Majorana fermions and the promise they
show for quantum computation. At the school I had the fantastic opportunity of listening to and speaking with some of
the leaders in the field. The ideas of surface states and non-Abelian statistics hold a deep fascination for me. I would love
to be able to engage with work on quantum information and interface with the developments in physics towards the actual
realisation of a quantum computer. The Institute for Quantum Information and Matter provides that fantastic opportunity.
The confluence of the school and my project at TIFR really set me on the course of condensed matter theory. The next
semester, I took an advanced course on superconductivity with Prof. Avinash Mahajan† at IIT and the subsequent summer
I worked in a lab at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne on a computational project in quantum phase transitions∗ . I
worked with an inhomogeneous mean field code to recreate the behaviour of experimentally realised Ising and XY models in
LiHox Ery Y1−x−y F4 . There I had first-hand experience of how the things I learnt from my discussions with Prof. Mahajan
in class can be used to understand real experimental data. This built a clear and inviting picture of the interplay between
theory and experiments in condensed matter. In the future, I want to be able to stay in touch with experiments and engage
with their findings. Although my interests now lie in theory, the experiences I had working at CRANN in 2012 have given
me a curiosity about applied science and teasing natural phenomena into useful forms. I would love the opportunity of
studying at a brilliant engineering school like Caltech where I could be a close spectator to and engage with these processes.
The active interplay between new developing theory and visible results at the IQIM is very exciting. I had found Prof. J.
Eisentein’s work on exciton condensate transport, that he spoke about at the ICTS school, very interesting.
At college, I have taken several extra courses, almost completing my credit requirements a semester early. I have been

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very active about my interests and taken them forward tenaciously through electives and projects. In my freshman summer,
I followed up on my interest in biology with a summer project on protein folding. Despite it being so removed from my
major, I spent a lot of time to take it through and we published our results in an American Chemical Society journal last
year (link to publication). This paper was chosen to be highlighted on the journal’s webpage in November 2012. I have
ranked first in my class every year, secured 9s and 10s in every physics and maths course I have taken and a full score in
the physics GRE. I was one of only two students to get the top grade in graduate level courses on statistical physics and
quantum mechanics III. I have developed a strong fundamental base in physics and my sojourns with research so far have
been rewarding and enjoyable. I think I would fit really well into the excellent physics department at Caltech and contribute
well to the research there.

∗ Details and updates are available on the detailed CV on my webpage home.iitb.ac.in/~ishita_dasgupta


† Contact details are available on my CV and in the section for recommendation letters