Community Profile: Oindrila Ghosh

Name: Oindrila Ghosh

Current position: PhD

Affiliation: II. Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Hamburg

Field of research: Astroparticle Physics and Cosmology


What is your career trajectory to date?

I am currently in the final months of my PhD in astroparticle physics at the II. Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Hamburg (DESY) and will soon move to the Oskar Klein Center for Cosmoparticle Physics at Stockholm University as a postdoc. Prior to this, I did my masters in astrophysics and cosmology from the Institute of Cosmos Sciences, University of Barcelona and in particle physics from The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai where I was a junior research fellow.

What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?

Some of the pressing questions of my generation and those before have been understanding the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Another very interesting question has to do with the origin of the ubiquitous cosmic magnetic field: is it astrophysical or primordial?

What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?

In contrast to my professional experience outside of academic science before, I absolutely enjoy some of the unique perks of being a scientist: the pursuit of knowledge as a force of public good as well as waking up excited to face every day with curiosity and a strong sense of purpose.

As someone with intersectional identities and little representation in my field of work, it is often difficult to establish and maintain a sense of belonging. To top it, lack of financial stability, hypercompetitiveness, hierarchical structure of the profession, and immigration bureaucracy do not make things easier.

Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?

I am pretty nifty at being able to zoom in in order to get into the details of a problem and zoom out when necessary, connecting seemingly unrelated concepts to find new ideas and eventually stitching a holistic perspective together.

In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?

The Higgs discovery made quite an impression on me as I was starting to study particle physics at the time. I should also mention the joint Planck and BICEP2 results which generated a lot of excitement in 2014, and eventually were attributed to galactic dust rather than primordial gravitational waves. That was a lesson on cautious optimism for me!

What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?

The past pandemic years have made it difficult to interact meaningfully within the community. I want to cultivate my people skills in the coming year as much as I want to implement new computational techniques in my field of research.

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?

I am most excited about what the ongoing and future searches of axions and axion-like particles will reveal. I am also very much looking forward to how the first results from JWST can help us understand the seeding and growth of supermassive black holes.

What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?

People not talking to each other (enough), i.e., lack of communication among disciplines. For example, if particle physicists had more coffee with astronomers across the globe, keeping our differences in how we do science aside, we would move much quicker. However, in addition to new discoveries and getting more funding to do science, we may have to bear the side effect of stranger and stranger acronyms!

What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?

The common notion is that experimentalists work in large teams over a long timescale, and theorists, in contrast, work mostly alone or in small short-lived collaborations. With EuCAPT, this notion is challenged, and theorists across career ages not only do find themselves in a platform to communicate ideas with one another but also have the opportunity to join forces to persuade national and European public stakeholders to turn some of our “bold” visions into real experiments and more broadly, influence policymaking around theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology. With its current strength in numbers and effort in community building, the network holds the potential to grow into a democratising force in how knowledge is valued, conserved, and exchanged among peers within Europe.

What’s your favorite food?

This is probably the hardest question to answer. I have a weak spot for rustic home-cooked Mediterranean food but my favourites come from the two beautiful food cultures I have had the privilege to experience from the inside. The first would be Daab Chingri, giant Bengali freshwater scampi coated in mustard oil, mustard paste, green chilies, unripe mango, and young coconut pulp, and then baked inside a tender coconut. The second are freshly foraged fragrant wild strawberries (smultron in Swedish) with cream made from farm-fresh raw milk, a summer treat from the countryside.

Have you lived in a different European country than you do now? If so, would you like to tell us something about it, e.g. a fond memory or something you found surprising?

I lived in Spain and Sweden before. The meal times could not be more different. For perspective, the dinnertime in Catalonia roughly mimics that of my tropical homeland, which is anywhere between 9 pm and midnight. In Central Sweden, on the other hand, dinner is served during 4-7 pm, literally known as mid-day meal (middag). The contrast seemed very amusing along with the dramatic variation in daylight hours depending on season.

How do you like to relax after a hard day of work?

Playing cricket a few evenings of the week! I am still working on my off spin but you won’t regret putting me towards the beginning of your batting lineup.

I cook a lot, seasonal and local when possible, and am always open to new culinary adventures: an obscure ingredient, a demanding technique, or a counterintuitive order in preparation.

Singing Hindustani classical and Bengali folk music have been a big part of my life and still is.

Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?

I am a giant foodnerd and have travelled across the globe to eat my way through understanding the axes of tradition, craft, culture, and sustainability in various communities. I am also a passionate science communicator and currently host the STEMme Podcast that I created with my colleague Philine, where we discuss latest developments in different scientific fields and interview other scientists on their scientific work.

If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?

I would have been a poet or a filmmaker or both. I published a chunk of my creative writing and did public readings during my teen years, which showed me how profoundly words can affect human beings in real time. I still hold the passion for cinema and make documentaries during my time off physics.

What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?

Aside from closing in on the nature of the dark sector, I hope to witness the discovery of primordial gravitational waves, or in its absence, the development of a successful theory describing the early universe.