Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Nirmal Kumar Rai, research scientist working with Prof. H.S. Udaykumar, has received the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Director’s Fellowship.  Nirmal began his fellowship on March 2nd at LANL where he will collaborate with scientist and engineers on staff-initiated research.   This prestigious fellowship selections are based on academic and research accomplishments, the strength of the proposed research, as well as their potential impact at the laboratory.  Nominees are reviewed quarterly, with 40-50 applicants each quarter.  Only 20-25 fellowships are awarded annually, which is about 10% of the applicant pool.

Before starting his new position at LANL in New Mexico, Nirmal sat down for a little Q&A.

Hometown: Howrah, West Bengal, India

Education: PhD, Mechanical Engineering, University of Iowa (2015)


Q: Please describe your research.  In simple terms, why does this research matter?

A: Much of my research is related to numerical framework development (computations), the importance of which is due to its application.  This provides better characterization of materials including metals, polymers, energetic materials under extreme conditions such as shocks.  Experimental characterization of material behavior under extreme environments is very expensive and challenging.  Development of a computational platform allows one to perform virtual experiments and helps to decrease those concerns.


Q: What do you enjoy most about your research?  What first got you interested in this area?

A:  I enjoy the use of mathematical modeling to understand the fundamental physics governing the behavior of complex physical processes involved in the characterization of various materials. My initial exposure to Finite Element Method course in my undergraduate study gave me a kick start towards developing a keen interest in the field of numerical modeling.


Q:  What does receipt of the LANL Director’s Postdoctoral Fellowship mean to you?

A: I consider this an early career success, on an individual and group level.  LANL is a place that I had wanted and aimed to work.  I hope to use this opportunity as a platform from which to build a strong research career.  I am both nervous and excited for this fellowship.


Q: Do you feel that your experiences at the UI has set you apart?  Helped prepare you for what is next?

A: From my experience the UI overall is a healthy productive environment for a budding researcher.  The smaller size [of the college of engineering] provided lots of overall support from several different individual faculty members throughout my studies and research.  Administrative staff at the UI is one of the best parts of the UI community, all staff encountered have been extremely helpful, they are as productive as the top researchers. The right responsibilities were given at the right times which fostered continued growth & development in all skills related to becoming a well-rounded researcher.


Q: What achievements or experiences are you most proud of?

A: Receiving the LANL fellowship and the group’s work to get the MURI grant.


Q: Looking beyond the fellowship, what are your career goals for the future?

A:  To establish myself as an independent researcher.  Perhaps an academic/faculty position in the long term.  I might look more towards space technology for research interests in the future.


Q: What is your favorite/most memorable experiences at the UI? Or CoE?

A:  I remember completing my qualifying exams, finishing my first year as a PhD student – life was simple then.  Completion of my comprehensive exams, I remember the feeling of relief.  I enjoyed the ice cream socials held by the department, it was a good time and opportunity to connect with other graduate students and faculty.


Q: What do you like best about Iowa City?  The University of Iowa?

A:  I consider Iowa City a second home.  Both the city and university communities are very, welcoming, and provide a diverse environment. The other thing I like about Iowa City is the food culture, considering the size of the town, we have almost every cuisine that one can imagine in any big city.  


Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: I enjoy being outdoors – activities at the MacBride recreational center, checking out the community events in the Ped Mall/downtown Iowa City area. I picked up drums during my graduate school and I like to practice and jam whenever I can manage some time